Cortland Hospice Foundation Welcomes New Board Members

The Hospice Foundation of Cortland County (HFCC), a nonprofit foundation that supports Hospicare, welcomed two new board members in 2020: Nancy Wainwright and Evelyn Sammons.

A resident of the Cortland area for more than five decades, Evelyn Sammons is a past board member for HFCC and for Hospicare. Now retired after a 30-year career with the Homer School District, Evelyn enjoys reading, hiking and biking. She is a strong advocate for hospice, believing that all patients and families in the Cortland area can benefit from the full range of services available to them, including grief counseling.

Nancy Wainwright, a resident of Cortland County for 70 years, served as secretary for the Marathon Elementary School for over two decades. Nancy enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with family. She views her volunteering as a way to “pay forward” her gratitude for the hospice services her family members have received in the past.  Nancy is also a strong advocate for fundraising, understanding that philanthropy helps patients receive exceptional care.

Hospicare thanks the entire HFCC board for the ways in which they support Hospicare’s mission!

Gearing Up for Women Swimmin’ 2018

On the morning of Saturday, August 11, 2018 Cayuga Lake will be bustling with activity for the 15th Annual Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare.  Women Swimmin’ is a community swim—not a race—that raises money to support of the work Hospicare & Palliative Care Services. More than 300 women will swim 1.2 miles across Cayuga Lake that day escorted by nearly 200 boaters and supported onshore by 100 volunteers. Dozens of other women will be swimmin’ laps in pools in Tompkins and Cortland counties, across the country and even around the world in the months leading up to August 11.

Photo by Frank Leahy

Women Swimmin’ is Hospicare’s largest fundraising and community outreach event of the year.  Many of the services we provide to our community are possible because of the generous support we receive though Women Swimmin’. Obviously, all of us at Hospicare think it’s a wonderful event, but you don’t need to take our word for it!  The following is what some past participants have said about Women Swimmin’.

From women who swam across Cayuga Lake:

  • “My favorite part of Women Swimmin’ is the sense of community, joy and love on the day of the event, meeting new people, and knowing that I’m helping a family receive the end of life support the need.”
  • “It was one of the most beautiful and powerful days of my life and I can’t wait to do it again and again. The greeting I received coming out of the water from one of the volunteers moved me to tears.”
  • “I believe in the purpose, in Hospicare. The swim is a wonderful way to raise money and give back. Swimming across the lake I swim with all I have lost. Shadow swimmers beside me crossing the lake on a beautiful morning.”

From women who swam Laps:

  • “It just feels good to do something that is good for the community as well as for your own health.”
  • “I loved being able to swim Laps because I couldn’t make it back home to Ithaca for the swim! It was fun to stay involved despite being farther away.”

From some of our boaters:

  • “Rain or shine, wind or calm, it’s a great day. A chance to be on the water, do good, honor those that are gone, celebrate with those that are here, and help promote an extremely important and worthy cause.”
  • “It is a fantastic way to support friends, families and Hospicare. In a world that is full of negatives, this is a celebration of Life.”
  • “Hospicare was my family’s blessing a few years ago. I was glad to give back to them!”

If you’d like to join us for Women Swimmin’, as a swimmer, boater or volunteer, here’s what you need to know to participate in this year’s event:

  • Lake Swimmer registration will open May 7 at 6:00 AM. In past years swimmer registration filled in 2 to 3 hours, so if you’d like to swim the lake this year, we suggest you plan on setting your alarm for 6:00 AM on registration day. This year’s event is eagerly anticipated by women in our community–and beyond. Some will even come from other states and other countries to participate!
  • Boater registration opens April 15 and will be ongoing until August 5.
  • Women Swimmin’ Laps–where swimmers swim at their own pace in a swimming pool of their choice– opened for registration March 15 and will be ongoing until August 10.
  • Volunteer –registration opens May 15. We rely on the help of over 100 volunteers to make Women Swimmin’ possible!

For regular updates on the 2018 event, “like” Women Swimmin’ on Facebook.

For more information, visit www.womenswimmin.org

Women Swimmin’ 2017 a Success!

On Saturday, August 12, 2017, 284 women gathered to swim across Cayuga Lake (a distance of 1.2 miles). They were escorted by 150 boaters in kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and powerboats. And they were supported on shore by 130 volunteers who helped out at Cass Park, the Ithaca Yacht Club, the swim entry on the east shore, and in the days and weeks before the swim. Joining these swimmin’ women in spirit, if not in person, were 38 women who swam laps in pools throughout our community and around the world!

