Page 3 - Heart of Hoag - Issue 3
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The Noebel family remains close with Dr. Nguyen and other Hoag CARES team members. Barry, (from left) Annie and Sara hold a photo of their mother, Jane.
‘She Had So Much Grace’
Jane Noebel’s diagnosis sent shockwaves through her tight-knit Irvine family. But the extraordinary love and compassion that surrounded her gave profound meaning to her final days – and a measure of peace and comfort to her loved ones
For the Noebel family of Irvine, the final precious weeks, days and moments of Jane Noebel’s life were an extraordinary lesson.
They were a lesson about the immutable bonds of family love. They were a lesson about quiet dignity and inner personal strength, reflected in Jane’s resolve to embrace and celebrate life fully to the end, even under the crushing physical and emotional weight of terminal illness. And they were a lesson about the lasting impacts of compassionately delivered palliative care.
Four months earlier, in late November 2013, Jane, a vibrant 54-year-old mother of identical twin daughters Annie and Sara, 25, and son Charlie, 19, had been hospitalized with persistent severe stomach and back pain. After extended hospital stays and tests – first at Hoag, then at Keck School of Medicine of USC – Jane underwent exploratory surgery that revealed a large tumor in her abdomen determined to be Stage IV gastric cancer.
The devastating and completely unexpected diagnosis blindsided Jane’s husband, Barry, and her children.
“It was a total shock to all of us,” recalls Annie, a public relations professional in San Francisco. “She was the most amazing mom. She was vibrant, selfless, kindhearted and fun. She never passed up an opportunity to be with her family and she was there for us during both the good and bad times. When you came home and walked through the door, she could tell right away if you had had a bad day just by looking at you. And then she’d greet you with open arms, and with a big hug.”
In the moments following the diagnosis, “We all put our heads on her chest, but she said, ‘Don’t cry,’” Annie says. “She was so brave. She had so much grace.”
Honoring Jane’s wishes to be near family and friends in Orange County, in February 2014 she was transferred to Hoag CARES, the hospital’s palliative care program in Newport Beach directed by Vincent Nguyen, D.O., C.M.D.
At first, the decision to begin palliative care didn’t sit well with Annie. “That was the hardest thing for me to accept – making the decision to stop everything,” she says. “I kept asking, ‘How can we stop doing everything?’ My mom instilled a ‘never give up’ attitude in us. While it seemed like we might be ‘giving up’ to me, I don’t think that’s how she saw it. She accepted it. For her, it meant no more poking and prodding in the time she had left. Her strength amazed us all.”
Annie says any reticence she and her family had about the CARES Program vanished the moment they met Dr. Nguyen. “My family instantly connected with him. He walked up to my mom and said, ‘Hi, Jane,’ and spoke so sweetly and reassuringly to her. He had such a calming presence.”
That sweetness and calming effect permeated the entire program and Hoag staff, Annie says. She recalls in particular Sanja Simikic, RN, “an amazing person who was truly an advocate for my mom. She gave my mother her dignity. That’s the most important thing – having advocates, and Hoag was wonderful in making sure my mom had not only one, but many.”
“My family truly feels like Dr. Nguyen and his team did their very best. He would constantly say things like, ‘Your mother has lived a life that is long and beautiful, and she deserves everything we can do for her,’” Annie says. “I’m not kidding you and I think my brother, sister and dad can attest to this – in the three weeks she was there, they gave my mom more life than she had in the entire two months before. They helped her live life to the fullest and they made her feel like her life was worth living until the very end.”
Jane passed away on March 13, 2014.
The family grew so close to Dr. Nguyen that he and Annie’s father, Barry, still keep in touch. “I think my dad has found a lifelong friend,” she says, adding: “Our experience with Hoag’s palliative care team was one that we’ll never forget, one we couldn’t forget if we tried.”
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