Update on Donna’s Memorial Fund

I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you who have donated to Donna’s Memorial Fund.  Although I knew many of our friends and family would donate, the staff in the Philanthropy Office at PAMF has been very surprised by the number of people and families (now over 75) who have made contributions, and have commented that Donna must have been an incredibly special person to have been loved by so many people.  I gladly told them that words can only begin to describe what a wonderful and incredible gift Donna was to all of us!

As you know, Donna was a registered nurse and the Mission of her Memorial Fund is to instill Donna’s love for patients and their families in new oncology nurses at PAMF.  We are going to sponsor training courses focused on excellent bedside manner and empathy with family members.  Although their formal training will have provided some instruction in these areas, your generosity will enable the new nurses to be exposed to specialized, hands-on training that will stay with them throughout their careers, effectively multiplying Donna’s love in a widespread manner for many years to come.  I will provide some additional updates as we get the first few nurses through the course during the early part of 2013.

I went by PAMF today to drop off some more donations and give copies of Donna’s book to some of the nurses who provided us with such excellent care during her treatments.  As I was waiting in the Oncology department for one of the nurses, a pretty woman came out from the treatment area to make some follow-up appointments.  What struck me was that she was about the same age that Donna was when the cancer was first diagnosed.  My mind flashed back to the early days of Donna’s cancer and my heart went out to this lady, knowing all the trials that we went through over the years.  She was alone and I said a little prayer of thanks for the countless times that I was able to be there for Donna’s appointments.  She asked for directions to one of the departments where certain tests are performed – a department we knew all too well.  We shared a polite smile as she left.

I handed out the books and had one extra, so I knew it was meant for her.  I walked down to the department she had asked about and found her sitting in the waiting room.  I wanted to tell her a little about Donna, about the excellent care we had received – I wanted to encourage her, but started crying as I approached her.  Since a blubbering stranger is not usually a welcome site, I switched to Plan B and just said “I would like to give you this book that my wife wrote.  I think you will really enjoy it.”  After a deep breath in an attempt to regain my composure, I finished with “It is a happy story.”  I turned and left as I started tearing up, choking back sobs.

As I drove back to my office I realized 1) that my efforts at encouraging this lady were pretty pathetic and 2) that I was doing the best that I could at this time.  I don’t know her story and I truly hope that it is better than I am imagining – that she was getting the last set of tests before receiving a clean bill of health.  I do know that if she reads Donna’s book, she will experience a life full of joy despite suffering, a heart of boundless compassion and love, and a faith that anchored Donna’s soul through every storm.

So Donna’s legacy continued in at least two significant ways today – through the good work that is beginning because of the Memorial Fund and through her book.  Thank you again for your donations.  If you check back in a few months, there promises to be some great stories that we will have to share with you!

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Donna’s Memorial Service and The Donna Largent Memorial Fund

I want to thank you again for the love and support that you have shown me during this time of loss and emptiness.  The sheer number of cards that I have received has been overwhelming and a testament to the beneficial impact Donna that had on so many people during her very special life.

Donna’s Memorial Service is going to take place at our church’s Worship Center at 11:00 am on Saturday, November 3rd.

Abundant Life Christian Fellowship
2440 Leghorn Street
Mountain View, CA 94043

Donna Largent Memorial Fund

We have established the Donna Largent Memorial Fund at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF).  As you may know, Donna had received wonderful care at PAMF since we moved here in 2001, and especially after her recurrence in 2009.  We are going to use the funds to further improve the patient experience during oncology treatment, particularly for chemotherapy patients.  A number of donations have been made and Donna would be pleased with the results so far.

In order for your donation to be directed properly, please make the donation payable to: PAMF – Medical Oncology.  Please write “Donna Largent Memorial Fund” in the memo line and it will be placed in the Fund.

The donations can be sent to:

Palo Alto Medical Foundation
Department of Philanthropy
795 El Camino Real
Palo Alto, CA  94301

You can also make donations online through the PAMF website (http://www.pamf.org/giving/) by clicking on the Donate Now link and writing “Medical Oncology” in the PAMF Location/Department section and “Donna Largent Memorial Fund” in the Comments section.

