A traveler’s last journey, with hospice help
Dawn Gage traveled the world and she completed her life’s journey on Easter morning 2017 in the Barnstable home where she grew up, with the care of the Cape Cod Healthcare VNA Hospice program.
It was with the help of Dawn’s brother, Paul, and his wife, Lisa, who now own the home, that Dawn was able to spend her final days with the love and support of family and friends.
“It just went so smoothly and peacefully and we are so grateful to have had the hospice care and support,” said Lisa. “They have resources available that you don’t even know about or know that you’ll need until you need them.”
Dawn was a traveler, and a caregiver, all of her adult life. After graduation from Texas Christian University, she traveled to Paraguay to teach missionary children for two years. She returned to the states and earned a Master of Divinity at Southwestern University before moving to China, where she taught English as a second language to college students.
In her free time, she began visiting and caring for children who were in the welfare centers. These were children who were cast aside because of disease or other handicaps.
Dawn eventually facilitated adoptions and opened a school/orphanage called Living Stones Village in 1998. That’s when she became “mother” to 64 Chinese children who were unlikely to be adopted because of their disabilities.
“Her goal was to educate them to be skilled and independent as adults and she succeeded,” said Lisa.
Over the years, Dawn alternated her stays in China with brief visits to family on Cape Cod and travels to other countries.
Dawn’s Journey with Cancer
In 2002, Dawn was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a unilateral mastectomy (removal of one breast) followed by chemotherapy and radiation, according to Lisa.
She went back to China a year later with a clean bill of health, and continued her back and forth trips for more than 10 years.
In 2014, she began to have bone pain, which she thought was arthritis.
“An MRI in China showed she had tumors on her bones,” said Lisa. Further testing when she returned home for a visit showed that her cancer had metastasized to her bones and brain.
Dawn began chemotherapy and radiation therapies that eventually progressed to experimental treatments.
As Dawn’s illness progressed, her quality of life began to decline. She managed one last trip to China in February 2017, accompanied by a friend.
“It was a difficult trip and she slept much of the time, but she was able to say goodbye to all of her children,” Lisa said.
Dawn had been on palliative care to manage her pain and it was after a second trip to the emergency room in April that Pam McPherson, RN, a family friend and a hospital liaison with Cape Cod Healthcare VNA Hospice, visited Dawn and Lisa.
“Dawn decided she wanted to move on to hospice and Pam helped to facilitate the transition from palliative care,” said Lisa. “We weren’t saying she was going to die tomorrow but we needed help with her care because she was unstable on her feet and we were having a difficult time dealing with her medications.”
Lisa stressed the importance of bringing in hospice before you are in crisis, “so you know the path and alternatives you have and who will help you.”
On the day Lisa drove Dawn from her mother’s residence, where she had been staying, to her brother’s home, Lisa took the long route by beaches and places that she wanted to visit. It would be her last outing.
By that time, everything had been set up at Lisa’s and Paul’s home by the hospice team, including a hospital bed.
“We wanted her to be in the center of the house, to be around people and to make it easier when friends came to visit,” she said.
“Diane Munsell RN, was Dawn’s primary hospice nurse,” said Lisa. “We were old friends, our kids grew up together and she lives down the street. Dawn also had a great time talking and sharing her life with Sara Stevenson, MSW, our hospice social worker.”
Dawn slowly stopped eating and drinking.
“Each of the hospice nurses who came in helped us to understand what was going on, they were gentle and able to answer all our questions,” said Lisa. “We had great times with family visiting and singing, it was just amazing.”
Dawn, who was 56, died on Easter morning, April 16, 2017, while their friend Pam stayed with her so the family could attend church services.
“It was reassuring to know that a friend, who is also a hospice nurse, was with Dawn when she passed,” said Lisa.
And it was especially meaningful to Lisa and Paul that she passed at the same time they were at Easter Services, singing “Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling” with the choir.
With the full resources of Cape Cod Healthcare, VNA Hospice is the highest-rated hospice on the Cape. For more information on Cape Cod Healthcare VNA Hospice, please visit or call 508-957-7710.
Featured Photo – From left to right: Dawn Gage, Paul Gage, Lisa Gage (Paul’s wife), Janet Gage (Dawn’s mother), and Kim Gage (behind) Ellen Gage, and Scott Gage. Dawn, Paul, Scott and Kim are siblings.