The women who decide to participate in Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare do so for many reasons. Some are swimming in memory or honor of a loved one who received hospice services. Some are swimming because they understand the importance of hospice services and want to make sure Hospicare will be here to support their family someday. Others swim for the physical challenge or the camaraderie of this community swim. One reason they all swim was proudly declared on our t-shirts, buttons and posters: “I swim to celebrate life.”

Some of the Hospicare Angelfish – our staff who swam for Women Swimmin’ 2017

At its very essence, hospice is a philosophy of care that celebrates life. Hospicare’s mission is to support our patients so they can live their lives as fully as possible, for however much time is left. Our team of skilled professionals and trained volunteers work together to provide physical, emotional and spiritual comfort to our friends and neighbors who are dealing with terminal illness. All of us here today, plus thousands of donors around the world, have come together to make sure that care continues.  To make sure everyone in our community can receive the hospice and palliative care they need to live their lives fully, regardless of whether they have insurance or means to pay.

Celebrating life and living life fully means different things to each of us. Obviously, it can mean swimmin’ or boatin’ across Cayuga Lake, or back and forth in a pool!

For some of the people we support, living life fully might mean:

  • a portable oxygen tank so he can go out to dinner with friends or watch a grandchild’s ball game.
  • a wheelchair and a raised garden bed so she can get outside and plant flowers
  • a volunteer to help her sort through and organize family photos
  • a social worker–and others–trying to make sure a beloved pet finds the right next home
  • a grief support group with others who are also grieving the death of someone they love

Most of all, it means there is an entire Hospicare team to make the burden of caregiving and dying just a bit easier.

All of us at Hospicare are immensely grateful for these swimmers and boaters who have given of their time and put forth great energy to fundraise for Hospicare. We also appreciate the volunteers and boaters, the friends and families who have supported our swimmers, and also to the corporate sponsors and underwriters who covered the expenses associated with the event. We truly could not support our community in all the ways we do without your amazing support.

Thank you!

No One Swims Alone

No one swims alone. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve said or typed that phrase in the seven years I’ve worked at Hospicare and been involved with Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare. It’s an important part of our Women Swimmin’ event—that no swimmer should be alone as she crosses Cayuga Lake. She should always be with an escort boat and ideally with other swimmers. Many swimmers and boaters say their favorite part of Women Swimmin’ is the community of the event and seeing so many other swimmers and boaters around them in the lake. It can be intimidating to be in the middle of a big, deep lake, but our swimmers are not alone out there.

The women who are swimming laps as part of Women Swimmin’ Laps for Hospicare are also not swimmin’ alone. They’re in pools with a certified lifeguard watching to make sure they’re safe. Some laps swimmers are part of a Women Swimmin’ team, who are fundraising together. Even if each swimmer is swimming her laps solo, she joins in the sisterhood of Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare. She is swimmin’–just as 1400 other women have swum over the years—to raise funds that support quality, end-of-life care for our community. While she swims her laps, she carries with her the memory of friends and family who have been served by Hospicare.

I’ve come to learn, and our Women Swimmin’ participants know or have learned, that “no one swims alone” is not just a Women Swimmin’ protocol but also a mantra for hospice care. Our staff and volunteers work together, as a team, to care for and support our patients and their families. Hospice is unique in that the focus of care is not only the patient’s physical needs, but also their spiritual and emotional needs, and those of their loved ones.

Our interdisciplinary team of staff and volunteers work together to anticipate and meet the various needs of our patients and their families. Some of those needs are medical (medications, medical equipment, personal care); other needs are logistical, emotional or spiritual. Whatever the need, there is someone on the Hospicare team who will make sure that need is met.

The journey of illness, death and grief is a difficult one. Your support of Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare means that our patients and their loved ones won’t have to make the journey alone. Hospicare will be there, with skilled staff and trained volunteers to provide the support, guidance and care that’s needed.

Because no one swims alone.


Melissa Travis Dunham was previously our manager of community relations at Hospicare. She was the event coordinator and helped organize Women Swimmin’ for four years.

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Illuminations: a Time of Remembrance and Community

Each year, on an evening in early June, the gardens of the Nina K. Miller Hospicare Center on Ithaca’s South Hill glow with light. Visitors stroll our garden paths, which are lined with 300 luminarias, many dedicated to someone who has died. At the end of the evening a lighted canoe glides across our pond while trumpeters play “Taps,” and all who are in attendance pause to remember someone they love. This is Hospicare’s spring community memorial event: Illuminations.