I hope to see you at the Memorial Service as we recall the wonderful memories we have of Donna’s love for life and the joy she spread to everyone she met.

Love,

Craig

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Donna is Now in Heaven

Donna gently entered Heaven on Sunday evening.  Her precious body had been wearing out for the last week and it was time for her to be released to a better place.  I had promised her that I would be holding her – that she would go straight from my arms into the arms of Jesus.  Thankfully, I was able to follow through on this last promise to my precious lover.

Donna weakened as the week progressed and entered a coma on Thursday evening.  I was very attentive to managing the morphine and other meds so that she was comfortable and pain free throughout the week.  I was pretty sure that she was not in pain, but not sure – until I accidentally sat on her hand for a few seconds, which was under the covers, and she winced.  A few minutes later, I was on the phone with the nurse and she asked me if Donna was in any pain.  I told her I knew she was totally pain free and related how I knew!

Late Saturday morning, Donna’s condition was worsening and the Hospice Nurse said that it was likely that we only had a few more hours left.  Donna’s little hands were blue and cold.  They had gotten so thin that her wedding band and the ring she received from Chris and Carla at their wedding wouldn’t stay on her fingers any more.  So I climbed into the little twin hospital bed with her and spent the whole afternoon into the evening crying and talking to her and reliving our good memories.  By 8 pm, she was still going strong and I told her to hang on because I had to go to the bathroom!!!  All night, she was breathing steadily and I kept administering her medicines through the night to keep her comfortable.  When the Hospice nurse returned Sunday morning, she was surprised that Donna was still doing so well and told me how strong she was, which was no surprise to me.

By Sunday afternoon, Donna’s body was getting too weak to continue much longer, but her heart and soul were still chugging along.  Some would say she was “A Real Fighter,” but that conveys the wrong image since there was no enmity or tension – no strife.   The much better analogy is that she was at a fun party and that she just didn’t want to go home.  We were usually the last to leave parties because Donna always wanted to meet one more person and bless them with her love.  Yesterday it was the same – Donna loved me, her puppies, her friends – her life – and didn’t want it to end.  By late afternoon, her pulse was 160, she was breathing hard through her mouth because her little heart and lungs were giving out, and I was telling her that the party was ending and that she needed to let go and head home.

My sister, Christy, had been here all week ministering to Donna, bringing my meals up to the bedroom, helping change Donna’s diapers, and encouraging me.  Since Donna had entered the coma, we were turning her every few hours so that she would be comfortable.  Christy helped me turn Donna a little and I laid down next to her again, holding her and telling her how much I loved her.  I was kissing her cheek and her neck and listing the names of friends and family who would be waiting for her in Heaven and she closed her mouth and took a few gentle breaths through her nose, paused, took a few more breaths, and repeated this cycle a few times.  Then she just was still and perfect.  Her entry into Heaven was peaceful and tender, with me holding her and kissing her just as we had planned.  Then we had a wonderful miracle that I will share at her Memorial Service ….

We donated Donna’s body to medical research, so she will still be giving to others for a while.  The Memorial Service will be at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View on Saturday, November, 3rd and it will be a fun time as remember how Donna touched the lives of so many people.  We are also setting up a Donna Largent Memorial Fund at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, where Donna received care for the last 3 1/2 years.  I will be working with the Medical Oncology department over the next few weeks to finalize the plans for the Fund and will give you information on how you can contribute.

Lastly, I know some of you are concerned about me.  It has been a privilege to help take care of Donna the last few years and I have received marvelous support from our many friends and family.  I continue to be blessed with great support and am looking forward to getting back to my work as a patent attorney since it requires me to focus my mental energies, which I hope will be helpful as I deal with the enormous void that I already feel acutely.  My heart is filled with a deep sadness at the loss of my true love, balanced by many joyful thoughts of Donna’s beautiful life and peaceful death.  I was able to hold her as we planned and deliver her safely to her Savior – not a bad outcome considering the circumstances.

