My sweet, beautiful, amazing mother has been diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer. She never smoked a day in her life. She has always been one of the healthiest, most vibrant women I’ve ever known. Even at age 72, she could run circles around the rest of us. Until about a month ago.
Just after Thanksgiving, she started telling us that she was having trouble swallowing. Water. And she’d developed this cough, that just wouldn’t go away. And her voice was sort of coming and going. We convinced her that she needed to go see her doctor. The doctor gave her some antibiotics and cough syrup, and sent her home. We told her that just didn’t make sense! Why didn’t the doctor check her throat? It seemed to all of us, that, if one cannot swallow, then the doctor ought to check out the throat. So Mom called the doctor back and she scheduled her for a chest x-ray. Well, that seemed ridiculous, too. But, the chest x-ray came back clear. In fact, she texted me on December 5th to let me know she didn’t have cancer!
But her cough was getting worse, and she was having more and more difficulty swallowing. She frequently had to leave the dinner table and run to the bathroom and gag. If she could manage to get food down, it stayed down. But mostly, it just didn’t go down. We called the doctor again. The doctor finally seemed to grasp that we needed someone to look at Mom’s throat, and referred her for an appointment with an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. He checked her out and discovered that her left vocal cord was paralyzed! He asked if he could do some more testing. Yes, please!!
The following Tuesday, December 9th, she went for a Barium Swallow test. The doctor called her Wednesday to let her know that they had found a ‘growth’ in her throat, about 2″ to 3″ big. He wanted to biopsy it, but wanted to run more tests, first. So a CT Scan was scheduled for the 16th. The kind with contrast dye. I went with her, and they discovered that she still had Barium in her colon from the previous week’s test, because she hadn’t been able to take in enough food or liquid to pass it all through her system!! (And I’m just going to throw this in there, because it blew my mind: while I was waiting in the little waiting room for her to be done with the CT Scan, they had the movie, “The Bucket List” playing on the TV!!! Yeah. I couldn’t make that up.)
So we came home, hoping we’d have some more info the next day when the results came back. But she was just looking so bad.
She was wasting away, and the only sustenance she’d had was some chicken broth I’d made for her. I knew she was dehydrated and I was starting to get really scared. I think she was, too, but she wouldn’t tell me. I tried to take her to the E.R., but she wanted to wait until morning. I spent an hour and a half the next morning trying to get the doctor to call me back. He finally did, and said they’d already gotten the results from the scan back, and that she had a large mass in her chest, and some other dark spots. Probably lymphs. I felt sick inside, but I was on a mission to get her fluids. I told him she was dehydrated and lethargic. I asked him if there was some sort of infusion center where she could go. He said he agreed that she should get fluids, and told me to go to the ER. He didn’t have to tell me twice. I had her packed up and out the door in 30 minutes. The hospital is only five minutes from our house, so within the hour, she was getting fluids.
The hospital ran lots of other tests and labs and such. They admitted her. And from that point everything sort of becomes a blur. First, we discovered that Mom also has pneumonia. Then, the oncologist came in to tell us the next morning that they wanted to do a biopsy on the mass they found in her chest, and that, based on the overall clinical picture, she was fairly sure it was Stage IV Lung Cancer. And she also told us that Mom had fluid in her lungs, and around her heart. And she had ‘spots’ on both of her adrenals, and on her left hip. (So that’s why her hip had been bothering her. . .)
I called the church, and Fr. Uche came and anointed her. That made her happy.
They kept trying to feed her, and we kept having to explain that she couldn’t eat or drink anything. Not that she didn’t want to but that she couldn’t! And we had to explain that she’d never been sick before, that this was all very new and terrifying to all of us. The staff slowly started to get to know us, and to understand. Our first day nurse was pretty awful, and I had to speak with the Floor Manager and ask that she not be assigned to Mom anymore. She had put Mom down for a Liver biopsy, instead of a Lung biopsy! And she got her meds all mixed up on the chart. And she lost a note that a family member left for mom! And, and, and. . .! So we don’t have her anymore.
We finally got biopsy results on Saturday, I think. It was exactly what we had feared, lung cancer. The doctor told us that with this ‘overall clinical picture’, the prognosis was 12 to 18 months. But! With patients who have good health (up until this, of course) and a positive outlook and a good support system, they can exceed that. She looked mom directly in the eyes and said “Feel free to exceed my expectations!”
