Watertown Family Turns to Rainbow in Their Time of Need

Kenyon Kemnitz
July 10, 2023 / 5 mins read


Pictured from left to right: Paul's brother Scott, and his wife Caryn, Paul's sister, Julie, Tashina Dunham, Paul Hinrichs, and Paul's Mom and Dad, Dan and Pam.

by Kenyon Kemnitz

Paul Hinrichs never stopped fighting. He fought until he couldn’t fight anymore. When doctors diagnosed him with stage 4 colon cancer in 2018, it may have slowed him down, but it didn't stop him from living life.

Paul was something special to many people. He was his children’s biggest cheerleader and number one fan. Even when he was feeling his worst physically, he’d still find a way to make it to his two daughters’ (Drew and Reese) basketball, softball, or volleyball games and his son Gabe’s extracurricular activities.

“His kids were his everything. There is nothing that he would not do for them. Paul was proud…he would puff his chest up and smile with pride when someone mentioned their names,” said Paul’s younger sister, Julie Andrews.

354748011_1485681968842047_7612436989320735363_n.jpgPaul with his three children, Reese, Gabe, and Drew.

Paul grew up in Minnesota and as the middle child was sandwiched between his older brother, Scott (who he jokingly referred to as “the golden child”), and Julie (who he affectionately nicknamed “precious”). His parents, Dan, and Pam Hinrichs, embarked on many family vacations and outings to different sporting events with their children. Growing up, Paul became a huge fan of the Vikings and Gophers and excelled in sports and on the stage.

“He loved giving his all at practice and in games,” Andrews said. “You’d see him flying across the basketball court, delivering a hard tackle in football, or laying full out for a ground ball on the diamond. He even dipped his toes in singing and theater and had a beautiful head of red hair.”

Paul was a standout three-sport athlete at Racine Lutheran High School and then went on to play college baseball and football at Concordia University.

Besides being athletically gifted, Paul was also a huge jokester. It brought smiles and giggles to his children’s faces when Paul would try to do the funny dances that they taught him. They couldn’t help but smile when he shouted the nicknames he gave them from the stands and when he would embarrass them by cracking jokes.

“He would always make jokes anywhere we were, and we’d be like ‘Dad, stop! But he didn’t care,’” said Paul’s three children.

Paul also loved spending time with his nieces and nephews, working the concession stands for the Watertown Athletic Booster Club, and was often one of the most vocal fans at games. It was through the love of watching his children compete that he met Tashina Dunham. Their daughters played youth and high school basketball together in Watertown. They became great friends over the years and then last summer their friendship eventually grew into a powerful love for one another.

353788286_227872073402761_1659605720340331292_n.jpgPaul with his three children and his nephew and niece, Tyler, and Emma.

“He was one of my best friends and I was nervous about getting into a relationship with somebody who was terminally ill,” said Dunham. “You either decide to jump in or you don’t. But I did, and it was the best jump I ever took.”

“He found strength and comfort in Tashina,” Andrews said. “She was the perfect combination of compassion, motivation, empathy, and encouragement. Paul relied on her, and she did not let him down. The ginormous smile she brought to his face said it all.”

They enjoyed taking road trips together, going fishing, searching for the perfect cheese curds, and watching the birds. But it was their morning conversations that were their favorite time when they would sip coffee and talk about anything.

“He was such a phenomenal listener and was so thankful, and appreciative of everybody,” Dunham said. “He was just so kind, and he taught me so much about how to live and how to love.”

324682315_919222356187127_8215953012275769281_n.jpgTashina and Paul

Paul did everything he could to beat cancer with countless doctor visits and a combination of immunotherapy, radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy.

“We struggled with the thought of ‘How much more can this guy take?’” Andrews said. “The burden it has on your body and mind is difficult to endure and painful to watch. Paul would make the best out of the adversity brought his way.”

There was a short time when an MRI revealed no evidence of the disease. But a few months later, further scans revealed more cancerous spots on his liver. When his symptoms returned, Paul did his best to carry on despite the excruciating pain and numerous setbacks.

He continued driving his children to their sports and play practices, all while working double shifts at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections in Fox Lake as a correctional officer while on a chemo drip.

“He did everything that we all get tired of every single day, but he did it with grace and didn’t complain,” Dunham said. “He was a workhorse, but he always wanted to provide for his children.”

Through it all, Paul never lost his laughter or his smile. Paul knew he had a disease that could kill him at any time. But to him, cancer was only a word and not a sentence. Giving up wasn’t in his vocabulary.

“He would just truck along like nothing was happening and kept fighting,” Dunham said. “He was willing to help anybody and didn’t use his sickness as an excuse. Somehow, he’d hold it together on the outside and was more worried about his kids, family, and me.”

