My name is Sharry Swanson. I live in Aurora, Colorado, and I’m 65 years old with two grown children and two grandchildren. I lost my first husband after a battle with pulmonary fibrosis. I am now remarried, and my second husband has brought lots of laughter and joy to my life.
I like to keep busy. After retiring from my long career in medical accounting, I became the president of our homeowners’ association. Since taking over this position, I have earned one of my greatest lifetime accomplishments. Our community was near financial collapse when I took over as president, but after about a year, I was able to help our association get back on track. Today, just four years later, our community is financially solid.
I am sharing my story with Better Medicine because when someone you love and care about is diagnosed with an incurable disease, your life is forever changed.
Early Symptoms (Watching a Loved One Struggle)
My first husband’s earliest symptom was a nagging dry cough. He and I both felt it was probably nothing more than allergies and that drugs would be prescribed. His astute primary care physician did an X-ray on his lungs and immediately referred him to a pulmonary specialist.
How My Husband Received His Diagnosis
After the initial X-rays, the next step was a lung biopsy. My husband was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis and we were told he had just two years left.
What Caused Your Husband’s Respiratory and Lung Disease?
Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease usually associated with coal miners. Since my husband had always worked in the accounting field, his pulmonary specialist couldn’t pinpoint why his lungs were diseased. We were even sent to a hospital specializing in lung disorders for testing, and they came to the same conclusion—that he had pulmonary fibrosis and two years to survive—but could offer no other information about causes.
My husband’s pulmonary specialist tried several treatments. The first treatment was daily gamma interferon injections. Since I was employed by eight physicians, I quickly learned how to give injections.
His next treatment was high doses of intravenous Prednisone, which were given in the hospital. Both of these treatments failed. His weight loss became quite evident, and he grew weaker with each treatment.
I knew from then on we were living with a time bomb, not knowing when it would go off.
During the course of the next two years, my husband’s cough became more severe (he would cough constantly when walking or doing any physical activity), and his breathing was labored. His oxygen intake levels were very low.
Resources I Found Helpful
My daughter, who is employed in the medical field, was a huge help to me. We researched and read everything we could get our hands on. For me, knowledge is the best weapon when talking with medical personnel, making decisions on treatment options, and preparing yourself for what lies ahead.
Eventually, when my husband’s suffering was intense, hospice came to our rescue. I feel I’m a strong woman, but caring for a loved one 24 hours a day really took a toll on me. Without the love and support of my son, daughter, daughter-in-law, sisters, and friends, I couldn’t have kept my sanity.
About My Personal Approaches
My decision was to keep my husband at home and make the remainder of his life as comfortable as possible. As his condition worsened, so did my emotional stability. I found myself going outside each night to look at the stars, just to get away from the situation... even just a brief moment away helped.
In the final stages, when my husband’s breathing really became a struggle, I would hold his hand and tell him to close his eyes and picture sitting on a sandy beach with crystal blue water. He always gave me a thumbs-up and would say, “Thank you.” His life ended at home under my daughter’s care after two years and two months. I have no regrets.