Mom kept getting weaker and weaker, and they kept doing more tests. She had her first radiation treatment on Sunday. Sunday night, they started giving her “food” through her IV. (They call it “TPN”). They were going to put in a port for chemo today, and a feeding tube, but fluid had built up in her lungs again, so they had to drain one lung, and are going to drain the other one tomorrow. Then they’ll go back to their plan for the port and tube.
But my mother is still a fighter! She has told me that she’s going to feel better! She is determined. She is beautiful! And she intends to exceed those expectations!
So that’s the first part of this story. The second part is the love. I cannot count how many people have said to me “I will never forget the time when your mom (fill in the blank with something wonderful here).” I’ve gotten phone calls, texts, Facebook messages and emails from all over the country. And I still haven’t had time to contact everyone! Her hospital room looks like a jungle, with all of the gorgeous flowers people have brought or sent.
But that is not all. People are not just calling, texting, emailing and messaging. They’re buying plane tickets!!! First, our dear friend, Kyle came. From Boston. He got here yesterday, and has been staying in the hospital overnight with mom so I can get some sleep (and write this overdue blog post!) He’s been fantastic! My sister is coming on Christmas Day, and will leave on New Year’s Day. (She is also fighting cancer, and I’m so humbled that she is coming anyway, to be here for me and my Mom!! If that sounds strange, it’s because she is my half-sister, and we have different moms. But she loves my mom, too!) My dear friend, Emily, (Kyle’s wife) is coming the day after Christmas, just for the day. One of Kendall’s best friends, and a dear friend of our whole family’s, Fr. Noah, texted me to see if he could use his days off after Christmas to come from Salisbury, North Carolina! While he is here, from January 1st to the 6th, our pastor at our parish is putting him to work offering masses and hearing confessions! We just don’t have words to express how much we appreciate him taking this vacation to come be with us during this time. Mom’s dear friend, Shirrell, called immediately and is planning to come from South Carolina in January. Then, my precious friend, Lisa G., who is an Oncology nurse, is coming from North Carolina for about a week!! Leslie and Michelle are planning to fly in from Albuquerque after Christmas, too.
Those are the friends from around the country. Our family is coming, too. My Uncle Steve and Aunt Gretchen have been either at the hospital or in constant contact with us from the beginning. I heard that my brother may come, too. All of my cousins have either come, or are coming. Pattye, James, Spencer, Branden. . . Mom’s cousins have either come or are planning to come. Sylvia, Scotty, Sherry. . . (I’ve not even had a chance to contact the family in Chicago yet.)
And finally, but in no wise least, our friends right here in Austin and Round Rock have absolutely blown my mind with their love, their concern, their faithfulness. The folks from the Salon have come. Britney has texted me almost every day, and Sharon and Michelle keep close contact. (They came to the hospital to style Mom’s hair on Saturday night!) Fr. Jonathan came tonight to hear her confession. Christine kidnapped me for coffee. Margaret came by the hospital and brought roses. And then she set up a care calendar for our family, so that our homeschool group can help out by bringing meals! Joanna and her family are in Rome, and have promised to be in prayer for mom while they’re there! Becky, Denae, Racheal, Liz, and so many more have called, checked on us, brought flowers, offered prayers, sufferings and assistance. Mom and I have never felt so loved!
And my husband and children. They are beyond incredible. Even while they are reeling in shock and trying to deal with their own grief, they have all gathered around to support me and Nana. I have discovered that my daughter-in-law is one of the best advocates in the world. I’m so glad she has my back!
I could go on forever, I think, but instead I am going to bed. I’m exhausted on a level I’ve never felt before, and my brain is absolute MUSH. I’m hoping that I didn’t forget anyone in this post. If I did. . . please forgive me. I’m still trying to contact everyone, so many of Mom’s friends don’t do Facebook or even email. I’m way behind on returning phone calls, and when I do manage to return a call, I’m starting to draw a blank and not know what to say! So please. . . call me, text me, message me. ASK QUESTIONS! I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, and answer your questions.
This is what the Body of Christ is for. To surround us with love and grace, when our world seems to be falling apart around us. To hold us up and stand in the gap. I really don’t have words to express my gratitude.
I’ll try to set up some sort of website so people can stay informed. I’m sorry (and so is Mom) that she can’t actually talk. We are praying that she’ll be home soon, and will feel better soon. We covet all of your prayers, as well.
She is in St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center, in Room 319. If you want to come by, please contact me first, to make sure she’ll be in the room. <3