Happy New Year from the Midwest! Just like you, my facebook feed was filled with pictures and well-wishes from friends welcoming in the new year. So, where have I been during most of 2017 you may wonder?
Over the past several days, I have been thinking about how to write this post and have it well written. Words and sentences were coming to mind and then finally I just deleted everything because I felt it wasn’t good enough. Then I decided that I should just simply write this post as if we were having a conversation.
I started this blog a year ago with full intention of posting several times a week discussing daily life, gardening, climate, and weather forecasting. I was working on my final semester at The Ohio State University and I had this detailed routine set up on an Excel spreadsheet about school, work, blog, study, homework, life, job searching, etc. It looked terrific and everything fit neatly into pockets of time…..well you know how that goes…..it only works if you stick to it for every accountable minute. Of course that didn’t work for me because there were times I needed extra sleep or more time for school or work asked for more hours.
Before I continue let me provide some context….I sold my home a couple years ago partly because I had no idea where I would find employment after college and partly out of financial hardship. Luckily for me my mom welcomed me back home while I finished my degree.
Now back to what I was saying…..My final semester was underway, I was job searching, and even took a trip to where I wanted to live and previewed apartments. Then it was March. Mom had recovered from pneumonia the month before, but she had to go through additional testing because something was seen on her x-ray. Her doctor initially thought she may have an aneurysm on her aorta so he sent her to the emergency room and ordered a CT scan. Good news was she didn’t have an aneurysm. Unnerving news was she had enlarged lymph nodes in her chest. The doctor explained that there were many medical reasons why lymph nodes become enlarged. In mom’s case, even her Rheumatoid Arthritis could cause this to happen. However, the doctor referred mom to a pulmonary doctor and even an oncologist. Now things are sounding scary. Mom underwent a biopsy and then we heard it. News you never want to hear. Mom was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. So, what did that mean?
In mom’s case, her oncologist started her on an immunotherapy treatment near the end of March. You’ve probably seen the television commercial for Keytruda. Mom tolerated this treatment very well with almost no side effects. Mom continued to encourage me with school and job searching because she felt good about how her treatment was going and she felt she would have good results with this treatment.
So, I continued with school and actually had to work with my instructors because I fell behind in my coursework (I was fortunate that my last semester was all online courses). Only one instructor out of the three forced me to go through all of the red-tape-hoops-and-jumps-that-he-could-think-of before he would “help” me. Honestly, I became so disgusted with the process for a class that I didn’t even need to graduate but had to keep student health insurance that I decided not to stress myself further….I didn’t finish the class. I took the E. True, it may not look the greatest on my transcript but I hit my breaking point. Even with all this, I graduated in May with my bachelor’s degree in Atmospheric Science. After graduation, I was searching for a new job to begin my career as a meteorologist…….(you know there is a BUT coming)…BUT my plans were put on hold.
In mid-June, mom’s cancer moved to her brain. She was hospitalized for a week plus started a series of 10 whole-brain radiation treatments along with high doses of steroids. Unfortunately, this was the only option because there were a large number of lesions (tumors) on her brain. These treatments were difficult for mom because she was off-balance most of the time. She needed guidance or use a walker to get around the house and to her doctor appointments. Also, this caused issues with her swallowing and she was restricted to nectar-thick liquids. Have you ever seen nectar-thick liquids? Ugh, blahk, gross…you name it. She tried coffee in the hospital. It looked like gravy….YUCK!!! Once she came home, we had her do speech therapy through home health care. The therapist was awesome and in under three weeks mom was back to drinking regular fluids. Amazing how a few simple stretches and exercises can improve your swallowing control!
As mom recovered after her hospital stay and radiation treatments, she regained her strength. She was doing better and she was looking forward to her sister visiting from California. It was a fabulous week in late-July of weather, porch sitting, conversation, and doing a whole-lotta (yeah, that’s a word) absolutely nothing. I’m so thankful my aunt was able to visit because she only gets back this way about every 3-5 years. After my aunt headed back to California, mom started having pain that didn’t make much sense. She had pain radiating through her arm like she had a pinched nerve, but when she didn’t get better, her oncologist ordered a CT scan. Sigh, sniff, I wanted to scream…..the cancer had progressed to her liver. Well, that meant goodbye Keytruda and hello to strong chemotherapy.
