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Cancer-stricken Army veteran fulfilling dream of visiting Georgia Aquarium
News Herald - 10/5/2018
Oct. 05--PANAMA CITY -- Steve Jenkins has gone fishing for over 20 years but never knew what the fish did when they weren't biting.
Jenkins, an Army veteran who served from 1968 to 1970, has tracheal cancer and isn't sure how much longer he has to live. But before he dies, he's going to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta with his hospice caretaker Dustin Womble, a place he's always wanted to visit to learn more about those mysterious fish.
The two are leaving Sunday for the long drive and plan to go to the aquarium Monday morning, where they'll participate in a dolphin encounter. The trip is made possible through the Dream Foundation, which according to its website provides "end-of-life dreams that offer inspiration, comfort and closure."
"I was in a bad state before Dustin was assigned as my nurse," Jenkins, who has trouble speaking due to the cancer, wrote on a board Wednesday while sitting on the porch of his Panama City home. "Dustin and I don't talk about dying. It's more like, 'What ya doin' this weekend?' "
The Army veteran fell down when he first met Womble, who was assigned as his caretaker at the end of May, but is in much better health now that the two have become close. Jenkins was given four months to live in April and now says it's up to God as to when he's going.
"I've really gotten the chance to get to know him," said Womble, who works for Emerald Coast Hospice. "I definitely look forward to our visits. Every time I leave here to go somewhere, he tells me to be careful out there driving. It's more than just a patient. That's why I'm excited about the road trip."
When they visit the Georgia Aquarium, Jenkins is eager to see schools of fish and figure out why or how they know when the other fish are going to turn.
Womble said hospice is more than medicine and the other usual aspects of health care -- it's making the best of the life they have and getting to know personal details about a patient. Womble has worked 10 years in health care but never has done something like this with a patient before.
"A lot of it is mental," Jenkins said of his recovery since being in Womble's care.
Jenkins has other people that care about him, including close friend Michael Polk, who stopped by Wednesday to check on Jenkins and called the Army veteran a "good man."
"I met him about 10, 15 years ago. He's the best man you ever want to meet," Polk said. "He could be my father or brother or best friend. Any time I ever needed or wanted help or to talk, we would talk or see what's best."
Womble has similar compliments for Jenkins and said his time with the Army veteran and upcoming trip is the "most rewarding experience" he's ever had during his time in health care.
"Hospice is more than caregiving for the dying," Jenkins said.
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