This year’s Illuminations event will be held on Thursday, June 8. A reception and luminaria lighting begin at 7:30 p.m. A special program of remembrance starts at 8:00 p.m. Illuminations is held rain or shine. In case of inclement weather, the program moves indoors to the Hospicare Great Room. The event is open to the public. There is no cost to attend, although luminarias can be personalized for a suggested donation of $25. (Donations are greatly appreciated, but not required.)

If you are grieving the loss of someone you love, whether the death was recent or many years ago, and regardless of whether your loved one died on hospice services, we invite you to join us. Come experience the peace and beauty of the Hospicare gardens. Light a luminaria in memory or in honor of a loved one. Most importantly, share in the sense of community with others who are also grieving a loss.

If you would like to join us or make a contribution to have a luminaria lit in memory of someone you love, please RSVP online.

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Families More Satisfied when Hospice is Involved

Founder of the modern hospice movement, Dame Cicely Saunders once said “How people die remains in the memory of those who live on.” At Hospicare, we recognize the great importance behind Dr. Saunders’ words. Our goal in caring for our patients and supporting their families is for death to be a peaceful, natural experience and not something to be feared.

Reuters reports that a recent study by the Journal of Clinical Oncology (online on December 19, 2016) found that families of cancer patients were more satisfied with the treatment and care their loved ones received if hospice was involved. The families surveyed for the study were more likely to indicate that their loved ones had the right amount of pain medicine and help with breathing difficulties when they had care and support from hospice.

Hospice is generally defined as being appropriate for people whose physician indicates they have less than six months to live. Unfortunately, many patients and families wait until much closer to the end to ask for our help.  “Our findings suggest that earlier hospice enrollment is associated with better symptom management, less pain, better quality of care, and a higher likelihood that patients will receive the care that they want in their own environment,” said study co-author Dr. Alexi Wright of Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

If you want to learn more about the benefits of receiving hospice care, or palliative care, please visit the Get Support section of our website. Or call us at 607-272-0212.

Lucky 13th on August 13

Women Swimmin’ 2016

The 13th Annual Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare took place on Saturday, August 13, 2016—and luck was smiling down on us! The morning was warm and muggy, but rains held off until late in the day and the lake was calm for our swimmers. After gathering at Cass Park Rink at dawn, 320 swimmers took buses to the east shore so they could wade into Cayuga Lake and swim across to the Ithaca Yacht Club. The women were escorted by 170 boaters and cheered on by two volunteers floating near the east shore in a giant inflatable ducky and a flamingo. As the swimmers emerged from the lake, their friends, family members and hundreds of people from the community were there to greet them and celebrate their success.

Again this year, additional swimmers participated in Women Swimmin’ Laps for Hospicare, swimming a distance they chose, in the pool of their choice with a certified lifeguard. Nineteen swimmers took part in Women Swimmin’ Laps and their combined goals totaled more than 200 miles. Several of our Laps swimmers were on-hand at Cass Park or the Ithaca Yacht Club to cheer on their lake swimmin’ sisters.

We wish to thank everyone who gave their time, talents and money to support this event, including about 140 volunteers who provided support on shore and in the days leading up to the swim. We also extend a special thanks to our corporate sponsors. They covered all event expenses, so that the money raised by swimmers and boaters will go toward patient and family services. Their generosity, and the generosity of all our event donors and supporters, allows us to keep our promise to provide end-of-life care and bereavement support to anyone in our community who needs our help.

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Finding Comfort In Everyday Things

When a Mother Dies

Three months after I started working at Hospicare my mother died of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. I thought I would be prepared for her death. After all, I had been grieving the loss of her for years. It had been a while since she had recognized me and even longer since she had remembered a birthday or initiated contact. But I was not prepared.

A friend whose parent had died of dementia told me, after death, memories of the disease fade and recollections of the person as she was resurface. I was skeptical, but I have realized that my friend’s insight is true. Now that I’m not confronted by the stark reality of my mother’s Alzheimer’s, in my mind’s eye she is the younger, alert, capable and loving woman she always had been. That has eased the loss of her.

I have found comfort in small everyday things: wearing jewelry that was hers, making a favorite family recipe. On her birthday and the anniversary of her death, I wear her favorite color, blue. Mother’s Day is still tough for me. While she was alive I could still reach out and connect on some level. But now Mother’s Day is a hard-to-avoid reminder that I no longer have a mother. I have found ways to cope. Hospicare’s grief support group provided an outlet for my grief and let me know I’m not alone. And every May since my mother’s death I get blue hair extensions. Mom would probably have been horrified by them. But for me the extensions have become a fun way to remember her on Mother’s Day.