Michael Schuyler suffered his first heart attack at age 39. That was 27 years ago. He was a much different person back then. “When you have a heart attack and they do a quadruple heart bypass, it changes your life,” he says.
Schuyler has had five heart attacks to date, and his vital signs have flatlined twice. He also has a blood disorder that is precancerous.
But Schuyler’s life is not defined by his cardiac problems – at least not anymore.
For the last year, Schuyler has been spending his Thursdays at Doane House Hospice in Newmarket. He comes for the Oasis Program, which offers a chance to relax and interact with peers and volunteers, while participating in activities such as massage therapy, reiki, yoga, journaling, painting, and singing.
Doane House provides non-medical support to those suffering from life-threatening illnesses, as well as their family and caregivers. The organization runs on donations, meaning services are free of charge, and range from art therapy, to yoga and meditation, to counseling and caregiver support, as well as a bereavement program.
“Good things happen here. I’ve gotten the strength I never had before,” says Schuyler.
Doane House runs out of a historical home located at the corner of Yonge and Eagle. Many community members probably drive by everyday without knowing what goes on inside. “It seems to be the best kept secret, even though we’ve been here for 27 years,” says Executive Director, Juliet Irish. “But people tend to not want to know about a hospice until they need it.”
To many people, a hospice is something that comes at the end of life. “But Doane House is about living,” says Irish, “for however long you have.”
The old home is a fitting building for the bonds that are formed within its walls. The environment is warm, safe and welcoming. “It’s become family for me in a wonderful way,” says Schuyler.
“You get close, and develop friendships,” says Karen Woolhead, who has been volunteering at Doane House for six years now, following the loss of her sister. “I always tell clients I love them, and I mean that sincerely. It’s an honour to be in their lives.”
A lot of deep, emotional sharing happens here. You can see it in the artwork decorating the walls – the vulnerability is palpable, and yet so is the sense of hope.
“Whatever your idea or understanding of hope is, it gets reaffirmed when you come here,” says Schuyler. “Everyone shares, and I listen. For the first time in my life, I feel like my ears are open.”
When your health takes a devastating turn, any sense of normalcy and routine you once relied on spirals out of control. You experience
emotions you’ve never felt before; emotions other people in your life may not be able to understand. You feel alone. Doane House has a way of filling that void. “I’ll tell you, everyone in this building understands what you’re going through,” says Schuyler.
“The peer support is phenomenal,” explains Irish. “Clients are able to be with other people who are walking in their shoes.”
At the end of the day, Doane House is about community helping community. “Our volunteers always say they feel like they get more out of it than they put in, which isn’t true, because the volunteers we have here are very special,” Irish says.
Today, Doane House has 110 volunteers in total. The hospice will see 525 clients in a year, plus their families, meaning the organization impacts close to 2,700 people per year.The effect the hospice has on its community is powerful. “I feel more confident that things are going to work out one way or the other,” says Schuyler. For him, Thursday morning is a highlight of the week – and at the end of the day, he doesn’t want to leave. “We need more places like this,” he says.
If you or someone you love suffers from a life-threatening illness, the family at Doane House encourages you to stop in for a visit. Volunteers are also welcome, and donations are needed. You can also join the National Hike for Hospice on May 1st at Fairy Lake. Find more information at www.doanehospice.org.
written by Charlotte Ottaway
Doane House Hospice
Southlake Regional Health Centre