Paul sat in the stands cheering loudly for his daughter Drew and the Watertown Goslings girls’ basketball team in January for the last time. He was in and out of the hospital after that and wasn’t strong enough to go to games anymore. But he still streamed them online at home.

Tashina and his family were by his side as he got weaker and took turns taking care of him. Paul was clinging to hope, but the cancer was starting to take over his body. He was losing weight and wasn’t eating. Any food he could eat wasn’t staying down and his blood wasn’t clotting anymore.

“You see the signs and know what’s happening, but you are in a belief that it’s not,” Dunham said. “The last month was very tough for him. He stayed in bed a lot and wanted to just lay there. That’s when I learned the most about Paul and who he was as a person deep down to his core.”

Paul hadn’t been sleeping much and was feeling restless at night. Tashina and Paul’s family soon found themselves totally exhausted trying to handle everything by themselves. Tashina decided to contact her friend, Jody Goodle, who is a nurse care manager at Rainbow Hospice Care, during the early morning hours of Saturday, February 25.

“When you love somebody, you’re going to do whatever it takes, and I thought I could travel this road alone, but it can be overwhelming if you’re not sure what you’re doing,” Dunham said. “If everybody could explain hospice like Jody, it would have helped a caregiver like me get through it.”

Jody wasn’t working that day, but helped Tashina make sure Paul had enough medicine to get through the night and helped him get signed on to Rainbow’s services that same day.

“Jody doesn’t mess around.” Dunham said. “When she says she’s going to do something, she does it right away.”

Soon Paul had a Rainbow care team consisting of nurse case manager Tricia Schmidt, social worker Sarah Phalin, and Certified Nursing Assistant Taylar Zirbel to make him feel comfortable and take care of all his medical, emotional, and physical needs, and provided Tashina and his family with much-needed support.

“When I just wanted to lay by him, Taylar did all the stuff that I couldn’t do at that point anymore,” Dunham said. “She took amazing care of him with every single touch. I think if it wasn’t for Rainbow, it would have been a really bad ending for us all.”

Tashina and Paul’s family know that he would be the first person to thank Rainbow for taking care of him during his end-of-life journey.

“The team that Paul and I and his family got to work with were the best of the best,” Dunham said. “Jody gave him comfort in the last couple hours and went above and beyond on her own time and Taylar gave him nothing but love and kindness and I’m so thankful for that.”

In hindsight, Tashina wishes they would have called Rainbow sooner.

“The people at Rainbow are there to help you and make things easier,” Dunham said. “Being on hospice doesn’t mean you’re dying tomorrow. They’re there to give you that extra help.”

"When Tashina reached out, I could hear both the fear and love in her voice,” said Goodle. “It was clear to me Paul was very near end of life and I wanted to make sure he not only got admitted that day but also had the medications needed to keep him comfortable. The experience reminded me that every person's journey is different and although the word 'hospice' can be difficult to hear, it really is essential to improving quality of life and supporting family members when time is running short."

Paul didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to say goodbye. Paul was looking forward to seeing his son perform in his first play. He was hoping for a miracle and wanted to be there to see his children grow up. He had proposed to Tashina, and they were hoping to get married this summer.

“The hardest part is the plans that won’t happen,” Dunham said. “You have days where you feel like you can’t even catch your breath, but I remember that I have to make him proud and wipe the tears away and continue to live for him.”

Paul passed away peacefully on Sunday, February 26, with his family by his side. He was 48 years old. Cancer could never defeat his faith in God, instilled by his parents at an early age, or the love he passed on to his children, family, and friends.


His loved ones can take some solace in knowing that Paul is no longer in pain and that they’ll continue to keep his memory alive.

Paul wasn’t in the stands to see his nephew, Tyler, win a state baseball championship with Whitefish Bay this June, but his sister made sure he was there somehow. Julie wore a bracelet that shows Paul’s picture with a big smile on his face, giving him a front-row seat to all the action. With all the lives he touched, Paul’s presence is still felt every day, and that love was reciprocated in many ways.

“He was truly thankful for anyone who walked into his life,” Dunham said. “Those are the souls he is shining down on. I count my blessings every day he was put into my path.”

When his family is feeling sad and their hearts are hurting, they know he’s right there walking beside them. When his son performs in his next play or his daughters step up to the plate or the free throw line, they won’t be able to see him but know he’ll be there.

Paul inspired so many others by the way he lived his life. No one will forget his feisty personality, how he fought cancer so courageously, and his resilient warrior mentality. Now his kids will carry on their dad’s fighting spirit and legacy. His family now waits for the day when they will be reunited with him again.

353888320_3471125216534349_9147957011205612833_n.jpgPaul's dad, Dan, Paul, his sister Julie, his brother Scott, and Paul's mom, Pam.