Kathy and Jim Montgomery pause before Jim takes flgiht with pilot John Butler (not shown). First Choice Home Health and Hospice arranged the flight to fulfill Montgomery's final wish of flying April 25. Jim was diagnosed with metastasized lung cancer this year.
Photo courtesy of Jim Montgomery
Ernest "Jim" Montgomery was diagnosed with metastasized cancer from his lungs earlier this year and realized he had little time to do the things he did not do enough of in his youth.
Montgomery wanted one more flight over the Kenai Peninsula.
First Choice Home Health and Hospice Medical Director Dr. Craig Doser said Montgomery, who lives near Kasilof with his wife, Kathy, has underlying metastasized lung cancer among other problems.
"People who get involved in hospice normally have less than six months to live. Our job is to aggressively control the symptoms," Doser said.
Doser does a routine checkup with patients and asks them about their personal goals upon their initial visit and attempts to make those goals come true. In Jim's case, that wish did come true.
"He grinned and started talking about flying he's always had quite an interest. He was pretty animated as he talked about it," Doser said.
First Care social worker Lane Beauchamp said she conducted a holistic analysis of the Montgomerys' situation.
"I meet with people to find out about their care-giving situation and find out what sort of coping strategies the family has. There are different types of strategies, anywhere from walking out the door to asking for help. We look at the family and friends, or anyone deeply involved. We found that he has good support. He talks very openly and honestly about it," Beauchamp said.
"Kathy said his first love was flying and that she was his second. He didn't seem to contest that," she said.
Jim was admitted into the hospice system April 14. When Beauchamp learned about his desire to fly once more, she phoned a pilot friend and made arrangements for a sunny-day flight. Eleven days later, he was strapping into a Piper Super Cub two-seater.
"We all met at the airport and off they went," Beauchamp said.
Jim's face lit up when he described the experience.
"Well, we got up there for 2 1/2 hours and saw the waterfront from here to Homer. We flew up around the glaciers and Cooper Landing," he said. "He'd just had it painted. It was a sharp looking plane. It was a perfect day."
Pilot Jon Butler charged nothing for the ride. According to Beauchamp, Butler's humility stood in the way of offering comment to the Clarion.
Kathy said the flight falls behind a list of other adventures the couple has had during their time together. She reflected upon much of it with reverence.
After four years in the Navy, Jim worked in the Colowyo coal mine running a crusher. He was married at age 24, and seven years later, Kathy discovered the available "swashbuckler," she said.
"I would see him cruising around with a car full of girls, but never just one," she said. "I wanted to run around in his car." At the time, Jim drove at 1962 Ford Galaxie convertible.
"He could dance, too. I thought he was a mighty-fine fella," Kathy said.
She chased him for two years and finally nabbed him. Since then, the couple has lived in Washington state, where Jim worked as a logger. He retired, and 14 years ago they moved to Alaska.
The health problems followed.
All this time, Jim's passion for flying lived on while turns in his life kept him out of a cockpit.
At age 73, he has experienced two eye surgeries, a triple bypass, several sessions of draining fluid from his lungs, diabetes and a host of other pains. When he discovered he had extensive cancer, he considered offers to take radiation and chemotherapy treatments. He and Kathy talked with people who had gone through the treatments. Jim ultimately decided to let the disease take him entirely.
Kathy said it was not worth it to "add another brick to his load," regarding the pain he already suffers.
"There wasn't much sense to it," Jim said.
The couple did not know where to turn at that point. There were mounting medical bills and limited insurance coverage. They opted to seek the help of home health care, and, according to the couple, it was a decision well-made.
"They've taken the most stressful, emotionally stressful situation and made it easier. We had all these medications that were adding up to $1,500 to $1,600 per month and taken care of them for us," Kathy said, regarding the hospice care. "I was ready to go bonkers. It has been a Godsend."
She is thankful to have seen the dream come to life, she said.
"Without hospice, he wouldn't have gotten the chance to fly again. We would not have the peace of mind we have now."
They are considerate of you as individuals. People don't realize the role they play in your life while they take care of the little things you might worry yourself sick over," Kathy said. "This is not about lying vegetative in a bed because this allows you to act as normal as possible they give you the tools to do that. You still have your dignity."
She added that talking openly about death helps to deal with it.
"You can't stop it or sweep it under the rug, so don't try. What you can do is be aware of it and prepare for it," she said. "I can cry about the lost time, but I still have time to tell him I love him, not because I owe him anything, but because I love him and care for him."
As for living with the knowledge Jim has limited time, the couple is ever-grateful for each moment.
"You can't let it get you down. We're all given a certain road to walk, and it's how you handle it as you go that matters and how you'll be perceived later," Kathy said.
As for Jim, his outlook is more pragmatic.
"It doesn't do you any good to be down in the dumps," he said.
Doser said the Montgomerys' situation is a good demonstration of what is possible through the Medicaid-funded hospice.
"We're happy he was referred to hospice early because he had a fair bit of pain," he said. "We're here to help people make the most of their final days."
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