In early 2018, Kat Dalton visited her parents in Hawaii and found her father, Ron, to be noticeably thin. “When he got on the scale, he and I were both surprised,” Kat recalls. Ron went to his primary care physician looking for answers and was referred to a gastroenterologist. In mid-May, he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.
The next several months were a whirlwind. Kat flew to Hawaii as often as she could to help and spend quality time with her dad, whose health deteriorated rapidly. “When I was home, all he wanted to do was go walking with me,” Kat remembers. It’s what mattered most to him. “We used to walk up every hill, but now would stop on every bench along the way.”
In December, Ron was admitted to the hospital with sepsis. After securing the last seat on a flight from California, Kat rushed to see him along with the rest of the family. When she arrived, Kat recalls, her dad “opened his eyes and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ She said, ‘Dad, I love you and I came to see you.’ That was the last interaction I had with him.’
Kat – who serves as System Program Manager of Patient Experience at Adventist Health – says the fast and unexpected loss of her father has taught her a lot about understanding. “Before, I thought I understood what others might be going through, and I thought I would say the right things or have the right gestures,” she shares. “No one knows what this is like until you go through it.”
Following this difficult journey, Kat thinks a lot about the importance of choice. She recalls when her dad wanted to do nothing but go walking. It was his special time with her. “And all I wanted to do was tell him to stop,” she remembers. “He was so frail, but supporting someone you love to do what they love is the bigger thing.”
“It mattered most to my dad to live a life where everything was not about chemo.”
“It mattered most to my dad to live a life where everything was not about chemo,” she adds. “In the end, when he chose to stop chemo, it was okay with him – and it was okay with all of us.”
As a professional focused on the fundamentals of patient experience, Kat has found new meaning to her daily work through her dad’s fight and her healing that has followed. “I think now that I ‘get it,’ I can share more authentically how people might want to be treated,” she explains. “My dad is why I feel strongly that caregivers need to care for patients like their own loved ones.”