Janice McConkey spent her life being her family’s rock: helping loved ones through the tough times and celebrating the joyful ones. But when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, it was time for others to care for her. In 2015, Janice experienced unusual pelvic pain. Diagnostic imaging revealed that she had cervical cancer. She was only 53.“We were shocked and sad to find out mom had cancer, especially at such a young age. She battled it hard. The chemo damaged her bladder, but she never gave up,” her daughter, Brittany Irwin, explained.
The cancer shrank, and Janice went into remission, getting scans every few months to confirm that the tumors hadn’t grown. After four years, the cancer returned as stage 4 metastatic in her lungs. Janice began chemotherapy and the cancer shrank briefly, but by Spring 2021, the cancer had metastasized to her liver. She had also developed pancreatic cancer. Janice’s case became very complex, as biopsies from her lungs and pancreas proved those cancers were different. By Thanksgiving, the cancer had spread to her brain.
"Toward the end, the cancer had spread quite a bit. There was no slowing it down at that point. In a way, I’m glad the cancer progressed quickly because the effects of it could have been worse. We really had all of her until the very end,” her youngest daughter, Heidi Conine, remarked.
Janice’s three daughters struggled to select the right care for their mother. She fought the idea of leaving the hospital and entering into home hospice care, because she knew her daughters would become her primary caregivers. But the family had heard wonderful things about Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospice and convinced Janice to try it. Right away, they knew it was the right choice. Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospice staff took care of Janice immediately, once she was discharged from the hospital. Cassie Elliot, RN, was Janice’s primary care provider. “At our first meeting, Cassie was respectful and professional, but also laughing with us. It wasn’t all serious, and she wasn’t pushy,” Brittany recalled. “She just asked us what the team could do for mom, and she gave her autonomy in her care."
Janice’s Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospice team educated the daughters on how to use a gait belt, schedule medications and rotate their mom so she didn’t get bed sores. The nurses planned home visits around the family’s schedules, so no one missed important events. The family also received a book detailing the hospice process at every stage, including what to expect as someone passes away. SBL bereavement counselors sent the grandchildren care packages with books and called consistently to see how they were faring.
“The resources were enormously beneficial,” Janice’s eldest daughter, Heather Stafford, said. “I’ve worked in healthcare and have seen the hospice process. It was a blessing for me not to have to tell my sisters what was happening to our mom. It felt like everyone’s arms were wrapped around us, giving us phenomenal care.”Cassie felt like family to Janice and her daughters at a time when compassionate guidance was needed most. Cassie even checked on the family while she was on vacation, just to say she was thinking about everyone. “She asked if she could do anything for us. That still gives me goosebumps, because it meant so much that Cassie would call on her personal time to check on not just my mother, but on us, too,” Brittany expressed.
The family celebrated Christmas early as Janice’s condition declined rapidly. Her memory slipped so often that she started initialing her daughter’s conversations in a notebook. Cassie gave them enough warning to encourage the grandchildren to say their goodbyes a day before Janice entered complete bed rest.
“Our mom was very scared at the end. We had many rough days where we were battling. She did not want to die at 59 years old. But we are so blessed that she received such dignity and comfort through Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospice,” Heidi stressed.
On January 7, Janice passed away peacefully in her Paris, Ill., home with family by her side. She was a lead transcriptionist and health information clerk at Horizon Health for more than 40 years. Her daughters will remember her innate ability to know when someone needed her help and how she lovingly created home-cooked meals. She was an accomplished cook who owned bookshelves of cookbooks, ranging from those published by the local church to the White House.
“I truly don’t know how we would have gotten through this tragedy without Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospice’s services. Everyone from the nurses to the equipment delivery people to the CNAs who helped bathe my mom gave us the utmost respect and compassion. We are devastated— but grateful,” Brittany said.
For more information, call Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospice at 1-800-454-4055.