Reflections on Hospice Support for Two Brave Husbands

In 2021, Talbot Hospice launched the “Know Us Before You Need Us” Campaign, which will feature the stories of patients, families and staff from one or more of Talbot Hospice’s four core programs: Hospice, Palliative Care, Pathways and Bereavement Support. This month’s story is written by Harriett Downes-Slaughter.

Struggling through the role of being a caregiver for 27 years to two amazing husbands diagnosed with cancer was not easy. But I truly think I am a lucky girl to have had those special men in my life. Talbot Hospice was an integral support system to me during those sad and often confusing times. Navigating a cancer diagnosis was all new to me, and I needed their caring support.

My first husband, and the father of my two wonderful children, Bob Downes, was diagnosed with melanoma about four years after we were married in 1973. We spent 13 years seeking treatment for him and traveled from Baltimore to New York City to Canada trying to prolong his young life. Bob was only 45 years old when he passed away and left me alone with two sad children, Allison age 14 and Bobby age 9. Life still gave us many wonderful times during those 13 years where our family was fortunate to make great memories, but there always seemed to be a dark cloud over our heads…cancer.

Bob Downes and family.

Fortunately, Talbot Hospice had entered our life during the final two months or so of Bob’s life. My husband remained at home as there was no Hospice House back then. We had the services of a visiting Hospice nurse about every two or three days and she took his vital signs, adjusted medicines, provided advice, helped change bandages, and answered any questions we had. The nurse and I collaborated on how to best cover the many seeping wounds on his back, and I came up with the plan to use sanitary pads because of how absorbent they were. The nurse thought that was a great idea and passed that innovation along to other nurses and patients. We worked as a team to care for my husband.

A retired doctor who volunteered for Hospice was a Godsend to our family then. He and my husband hit it off immediately and discovered they had so much in common to talk about, from hunting and fishing to restoring cars. Bob was weak and pretty much bedridden at that point, but he made a big effort to get himself up and ready for company every time the Hospice doctor was scheduled to visit. We were so lucky to have his friendship and support. As the end of Bob’s life drew near, the doctor came to visit and check on us every day and stayed for several hours each time…much more time than was scheduled. During the final hours, I so appreciated having the doctor there for all of us, and especially for me as there were hard decisions to be made. I could not have managed without the Hospice doctor’s kind support and the caring and compassionate support of all the Hospice staff.

Talbot Hospice was there for me again when my second husband, Richard Slaughter, was diagnosed with prostate cancer about nine years into our 24-year marriage, which was in 1993. Thanks to Johns Hopkins and the many drug trials and cutting-edge treatments, my husband was fortunate to live a fairly normal life for almost 14 years. Richard was adamant about being involved with the Cancer Center in Easton and often spoke to other men about his experiences and drug results. He wanted to do all that he could to increase the chances of his stepson, nephew, other family members and friends to benefit from prostate cancer research.

Richard Slaughter and family.

Hospice services came into our life about 10 days before Richard passed away. He wanted to remain at home and Hospice was a big help in making that happen by ordering the hospital bed, arranging for the portable commode, scheduling a visiting nurse, delivering other necessary supplies, and assuring my husband not to worry because he was in good hands. The amazing nurse assigned to our family explained how Hospice would fit into our life and was so reassuring, caring and professional. As the primary caregiver 24/7, I felt relieved knowing that Hospice was only a phone call away no matter what time of day or night.

When Richard’s condition changed and the drugs needed to be altered, the Hospice nurse was right there to make the necessary adjustments to keep my husband comfortable and that was so comforting and assuring to me. The Hospice staff members were truly a shoulder to lean on. Minutes after Richard passed away and the phone call was made to Hospice, I didn’t have to make any other decisions about calling the funeral home or other end of life final choices. Through previous conversations, Hospice had it all in place and my family could just rely on each other during our sad time of grief. Once again, I was so grateful to have the caring and compassionate services of the Talbot Hospice staff.

The Eastern Shore of Maryland is so fortunate to have Hospice care nearby. Talbot Hospice serves patients facing life-limiting illnesses through hospice and palliative care as well as its pathways and bereavement programs. Learn more at My family and I could not have provided our best loving care to two amazing men without the help and support of Talbot Hospice.

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