I was devastated with the news. Mom didn’t seem too worried still and had the best outlook with this line of treatment. I think she underestimated how she would feel with this treatment because the side effects are debilitating. The first chemo treatment was late-August and knocked her down so bad that she had ZERO appetite. I couldn’t get her to eat more than two bites of food or drink more water than needed to take her medicines. She got so bad so quickly that I had to call the squad and have her transported to the hospital. She was severely dehydrated and it took the doctors about five days to hydrate her and get her electrolytes balanced again. Home health care was needed again upon discharge, but it was physical therapy and a nurse to check in on her a couple times per week. Physical therapy was to help her regain strength and the nurse was to make sure she stayed on track with hydration and nutrition…..not that I wasn’t giving her these things but having an outside professional watching her helped her stay more focused. I have to say that my mom was very strong-willed through all this and was released from home health care in one month.
The chemotherapy continued and mom was able to work through many of the side effects and keep hydrated and continued to eat, with the help of appetite stimulation medicine. Chemotherapy is extremely difficult on the human body…..it destroys any type of cell, not just cancer cells. Mom had to have weekly bloodwork checks and usually needed some type of transfusion. Sometimes it was just some fluids to help with hydration, while other times it was blood or platelet transfusion, and other times it was both blood and platelet transfusions. After four chemotherapy treatments, weekly bloodwork checks, and many, many, many transfusions, the follow up CT scan showed promise in her chest but progression in her liver. Now, third line treatment starts the following week in early-December.
This new treatment was another immunotherapy called Opdivo (there is a television commercial for this drug too) and was similar to Keytruda. The difference was that Opdivo was found to work best after these other two treatment lines were attempted first. Mom and I were relieved to find out the side effects were similar to Keytruda and that she probably wouldn’t feel as bad as she had been with the chemotherapy. I figured she would need about a month to recover and regain some strength after finishing chemotherapy. BUT the day following her Opdivo treatment, mom was struggling with short-term memory and was sometimes confused. I called her doctor and was told it could be the Opdivo or even effects from chemotherapy. I was to call back if mom didn’t improve or if she worsened over the next day or so. That being said, I called back because mom was having more trouble with memory and her oncologist scheduled an MRI of her brain for that day.
I fully prepared myself to hear that the brain cancer had returned. We had gotten the news in October that her brain scan was clear…..the whole-brain radiation and steroids worked!!! The radiation oncologist just said to follow up in the event that her symptoms recurred…..which is why the MRI was ordered. BUT it wasn’t brain cancer this time….the MRI showed she had suffered several mini strokes. Mom was hospitalized right away. BUT the doctors were forced to wait because mom’s platelets were extremely low and she couldn’t be given blood thinners for the mini strokes. After a few days, mom’s oncologist gave us the news that the platelets were low because the cancer was now in her bone marrow. The pathologist could see the blasts in a blood swab (not completely technical but it’s what I recall of the conversation). Hospice became involved that evening and mom lost her battle with cancer the following morning.
I know there are things I’ve omitted whether it was because of intimate details or I felt it wasn’t necessary. I was fortunate to spend the last 10 months helping my mom, whether it was just being here to chat, take her to appointments, fix her meals, give her medicine, or help her bathe and dress. There are things that I think to myself that maybe I should’ve done things this way or maybe I should’ve done this not that, but I’m working hard not to drift into the realm of what-ifs. I remind myself that God had a purpose for me to have to sell my home (even though I was very angry) and move back home with mom. I didn’t see it at the time, but I’m forever grateful that it happened.
So, what will 2018 bring? This year will definitely be a time to grieve and will probably be very busy, but I will continue Mom’s Brown Thumb as originally planned. I have to laugh because I’m now responsible for the cacti……let’s hope I can keep them going and keep Spanky away. I hope you follow along and enjoy. I love you Mom!!! Happy New Year and to New Beginnings!!!