“I thought they had the wrong guy,” says Brad Nottingham of being told in March that, at 56 years of age, he had Stage 4 stomach cancer and didn’t have long to live.
“That was the thunder drop. I thought he had caught the flu,” says Debbie, Brad’s partner of 23 years, who became his wife on Father’s Day, when the pair tied the knot in the backyard of their home.
Brad’s illness may have been the catalyst for the wedding, but the ceremony was very much a celebration of the couple’s devotion to each other — in sickness and in health.
“It was an amazing day. I laughed. I cried. Brad was in his electric wheelchair,” says Debbie of the ceremony. The wedding was held outdoors so it could be attended by over 50 people, consisting mostly of family, friends and neighbours.
The couple were married by Derrick Lee, a chaplain with Covenant Health and registered clergy with Service Alberta, whom the Nottinghams met at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital, where Brad was admitted as a palliative care patient in June.
Derrick became a confidant to Brad. “My role is to walk with patients in dealing with their mortality and talk to them about what a good death would look like for them,” says Derrick.
He recalls their initial meeting as “deep and meaningful,” as Brad talked about his illness, mortality and desire to die at home. “Brad wanted to go home. He’s a social person, and he wants to be around family and friends.”
It wasn’t just Derrick who took time to listen to Brad. His physician, Dr. Amanda Brisebois, took Brad’s request to heart. Following careful consideration, she discharged him after 14 days in hospital, after making sure that he would have robust personal and community support from Debbie and Home Care services.
“Brad has metastatic gastric cancer, as well as an infection in the fluid in his abdomen. He’s weak, nauseated and was admitted with significant pain.”
“He wasn’t complaining about his diagnosis while we worked to control his symptoms. He wanted to be heard, and he wanted to go home. He knows he doesn’t have much time,” says Amanda.
Brad’s discharge, considered to be complex for many palliative care patients, especially if they are returning to a non-clinical environment, required a team of people to make it happen.
Debbie says the entire palliative care team — chaplain, social worker, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, pharmacist, doctors, nurses and interns — has been remarkable. “They are incredible, compassionate and the most wonderful people you’ll ever meet.”
Prior to Brad’s discharge from hospital, staff coached Debbie on how to properly care for him at home. Nurses showed her how to administer his injections every four hours, and she received ample information and important contact numbers to call for help. While Brad was still in hospital, arrangements were made to have a hospital bed, commode and walker ready for him when he came home.
“We received awesome care at the Grey Nuns the moment we walked through the door,” says Debbie. She recalls being escorted to the unit, where the doctor and the nurses were already waiting for them.
“They said to Brad, ‘We have you now. We’re going to take care of you.’”
Now that Brad is home with Debbie by his side, he says that he’s going to continue to live his best life in the time he has left. “You’re dealt what you’re dealt with. I’m not harping on it.”
One of the things that brings him tremendous joy is watching the clouds drift around the mountains in Debbie’s hometown of New Hazelton, a scenic town in northwest British Columbia where the couple have enjoyed many good years. It’s been a “regenerative” place for them, and it's where Brad’s ashes will be returned to nature.
For now, Brad is content to watch the clouds from home. “I love to see the clouds dancing. It’s beautiful.”