When you see Randi Belisomo on WGN or CLTV or meet her in person you might not think that this 31-year-old journalist has experienced heartbreaking tragedy or that she is using that tragedy to help others.
In January 2010, when she was 28, Belisomo’s husband, Carlos Hernandez, died from colon cancer.
He was diagnosed just 13 months before his death.
“What I thought was going to be a slow diminishing away from me and his family was actually very sudden,” said Belisomo, who attends Old St. Patrick Parish.
Doctors told her his cancer was treatable but what they didn’t say was that he would be cured and or that he was going to die.
“There was the big elephant in the room, which was he was 36 years old and he was not going to survive,” she said.
At the end, Carlos ended up in the ICU and his wife was faced with the decision to withdraw life support.
“It didn’t go the way I expected. It was just so sudden,” she said.
Because of what she and her family went through, Belisomo decided she wanted to help others making end-of-life decisions. So began Life Matters Media (www. lifemattersmedia.org), a website that provides resources and discussion about end-of-life issues,
The idea to develop Life Matters Media began about six months after Carlos died, when Belisomo and her husband’s oncologist, Mary Mulcahy, were working out one day.
“I said to her ‘Why didn’t you ever tell me that Carlos was dying?’ And she said, ‘Wow, that’s a tough word,’” Belisomo recalled.
Doctors don’t use the word “dying” as often as maybe they should, she said, for various reasons, including barriers between doctors, patients and caregivers. To hear the words that a loved one is dying transforms the situation, she said.
“It would have shifted certainly the way we thought about the last few months of his life,” she said.
Mulcahy and Belisomo set on building an online place to make conversations about end-of-life issues more comfortable for people.
“I thought if this could happen to me and I’m in a position where I have to make a decision to withdraw life support at 28, my gosh, everybody has to be going through this at some point,” she said. “I think the gift there was that I became aware at a very early age that this is a crisis and we are not talking about the elephant in the living room.”
Belisomo and Mulcahy gathered specialists to write about a multitude of subjects relating to end of life. They have experts who write columns on topics like organ donation after death, intimacy after diagnosis and when is a good time to hire a caregiver. There is also medical analysis, real patient stories and a newswire. They also engage people through social media.
“We thought the online forum was non-threatening,” she said. “People could go home and research this on their own time in their own comfort in an intimate space.”
Life Matters Media is also going out into the community to give presentations about advanced care planning. They are applying for grants to fund the site along with fundraising to support the site and to support the outreach efforts.
“I know the many struggles that caregivers and family members face so if I can make those easier then let me do it,” she said.
While Belisomo is Catholic, Life Matters Media doesn’t have a religious or political basis.
“All our agenda is information so that families and patients can be educated about end of life issues so they can make the best decisions for their family,” she said.
She believes it’s a great gift when a dying family member can share with others their wishes for endof- life care. When there is not advanced planning many family members are wracked with guilt and second-guessing if they made the right decision for their loved one.
As people of faith we should be taking care of this, she says referencing the Book of Isaiah, chapter 39, where the prophet tells Hezekiah to get his house in order because he’s going to die.
“We’re supposed to be taking care of this and we can’t put it off because we never know when it is going to be too late to be put off,” Belisomo said.
Carlos was the “finest example” of a Catholic and set an example for her of helping others, she said.
“When I realized he was going to die I think that he was so much more comfortable with that than me because his faith was so great,” she said.
His death taught her something too. “I realized in helping others the pain that I have was lessened so much because everybody has pain and everybody struggles,” she said.
The Catholic Church has had a lot to say about end-of-life issues, much of which can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Belisomo is learning this first hand in a graduate program at Loyola University for bioethics.
“I think the Catholic Church has a very well thought out and a very beautiful approach,” she said.
She consulted her own pastor about whether or not to remove life support for her husband and says it is important for Catholics to know what the church teaches about end-of-life care for the benefit of the dying.