Love,

Craig

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Love as Donna’s Distilled Spirit

As Donna has weakened during the last week and her mind has started to lose focus, her true beauty is shining through with a brighter and brighter flame that is increasingly concentrated in purity – a deep, vibrant, intense shade of love that is so very rare.  But before I get to that, here is a little status update.  Donna has had a little more energy the last few days and drank a Caramel Frappucino yesterday morning along with some grape juice and Squirt.  Today she was coherent as a dear friend from Chicago arrived to be with us this week.  She ate a little danish from the bakery and enjoyed a Mocha Frappucino.  So the end of this week was better than the beginning – and for that I am thankful.

Her thoughts wander as she talks and sleeps, but the common focus is love and concern for the wellbeing of others.  Yesterday as she spoke on the phone with one of her adopted daughters, she talked about the Birthday Card that she had already purchased for 2014! Donna specifically noted that it was a Daughter Birthday Card and she was intentional in letting Beth know that she considered her to be her daughter and loved her as a daughter.

As I try to process the overwhelming flood of feelings and emotions that course through my mind while I hold Donna, the singular image is that her essence is being distilled and the purest nectar is flowing out.  The less significant components of her personality are falling away and revealing the core of her being – a heart of love.  I am experiencing the purified and refined version of Donna – the True Donna – and it takes me back to when we first met and fell in love and the reason I had to be with her for the rest of my life – She is a lover –  Love for God, Love for People, Love for Animals (especially dogs), Love for Life.  People who visit us are drenched in love as they talk to her and hold her hand.  They come in with burdens and worries.  They leave with peace and hope.  Donna always made our house into a home, but the True Donna has converted a room with a hospital bed into a haven of healing and wholeness.  She is so amazing on so many levels and I am still the luckiest guy in the world.

In closing, I must say that there are two more facets of her personality that remain – Cleanliness and Sense of Humor.  She is still using a good portion of her strength to make sure that I am cleaning the house to her specifications.  She has said that her Mom was so clean that she scrubbed the garage floor with soap and water.  In comparison, I should be contented that she just wants me to clean the vanity in the bathroom!  Donna’s funny bone is still intact and she was joking with the Hospice doctor on Thursday and laughing and lighting up the room with her smile.  Today, while one of my buddies was visiting, Donna was telling my sister that she wanted her to go through her clothes and take some since “I won’t be able to wear them in Heaven.”  Then she turned to my friend and said “I’m sorry that I can’t give you any of my shoes!” and we all had a great big laugh.

Thanks again for all your expressions of love and concern.  The love for Donna is so intense that I have given up on responding and am just focused on taking good care of my girl.  So I ask for your charity in advance.  Please know that we appreciate all your kindnesses.  Please credit my lack of responsiveness to the abundance of your gifts, not any lack of thankfulness on our part.

Love,

Craig

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Months to Weeks

When we first met with the Hospice doctor, the prognosis was that we still had time measured in months.  When Donna stopped eating – then the prognosis shifted to weeks.  Unfortunately, Donna stopped eating a few days ago.  We had such a wonderful time with Chris and Carla at our dinner just 11 days ago, we never expected that it would be our last time at a restaurant.  Donna always loved Cheeseburgers, so it turned out to be a good finale.

At the beginning of last week, Donna started losing her appetite and just wanted sherbet (she loved the sorbets sent by relatives in Florida) and fruit popsicles.  She continued drinking well throughout the week – lemonade, Squirt, Vernors Ginger Ale.  First, she lost the taste for the smoothies she had been enjoying.  We tried fresh baked croissants, English muffins with organic jam, and numerous varieties of chocolates without much success.  As her appetite diminished, I went to Costco and bought the 42-pack of Ensure in hopes of getting some calories into her system.  There are currently about 39 bottles in the pantry.

