Hospice gives 'Home for the Holidays' a whole new meaning

Dec 28, 2018

They say the holiday season can be either the best time of the year or the worst, depending on where you are in your life. WBFO's Marian Hetherly has the story of one local attorney making the best of the worst.

"I have an advanced stage of cancer. I'm in hospice, so I have no, um, no reasonable chance of survival."

Bernadette Hoppe was diagnosed at age 49. She was active as a family law attorney after 20 years in the fields of reproductive health, perinatal health and HIV/AIDS.

"Unfortunately, I take so many medications, it's kinda hard to tease out which one has which effect," she told WBFO. "I'm not even quite sure what does what anymore."
 

Credit Hoppe & Associates

She has not worked in more than a year, but now 54, she is still a familiar advocate of families in the child welfare system, law professor and board member for local community organizations.

"You know, I have told my siblings that this could very well, potentially, be my last Christmas, you know, and every time something comes up, it feels like it could very welll be my last whatever - you know, my last birthday, my last Valentine's Day."
 
Since her diagnosis, Hoppe's gone through the palliative care program at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Now served by Buffalo Hospice, all of her medical care is provided "old school": with a house call.

"It's been great. They're incredibly responsive. If I call a doctor or nurse, you know I have a callback on the phone in like within 15-20 minutes and I've had nurses at my house at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night."

Now, in what she expects are her final days, Hoppe is advocating for herself.

"One of the things that I'm doing to keep myself kinda occupied and engaged is I started lobbying in hopes of getting the Medical Physician Aid in Dying law passed in New York, because I am already in a place where my pain cannot be relieved all the time. So I certainly am interested in having the option of being able to choose when to die. I think it kinda goes along with the rest of my personality, being bossy and in charge."

The Medical Aid in Dying Act has been stuck in committee in the state legislature. If passed, of course, it not only would give Hoppe a choice, but any mentally competent, terminally ill patient in New York could request lethal medication to be self-administered. The measure is expected to be revived come January.

"You know, all of this stuff around dying has made it incredibly, um, has just made me painfully aware of my own mortality. So I'm trying to do what I can, to do as much as I can, and to really just take the moments that I have and try to make some sort of a difference before I go."