When the Brother Becomes the Caregiver
By Josh Armstrong, Publications Specialist
When Wilkesboro resident Jerry Swaim needed help caring for his cancer-stricken younger brother, John, he found it in Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care.
"I just cannot tell you how wonderful the care was that they gave my brother," Jerry said. "You could not ask for a more competent or compassionate group of people."
Jerry was just 13 months old when John was born. Neither would get to know their father, Ernest, as he died shortly before John's birth. Hence, their mother, Virginia, raised them at their grandparents' house. Aunts, uncles and even great aunts were often around to provide support.
"I think my brother would agree that we had pretty happy childhoods in spite of the fact that we did not have our father," Jerry said.
According to Jerry, John had no trouble making friends. "He was definitely the better-looking of the two of us," Jerry said. "He was a real outgoing, gregarious fella. People immediately liked him and were drawn to him."
The brothers remained close over the years. John went on to serve in the U.S. Air Force.
But about 20 or 25 years ago, John learned he had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, with an inoperable tumor in his lower abdomen. After chemotherapy and radiation therapy, he gradually recovered.
However, John's battles with cancer weren't over. Roughly five years ago, doctors diagnosed John with it again, the type this time being prostate cancer.
John's cancer, with bone metastases, proved to be too aggressive for treatment. Doctors at a Veterans Affairs medical center referred him to Mountain Valley Hospice, where he began services in April last year.
Hospice staff were able to manage John's symptoms to the point that his life extended beyond the original expectancy of six months. "They stuck with him. That's one thing that I am so thankful for," Jerry said.
By September, John's health had begun to rapidly decline, and he needed a new residence with a caregiver to help him. Fortunately, Jerry and wife Diane were prepared: When they built a house a few years earlier, they included an apartment downstairs, in case John in his final years ever needed a place to stay. John accepted the invitation.
"It was sad to see his decline and even sadder to see that he was worried about being a burden to me and my wife, which he never was," Jerry said. "He was not a burden to us at all."
Mountain Valley Hospice staff began to visit more frequently. They not only helped John as a patient, but Jerry as a caregiver, showing how to administer medications and personal tasks. "John loved every one of those hospice aides, more than anything," Jerry said. "They would give him a bath and shave him, and he was so appreciative of all that. They just really helped him be comfortable, more than I could have."
Hospice continued to provide services over the next few months. However, John's battle with cancer was quickly coming to an end. He died a week before last Thanksgiving.
Despite his grief, Jerry took solace in knowing that his brother received compassionate care at the end of life.
"I've told so many people how much I appreciate – and how much John appreciated – the care he received from Mountain Valley Hospice," Jerry said. "If they ever get into a situation where they're going to need hospice care, I would recommend Mountain Valley Hospice, without any equivocation whatsoever."