FARMINGTON — Maria Fisher knew soon after the death of her son Connor three years ago that she wanted to be a hospice volunteer.
Although it was tragic and heartbreaking to witness Connor’s death, it was a beautiful, peaceful, and spiritual experience. Maria said her husband, Evan, was her spiritual guide throughout the seven years of their son’s illness. When Connor died, Maria realized in her heart she wanted to remain in that spiritual place because the experience left her with such a good feeling. Helping others allows her to do that, and she is of comfort to those experiencing the pain with which she is so familiar. She and her family are members of St. Olaf Parish.
Connor was 8 years old when he died in August 2003 of Ewings Sarcoma. Maria realizes now he was probably born with cancer because he was born with a spot on his hip. As he grew older he developed several spots which turned into lumps. In the end he got a lump next to his spine that metastasized to his lung.
"If we would have caught the cancer sooner, he could have had a 70 percent chance of survival," said Maria. "But it had spread, and he only had a 10 to 15 percent chance of survival. We pointed out these lumps and spots to various doctors, and we were told he would out grow them, they were nothing, or they were benign. So when he developed the lump next to his spine, we went straight to Primary Children’s Hospital. Connor received two bone marrow transplants, chemo-therapy, and enough radiation for a life time."
Connor did well for a few years. He received periodic check-ups, and was finally able to take out the port and catheter which fed medicine to his heart. But then he relapsed twice and started going downhill. The cancer came back with a vengeance in his brain and he had to have brain surgery.
"When he was not going through treatments and did not have to go to the hospital, he lived hard," said Maria. "He was a model child at home and he loved school. We learned a lot from him. From the time he was diagnosed and they gave us his prognosis, we did as much with him as we could regardless of the cost or the inconvenience realizing that we may never have another chance. Moab became like a second home because it was one of Connor’s favorite places. He loved to hike and have a good time.
"We had no barriers to our emotions or affection," said Maria. "We have no regrets except that he is not here with us. He knew he was dying and he was getting tired of the treatments. On his last day Connor told us he loved us, and we told Connor we loved him."
Connor died at Primary Children’s Hospital where they were monitoring the morphine he was taking to control his pain from the tumors that had spread throughout his body.
A few months before Connor died the hospital staff talked to Evan and Maria about hospice. Since Maria has been a volunteer with hospice, she has learned that with children hospice care is different. Parents want to be the hands-on care givers. With adults it is different, the help is appreciated.
"With Connor, and I have learned with other parents with children who are ill, this is time is such a personal and private time," said Maria. "Even though they offered us hospice, we had been doing so much of his treatment at home including shots, chemo-therapy, and dressing changes that we turned down hospice. It was comforting to know hospice was there if we needed them."
"I have gained so much experience and knowledge after working with South Davis Hospice," said Maria. "I have worked with four families with a child on hospice. If I had realized Connor was actually going to die that day, I would have asked him many more questions. I did not know what to expect. It was such a spiritual experience to be that close to someone who is dying, and that close to the other side. With kids, I think they are immediately with God.
"I knew right away I wanted to help others and offer them comfort in this difficult and painful journey," said Maria. "There were so many people who were there for Connor. The nurses and doctors took really good care of him. The Child Life specialists would come in and treat him emotionally and mentally. Connor knew they were not going to poke him or hurt him, they were there to provide activities and have fun. This was important because it is hard for a child to be in the hospital for months at a time for several years. A child in the hospital has more than just physical ailments. They are away from their families, friends, homes, their food, and their own beds.
When school starts, Maria will be working in oncology as a volunteer at Primary Children’s Hospital. She will help check in the children, weigh and measure them, and take their blood pressure.
"I will still be working with children on hospice, which is on a family-to-family basis. Hospice asks a family if they are interested in talking to a mother who has experienced her own child’s death. With children, parents are so protective, and I understand that completely. If I can be a part of helping in a positive way, then that is what I want to do. I feel a strong calling in my heart."
Maria wants to stay involved with families who are experiencing a death because she said it reminds her that love is what is important.