Grandpa Dan was taken to the Emergency Room in 2011, shortly after I started my first year of college. He was struggling to button his worn out, but nicely pressed western button-down, plaid shirt. After detesting the trip to Great Falls, my Grandpa Dan agreed to get in the truck while my mom and my Grandma Mary made the 52 mile drive one-way to the hospital from Loma, Montana. My Grandpa was never ill.. He was the healthiest, quick-witted, full-head-of-hair, milk-shake-lover, racer-to-the-dinner table, I knew. Family came from far and wide to wait it out in the Emergency Room that day. After hours of waiting, the doctor reported there was a large mass growing rapidly in my Grandpa’s head that was building significant pressure against his brain. They would have to remove it immediately and he would have to begin treatment. He had brain cancer. They informed us he would have approximately 9 months or longer to live depending on how treatment took.
The morning of surgery, we all took our turns taking photos, crying, and hugging. There was a chance we would never see our Grandpa Dan again. He insisted surgery would be fine and we could all enjoy a milk shake once it was over.
We returned hours later to a groggy, smiling Grandpa Dan. The surgery was a success. They had removed a significant amount of the mass and the remainder would have to be targeted with radiation. After his surgery, he battled his cancer with appointments and treatments daily for weeks in a row. Grandma Mary drove him to and from Great Falls each day so that he could make it to his important treatments. He was very ill and exhausted but his land and farming took precedence over his need to rest. On November 28, 2011, we received positive news that 95% of his brain tumor has receded. We cried happy tears and celebrated with milk shakes.
We were blessed with more time with our Grandpa Dan than we ever expected from his initial diagnosis. Unfortunately, on September 5, 2013, we received news that his brain tumor was back and growing rapidly. He started treatment immediately. Within weeks, he lost his ability to walk and perform daily tasks. He made the tough decision to withdraw from treatments and checked himself into Benton Medical Center with around-the-clock nursing care and hospice capabilities.
During his last days on this earth, we showered him with so much love, milk shakes and foot massages. Friends and family traveled from near and far. We snuck him out of the Benton Medical Center (milk shake in hand) for a day to enjoy a camp fire by the Marias river on his land, roasting marshmallows and sipping on a “cold one.”After a long battle with cancer, Grandpa Dan passed away peacefully on April 29, 2014. He was laid to rest on May 5, 2014 on his farm land.
Witnessing my Grandpa’s cancer diagnosis and journey first-hand and how it affected the rest of the family was life-changing. I understand how financially and physically draining it was, especially for patients in rural areas. My Grandpa was a proud man and would never ask for help. We were blessed to have so many friends, family, and neighbors that would help when he was unwell.
My family traveled from far and wide, almost all of us driving more than 100 miles per day at one point to ensure he was able to make his appointments and receive proper treatment as well as support. There are so many families in rural areas that are traveling too long of distances to reach their healthcare needs. Some opting out entirely because of the stress it puts on themselves and their families. The Great Falls Clinic’s vision for the patient housing facility was and always has been near and dear to my heart. By providing this housing facility for patients and families in need, we are helping so many rural Montana families – just as my Grandpa Dan would have wanted.
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