In Roberta Edenfield’s 15 years of caring for people in home hospice, it turned out to be the news she got away from work that changed her life.
“One day I came home and my husband told me he had cancer,” said the St. Rose resident. “I hugged him and cried. It scared me to death. It was very hard at that moment.”
And it got worse.
Her husband was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer, Stage 4, and they weren’t sure if he could continue working. Not long after getting this news, Edenfield was laid off from her job.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I called Tammy.”
She told Tammy Swindle, executive director of Cancer Association of Greater New Orleans (CAGNO) about their situation and the organization paid $120 a month assistance. Edenfield got a new job, again working in home hospice care, and her husband got treatments that put him in remission, which he has been in four years.
Edenfield came out of the experience with deep appreciation to CAGNO and an especially deeper understanding of the people she helped, most of whom were dealing with cancer.
“I think when my husband was diagnosed, I was sensitive before, but this has made me see this in a whole different light,” she said. “I see what they go through.”
Edenfield recounted her husband dealing with “chemo brain,” which she learned is a patient’s temporary loss of short-term memory and side effect of chemotherapy treatment. One morning he awoke confused and couldn’t remember his name or where he was, which required she help him refocus to recall the information. One morning he disappeared for hours only for Edenfield to learn he’d driven to Huddle House because he wanted a cup of coffee.
These experiences helped Edenfield better recognize what her patients were undergoing and brought her closer to them.
“I love my job, “ she said. “I get to see people who are down and out, but I feel it’s something I can do. It’s a sad time, but it helps if you can be a bright spot in their lives at that time.”
They need a compassionate care provider.
These patients are getting hospice care, which requires she provide a depth of assistance that can include helping them figure out their next step, which can include supporting them through making their own funeral arrangements.
Edenfield’s belief is everyone will get to heaven.
“When people die, they always talk about the people they see on the other side,” she said. “Their mom or angels or see little children in the room.”
Years ago, an Ama woman told her that her first husband would come to her at night with his hand extended to her. She interpreted it to mean he wanted her to come with him. One night she accepted his hand and died two days later.
“It’s a sad time, but it helps if you can be a bright spot in their lives at that time.” — Roberta Edenfield
But Edenfield said she is also careful with “counter transference,” which means over identifying with a client and getting overly emotional about personal problems. She has to be mindful of keeping a healthy distance with them.
At the beginning of her career, she took every loss personally. But then she learned to focus on the family and she can help them work through their grief up to 13 months.
“It makes me feel good that at the end of the day I’ve helped somebody,” she said. “If I give them encouragement or help that makes me happy.”
Care providers don’t make a lot of money, she said. But Edinfield said she wouldn’t do anything else.
“It’s the joy of helping others,” she said. “That’s what helps me get by.”
She also prays a lot.
“I’m not super religious, but I do have spiritual beliefs,” Edenfield said. “I pray to God for help and the next day is a better day. I don’t walk on water, but I call the one who does and keep on going.”
What is hospice care?
- Provides medical services, emotional support and spiritual resources for people in the last stages of a serious illness such as cancer.
- Helps family members manage the practical deals and emotional challenges of caring for a dying loved one.
- Helps keep patients comfortable and improve quality of life.