Although the doctors and nurses had told me that the decline in Donna’s health would likely accelerate, I found it hard to believe.  After 21 years of holding her own against cancer, Donna is a walking miracle and a special breed of survivor – not someone who merely follows the conventional pattern.  My confidence in her strength made the purchase of the 42-pack a logical choice.  I am surprised, but mostly saddened that she is losing her energy so quickly.

Although Donna is sleeping 22-23 hours a day, she continues to be the most perfect person in the world.  In her hallucinations she is trying to help others (Slow down, Slow down so she can get on) and experiencing the best of life (Oh, how beautiful).  She continues to express her faith and love for Jesus.  Her pain is under control and she is still focused on others – her most significant sorrow is that she is not able to write thank you notes for all the gifts and cards that we are receiving.  During the 20-30 minutes of lucidity we have each day, she is full of love and peace.  Is it any wonder that I am thankful that I have the opportunity to care for her and am still amazed that I have been fortunate enough to have been married to her for the last 23 years?

We apologize again for not returning calls, emails, and texts.  We are getting the messages/emails and I play them for Donna or read them to her when she is awake.  Our precious little Gracie told her Mom – I am just going to keep calling and leaving messages so that Aunt Donna will hear my voice and know how much I love her.  We definitely feel God’s love as expressed through all of you.  Thank you again.

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Day by Day

After a wonderful weekend with Chris and Carla (Donna is still reliving being the Mother of the Groom just two years ago), today was as bad as the weekend was good.  On Saturday night, Donna had enough energy to go out for hamburgers at The Counter and enjoyed the meal and the company.  We sat outside under the heaters and celebrated the Gator’s victory earlier in the day (at least I did).

We saw our oncologist Monday evening and Donna still felt pretty good.  The fluid is continuing to build up in Donna’s abdomen and we decided to continue to have the fluid drained as needed, rather than have a port installed, which comes with certain complications.  It was looking like we were going to have a pretty good week…

Today, Donna woke up with nausea and vomiting.  She took her anti-nausea meds, which worked, but also made her sleep all day in kind of a semi-conscious state.  The Hospice nurse came by and is helping us manage the side effects from the various meds including the morphine, which is working well but causing some hallucinations (they are very gentle and a little funny  – Donna is picking at my arm as she tries to pick up some pills that has spilled – Drinking coffee with her Dad, who passed away before we met 24 years ago).

We had a good dinner tonight with light pasta that one friend brought by and some delicious  butternut squash soup that one of our neighbors dropped by the front door.  We are hoping that Donna will keep it down so she can get some nutrition and feel better tomorrow.  I am working from home part of the day now and friends are a constant blessing: bringing meals, walking the puppies, stopping by to visit, sending flowers and cards, and making us feel very loved.

We will continue to make updates when possible.  If you contact us and we don’t respond to you in a timely fashion, please know that it is just that we are a little overwhelmed and that we will be getting back to you when we are able.

Love,

Craig and Donna

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Entering the Home Stretch

Donna has been very tired and weak the last few weeks.  In order to get some more energy, we had a blood transfusion today to increase her red blood cell count and are hoping that this will perk her up a little bit.

We also met with the oncologist today and Donna’s body is too weak to tolerate any more chemotherapy.  So hospice is going to come to the house next week and will be able to help Donna be comfortable.  Although the pain is continuing to increase, the pain medicines are pretty effective – but also make Donna sleepy.

She has a real craving for citrus, including Dreamsicles and lemonade.  I have been making smoothies for her from fruit and fruit juice and those have been going down well.

We are hoping that stopping treatment will help her body recover some energy so we can enjoy the Fall.

Because we have been holding our own for the last three years since the metastasis, I have been in a state of contented denial.  I am not really sure how we will cope with this next phase, but I only have one regret – We should have driven up to Reno when Donna and Chris came to Palo Alto for my first Stanford graduation and gotten married a week earlier than we actually did!  The last 23 years with her have been better than I ever dreamed!

We want to thank everyone for their prayers and support over the last 21 years of living with cancer.  We love you all in Jesus’ name.

Craig and Donna

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