Cancer victim remains upbeat with help from hospice

September 19, 2003|HERB BROCK

When Jakie Allendar was a schoolgirl, she loved performing for the class. But her performances were never scheduled. They were always spontaneous.

"I'd get up in front of the class and dance and say silly things," she said. "I'd laugh. The class would laugh. Everybody would laugh. Everybody except the teacher, but sometimes she'd even laugh.

"Yes, I am a class clown."

It's interesting that Jakie used the present tense to describe her classroom cut-ups, even though her unscheduled performances before appreciative classmates and mostly unamused teachers occurred more than six decades ago. But here she is, 75 years young and still acting up - and smiling and laughing and getting those around her to do the same.

Nowadays, however, circumstances are very different.

Her stage is not a classroom in a school building, but her living room in her house off of Lebanon Road. Her audience is not composed of students and teachers, but nurses and volunteers. Her clowning is done in a context involving issues much more serious than learning how to conjugate a verb or diagram a sentence.


She's still kidding around, but her situation is no laughing matter.

Allendar has inoperable lung cancer. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy were unsuccessful. She is a client in the transitional program of Heritage Hospice. The program is for seriously-ill people whose prognosis indicates they have a year or less to live and who require limited clinical care, some volunteer assistance and other forms of support.

Allendar did not need an orientation to tell her about hospice. She had participated as a caregiver in the program.

"My husband, Charlie, had emphysema and was in hospice care for several months until he died in May 2002, when he was 77," Allendar said. "Five months later, in October, I was diagnosed with lung cancer."

The couple's health problems ended what had been a "very pleasant" retirement. The Allendars had lived and worked in Fayette County - he as a supervisor on a horse farm and she as a credit office manager - and had raised three sons, now ages 47 to 55, when they decided to leave both their jobs and their old home. They selected a ranch house in Boyle County and made the move about nine years ago.

When a visitor in her home grimaced at the recent events she had recounted in her life and started to express pity for Allendar for the misfortunes that had rocked her world, she cut him off and started cutting up.

"Now, I don't want any sympathy," she said with mock firmness. "And I certainly don't want people thinking this (newspaper) story is some sort of ad for a man. I'm not looking for a man, honey. At least not today."

As her audience, including volunteer Bonnie Gadberry and registered nurse Sharon Risden, burst into laughter, Allendar momentarily took off the grease paint and turned serious.

"When they gave me the lung cancer diagnosis and said prospects were not good for me, I said to them, 'So be it.'"

But she didn't mean "so be it" as in a fatalistic statement that she was resigned to her prognosis. She meant "so be it" as in a defiant declaration that she was going to do her best to conquer her cancer. Despite the odds, she said she is not going to give in to her disease.

"This disease will not get me, as long as I keep a positive frame of mind," Allendar said. "With prayers, God's help and help from my doctor and these wonderful hospice people, I believe I can beat it. I know I'm going to remain upbeat.

"Too many people who are sick like me are afraid of hospice and believe going into it means they're ready to die. I'm not denying I have a serious illness, but I'm not ready to die, either."

Since conventional procedures, treatments and medications have failed to eradicate her cancer, she has turned to an experimental drug.

"I'm taking Iressa, what some people call a 'miracle drug' that fights cancer," she said. "I believe it is helping."

Hospice "friends" are her best "drug"

But the best "drug" for Allendar are her "friends" from hospice, especially Gadberry and Risden.

"When the door opens and someone from hospice comes in, a friend is entering my home," Allendar said. "Bonnie and Sharon are two of my best friends in the world. More than that, they're like part of my extended family.

"And they're good sports, too, having to put up with my carrying on and silly comments."

Since Allendar is in the transitional program, she does not receive the regular clinical attention required by patients in hospice's medical program. However, Risden frequently drops by Allendar's home to keep an eye on her. It's become a familiar place for Risden. She cared for Allendar's husband when he was in hospice.

"It was hard to do my work because Jakie kept me laughing so hard," said Risden. "She's always smiling and laughing and joking - and sometimes at my expense."

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