The word “strength” took on a new meaning for Daniel Moran II as he watched his father face liver cancer during his treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“It was my father’s relentless mental strength that stood out to me during his journey with cancer.”
“It was my father’s relentless mental strength that stood out to me during his journey with cancer,” recalls son Dan Moran.
To honor his father, who died in 2016, and to thank Mass General for the exceptional care it provided, Dan organized a fundraiser with the theme of “STRENGTH” at CrossFit 13 Stars, a gym he co-owns in Morristown, N.J.
“I wanted to channel my energy in a positive direction,” Dan says. “I didn’t know how to grieve, but I knew this fundraiser would be something that would allow my father’s inspiration to spread beyond our family.”
In October 2017, about 40 participants took part in a challenge that included cardio, free weights and gymnastics. Most had never met Dan Sr., but knew what he meant to his son. The participants and another 60 donors raised $5,000 for Mass General’s Palliative Care program.
BeCause, Mass General’s fundraising community, helps friends and supporters like Dan raise funds to support the hospital by organizing and participating in events, social gatherings and online campaigns.
Creating Precious Memories
Guidance from the Mass General palliative care team was a great comfort to the Moran family. Among other things it helped to inspire a lakeside cookout that Dan Sr. enjoyed with his wife, two children and three grandchildren during the 2016 Labor Day weekend.
Although the family knew Dan Sr. was dying from liver cancer, the gathering was a special one.
Dan Sr. splashed in the lake with his grandchildren and then savored three lobsters. The family drew from his strength. They took photos to remember their joy of being together.
Earlier, Dan Sr. and Fran, his wife, had talked to Karen O’Brien, MD, of Palliative Care at Mass General about how they could approach cancer.
Guidance about Palliative Care
“We took from Palliative Care the suggestion to live our lives with cancer — rather than always thinking about how Dan was dying from cancer,” Fran says. “Dan’s model was: We’re moving forward as a family.”
Mass General was one of the first U.S. hospitals to offer palliative care services. Today, the program helps patients and families manage cancer and other illnesses in collaboration with their physicians and specialists. Palliative care physicians discuss in-depth with patients their treatment options, end-of-life preferences and spirituality.
“We always ask patients, ‘If your time is shorter than you had hoped, what would be important to you?’”
A 2010 Mass General study found patients with lung cancer who received palliative care lived more than two months longer and had a better quality of life than patients who did not.
Dan Sr. received his diagnosis near the end of his second career as an electronics teacher at McDougal-Walker Correctional Institution in Connecticut in 2013.
For two years, he and Fran regularly drove the two hours from their Springfield, Mass., home to Mass General’s Boston campus for treatment. During that time, Dan Sr. had 75 percent of his liver removed, negative reactions to chemotherapy and a stroke that, at 65, led to him re-learning how to read and write.
Invaluable Extra Support
The extra support from Palliative Care was invaluable. “Being a nurse, I knew what to expect. Did I want to face it? No,” Fran says. “It was helpful to put a frame around how we could plan.”
One role of a palliative care physician is to open the door for difficult discussions. “We always ask patients, ‘If your time is shorter than you had hoped, what would be important to you?’” says Dr. O’Brien, the Mass General palliative care physician who helped the Morans.
Dan Sr. told Dr. O’Brien he valued spending time with family and friends. When he felt Fran needed extra support, he let Dr. O’Brien know. “He was somebody who never, ever thought of himself first,” Dr. O’Brien recalls. “He wasn’t worried about dying. Dan had a really, strong faith.”
She gave Dan strategies for pacing himself after chemo and taking advantage of good days. In his final two years, in between treatments, he enjoyed attending the Masters Tournament, a Caribbean cruise, golfing, visits with his children and grandchildren and day excursions with his wife.
Spending Time with Dad
Fran says support from Mass General made a huge difference to Dan Sr. and their family. Palliative Care helped the family understand how the liver cancer was progressing. It was Dr. O’Brien who first explained to Fran that Dan Sr. only had days to weeks left.
With that knowledge, Fran called her son, Dan, and daughter, Katie, who traveled from their homes to spend more time with their dad.
Dan took to heart his father’s philosophy of squeezing in as much life as possible. Dan and his sister, Katie, planned a final party for Dan Sr.
At the family’s lake house in Monson, Mass., just eight days before he died, Dan Sr. was surrounded by friends and family for a final celebration of his life.
“It was beautiful,” Fran remembers.
To learn more about supporting Palliative Care at Mass General, please contact us.
For additional information about how you can hold a fundraiser for Mass General, please visit our BeCause website.