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Patient Stories

A Mother's Dream Realized: See Daughter's College Graduation

When Lisa O’Neill, 56, of Lynnfield, saw her daughter Mackenzie walk down the aisle to accept her diploma at Saint Anselm College in April, it was a shining moment for her, one that was made a reality through teamwork and a little scheduling magic, as Lisa feared that she wouldn’t make it to May to attend the full ceremony on campus. To make her dream happen, her family, her Care Dimensions hospice team, and college officials collaborated to stage a special event that was livestreamed so Lisa could watch it from her hospital bed at home, with her family and her Care Dimensions care team beside her.

“It meant a lot to my family to see my graduation together and to be supported by Care Dimensions to make it possible,” Mackenzie said. “Care Dimensions has been more than a hospice team. We feel like everybody we met has treated us as more than just a client. They really cared for all of us.”

Lisa, a single mother to Mackenzie, 22, and son Chris, 25, was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. She was frequently in and out of the hospital but continued working at Mass General and caring for her family. “My mom never once complained about how she felt; instead, she made sure everyone around her was OK,” Mackenzie said.

In late 2021, her condition worsened and she decided to stop treatment and focus instead on comfort care and quality of life. She elected to receive hospice care at home from Care Dimensions and her sister, Kim Maher, moved in to care for her. “The hospice team arranged for all the right equipment to be delivered to the house,” Kim said, “the commode, a walker, a hospital table –every piece of equipment we’d ever need.”

“After so much time in the hospital, Lisa really wanted to be at home,” she continued. “The hospice team was able to keep her comfortable at home and, when she needed more help for pain management, she went to the Kaplan Family Hospice House for four short stays to adjust her medication and stabilize her symptoms. We have been so grateful for Care Dimensions support. The staff and Lisa’s nurse, Kanchanithitar Patrican, have been incredible during our acute issues, and it’s been so reassuring to have the help of the 24-hour nursing support team. I think I’ve talked to every one of those nurses!”

Hospice team helps family navigate
Kim credits social worker Jenne Robertson and chaplain Donna Spencer Collins for guiding the family during the difficult times, particularly facilitating a meeting about the wake and service with Lisa and the funeral home.

“We were reluctant to go because we thought it would be too emotional, but Jenne and Donna worked with us on how to approach the meeting,” Kim said. “They coached us so well and we were so proud of ourselves for managing this difficult discussion. It was hard for Lisa to think about leaving her kids and she was concerned about how they were dealing with their grief, so Jenne also met with the kids together and then privately to talk about their concerns and feelings.”

Donna and Jenne joined the whole family when they talked about Lisa’s life and their experiences together. “It was wonderful, full of laughter and good memories,” Jenne said. “They have a beautiful family, open and honest and with a good sense of humor.”

Kim was especially mindful of Lisa’s wishes to remain active and travel, her favorite pastime, and credits the Care Dimensions team for making a family trip possible.

“We had planned a trip to Vermont, a family excursion with Lisa’s kids, my family, and our brothers’ families, but Lisa became ill and I was nervous about taking her so far away,” said Kim. “But Lisa’s care team stepped in to help us navigate a shorter trip to Chatham Bars Inn on the Cape. They even connected us to local supportive care in case we needed it. The trip was amazing and offered an unexpected opportunity for Lisa to revel in her daring side. The inn was running a Lexus promotion, so I arranged to take the two-seater sports car with red leather seats out for a drive. I wanted to stick to the speed limit, but Lisa told me to ‘get this thing moving – you’re not going fast enough.’ My baby sister was always the adventurous one.”

After Mackenzie’s graduation ceremony, she drove home to be with her mom and family and the celebration began. “We tapped into Care Dimensions’ Family Fund to buy a celebratory cake, balloons and a gift,” said Jenne, who also coordinated a family photo shoot and album to commemorate the event.

“I can’t say enough about Care Dimensions. Everyone who has walked through our door has come with such great energy and compassion,” Kim said. “We’re grateful for everything our team has done for us.”

Lisa passed away at the Kaplan Family Hospice House in April 2022, surrounded by her loving family.

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Since 1978, Care Dimensions, formerly Hospice of the North Shore,  has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in over 100 communities in Massachusetts.

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