The objective of this true accounting of events that just took place with my mother, who died on December 1st, 2014, is to share with those who have experienced this grueling journey, so not to feel alone; and for those who will have to, perhaps learn from our confusion. May you have the strength and love of family to get through it.
PART I – Cancer
As we removed Mom’s belongings from her bedroom, with intermittent breaks for sobbing, and a few laughs believe it or not, as certain items of clothing cued fond memories, I flashed back to the beginning of this fucking nightmare that is cancer.
Two years ago, after Superstorm Sandy, I drove with Scott cross-country from the Jersey Shore to the desert. We were making the move to be closer to my parents. I figured, a couple of years down the line, they might need a hand. I drove white knuckled, at 50 miles per hour, as the load in my truck was four thousand pounds over. After arriving with no mishaps, my father gave me the news.
“Mom has cancer.”
Immediately, the room closed in on me, and I felt the sound one might experience in an isolation tank. A deafening silence.
Not my mom! Not our family! This can’t be.
The load in the truck suddenly became a feather.
She had a tumor the size of a grapefruit in her chest. Stage 4B.
The morning of the surgery to have it removed, Dad, Scott and I were in the waiting room. The doctor thought he could get it all. This was a rare form of cancer that we were told doesn’t spread. “Thymoma”.
The surgeon came out and said we got it all…almost.
95%. The rest had latched it’s greedy tenticals onto her lungs and heart. But a dab of radiation should do the trick!
As she remained in the hospital for a couple of days, post surgery, I ran to Costco to get mom her favorite…cheesecake.
I’m in the line, bawling my eyes out. Freaking out. Is my mom going to make it?
They put Humpty Dumpty back together again, and she came home.
The first radiation series got the last 5%!!
Not so fast….
A couple of months later.
The cancer has spread. But just a few cells. A little dab of chemo ought to get rid of it.
But I thought this cancer didn’t spread???!!!
Well, it did.
After chemo, naturally, Mom lost her hair, but the chemo did not make her nauseous. But then there are the painful shots one most endure to help the blood cells, or something like that. Sure, chemo kills the cancer, but it also kills everything else. You would think there was a better way by now, since the methods of the seventies.
Okay. Tumor removed? Check.
Two months later…
Well, it seems just a little more has shown up, and another series of radiation is prescribed.
Mom is zapped and burned, again.
While in treatment, she told me she visualized a fazer, like in Star Trek, (Mom was a Trekkie), and she was aiming it at the Klingon cells attacking her body, and zapping the bastards to another galaxy, far, far, away.
Well, not far enough. The fuckers came back again…months later.
I watched as my mom became weaker, but she was still optimist. And she was excited to now fit in the same size she wore as a young woman. We went shopping to get new digs. And she was still strong enough to go out for lunch, and enjoy the food.
Meanwhile, she has had major back issues for decades. She is in no condition to have elective surgery. So what can she do? Take painkillers.
After this trapezoidal square dance with cancer had been going on for 18 months, it was taking a toll on her overall energy. She could barely walk a block without being exhausted. Her appetite was like a bird.
We had a beautiful family reunion in Oregon this summer. The last time mom would be able to get on an airplane.
The next radiation treatment was on her femur, in August. Another tumor.
September. I decide to go to all of Mom’s doctor appointments to find out what the fuck is really going on. Mom tended to sugar coat each new dilemma. When her prescribed radiation treatment was for 3 weeks, she said it was 2. When the cancer had spread to 2 places, she said it was only one spot. She was trying to protect us. Such a motherly thing to do.
I asked lots of questions. Direct questions.
I love my parents dearly, and they are highly intelligent. We are talking genius level. But they tended not to question the authority of doctors and the system. I, on the other hand, do.
I do think cancer is a money making racquet. If it ain’t broke to them, don’t fix them. The more Humpty Dumptys the better. Cha-ching.
While meeting with the Oncologist, I asked:
Q: So, is the only answer to addressing the cancer as it spreads, more chemo? More radiation? Just killing everything, pumping her with poison, so she gets weaker and weaker? That’s it? No alternatives?
A: That’s it.
Q: What about alternative medicine? Like marijuana? We would like to get a note from you so Mom can get her card.
A: My partners have not agreed to it, so I cannot write you the note.
Q: Are you serious? In the 21st century, your firm is that conservative, that backward?
A: Although I feel it is okay, some do not.
I roll my eyeballs, disgusted, and have no further questions.
The next day we go to the radiologist.
Q: So how much time does my mother have?
A: I don’t know.
Q: Are you just going to keep doing the same thing, as it spreads, over and over again?!
Q: Won’t that just break her down more? What will happen to her?
A: Eventually, your mom will get pneumonia, and will die from it. Well, it won’t actually be the pneumonia, it will be the cancer. The cancer will affect her immune system, so it will not be able to fight off the pneumonia.
FINALLY. A straight answer.
Time to investigate alternative medicine. But is it too late? With all of these “treatments” does she have enough strength to turn this thing around?
First of all, marijuana seemed to be a priority to help with pain, appetite, and anticarcinogenic qualities. My sister, Deborah had to make several phone calls, and found a Naturopath in town. We went the day after the Radiologist appointment to the clinic. With my mom in her weak state, I dragged her to the weed store….but not before we went to pick up her shiny new first walker.
I tried to encourage her to walk 40 feet from the parking space to the entrance, rather than dropping her off up front, as long as it didn’t hurt. In the meantime, one of her other doctors said, because of the last radiation treatment to her femur, the bone is brittle, and she should have a rod put in, just in case it should, and most likely will break.
The weed store provided us with the name of a doctor who would write her the prescription to be able to buy the marijuana products in her store. Of course there was a wait for this appointment.
I made no plans to travel anywhere more than 100 miles away. I had to be there for mom….and dad. Dad took her the following week, to weed Doc. Got scrip. Now wait for the card from the government, before she can actually get what she needs.
Next appointment? The pre-op, before the rod was to be put in.
Next day…your mother’s blood test came back. She is now anemic. It is too risky to do the surgery right now. We shall postpone.
Blood transfusion time. Sticking mom again.
But the good news is that she had a port surgically put into her chest before the chemo. What’s that, you might ask? It’s a gizmo that allows intervenes liquids to go into one’s body, without the use of a needle into the veins each time. But not every nurse or doctor knows how to use one, so sometimes they stick you anyway. And my mom’s veins are so small, that becomes a major task, and my beloved mother becomes a human pin cushion; black and blue for days.
Mom’s blood count becomes normal…for now. She is sent home. What’s next?