Monday, June 27, 2016

The Reality of Cancer: A Daughter's Perspective

      Everybody knows, or at least assumes, that their parents are going to pass away before them.  It's something you will have to deal with in your lifetime, but usually far off in the distance.  It's a scary thought, so we put it in the back of our minds filed in our brains on a shelf labeled "future".  But what if this scary, distant problem became an imminent danger?  

Welcome to my reality.

      Let me back up just a bit and fill in the blanks for those of you who don't know my mom's story.  June 25th, 2009, my mom had a voluntary hysterectomy after experiencing back pain and feminine problems.  The hysterectomy went well, but while she was in surgery they found a fist-sized tumor wrapped around her ureter.  After it was biopsied she was told that she had a rare cancer called leiomyosarcoma.  
      What do you do when you get a diagnosis?  You google it.  You probably shouldn't, but let's be honest, we all would.  We found out quickly that this was not a good cancer to have.  The life expectancy is around 18 months after diagnosis.  It's rare enough that the oncologists don't really know how to handle it or how to treat it effectively.  Also, it's aggressive and you are immediately labeled "Stage 4" when diagnosed.  
      Fast-forward to now.  By the grace of God, it's 7 years later and my mom is still alive and kicking.  She's had several surgeries, rounds of chemo, and a near-death experience or two.  She has been absolutely inspirational during this time.  She is the most optimistic person, and most of the time you would never know she is sick.  I think it's safe to say that most people would be pretty down-in-the-dumps in her situation.  I've had more than one person say how depressed they would be and how they probably would have died already if it was them in her shoes.  I firmly believe that her amazing attitude is a large part of why she has made it this far.  
      In January she was hospitalized after taking one round of chemo that didn't agree with her to put it nicely.  She was in really bad shape.  They took her blood pressure and they got no reading at all.  She was hallucinating - at one point she was pedaling her arms, and when asked what she was doing she responded, "I'm riding my bike."  Admittedly I laughed when I heard that story, but it was actually a really scary situation.  
      I was about 37 weeks pregnant when she went into the hospital and I couldn't visit because I was so large and had 3 kids to haul with me, so I was hearing all of this through other people.  I remember thinking my mom wasn't going to make it to see me have my baby, and she later admitted that she was crying in the hospital with the same thoughts.  My water broke a couple weeks later and I delivered our 4th baby.  She was in the same wing of the hospital as me as I was having my sweet Ezra.  Only a couple floors separated us from each other.  It was the next day they surprised me and in wheeled my mom to meet and hold her newest grandson.  She was weak and needed help holding him.  I made sure to take pictures not knowing what was going to happen with her.  Here is one that we captured:

      She stayed in the hospital for a little while longer.  We were released with Ezra before she was released.  It honestly seemed premature, but just like in the past she was back up and feeling great before too long.  She met us for lunch soon after her release - even driving herself, and we were all marveling at her bounce-back.  She had dipped so low, so close to death, and here we were eating HuHot with her.  
      She seems to be pretty okay right now, but she has been spending a lot of time in bed since that hospitalization earlier this year.  She requires oxygen pretty often and she doesn't have much stamina.  She doesn't want to do any more chemo for many reasons, but this last chemo was the final straw.  I have always wondered where she would be right now if she had never done any chemo.  It seems like it does more harm than good, but it's hard to tell.  Sometimes it will kick the cancer's butt and you're back to normal afterward - but in my mom's case, I don't know if she would be half as unhealthy as she is if she had never done it at all.  Who knows, though.  The cancer could have theoretically killed her if she had not done chemo.  
      I keep thinking about this analogy - my mom was a healthy person before chemo, really only battling with her weight - so every time she had a surgery, round of chemo, small procedure, it was like a kick in the shins... when you're healthy you can deal with a kick in the shins, but when you are kicked in the shins repeatedly, eventually you fall down.  I think she's beginning to fall if I am being perfectly honest - she would tell you the same thing.  
      I am a realist and I don't know how long I have with my mom.  After all, there's only so much your body can take.  I feel blessed that she is alive after 7 years.  There have been people who have been diagnosed and died within months, giving the family very little time to come to terms with losing their loved one.  I have been given the gift of time to accept the fact that my mom very likely won't be here for much longer.  We speak openly about it.  Some of the grieving is done while the person is still alive.  I am sad about my mom, but I am also enjoying the time I have with my mom.  We take the people we have for granted so often.  I am happy to be with my mom.  When my kids are sitting with their "Ma", as she is lovingly referred to, the gift is not lost on me.

      This is just a long-winded way of saying that we should all appreciate the time we have together whether it's a day or a lifetime.  Also, I don't want my mom to die, but we will be okay and have accepted that it will happen.  Maybe we have years and years left, and that would be so great.  I hope that's the case.  

      Please keep praying for her.  I pray for complete healing all the time.  The other thing I hope that my mom leaves behind is to be happy and joyful in all circumstances.  She is an inspiration to many.  I only hope I would handle the same situation with as much grace as she has.  

Now, go hug your moms. :)


Antoinette Garwood said...

This is beautiful. We have your mom in our prayers nightly.

Courtney said...

Thanks, Antoinette. :)

Tammy said...

I pray for your sweet mama constantly. She is one of the toughest women I know. She's a fighter and I too firmly believe that attitude is a BIG part of winning the battle. I also know she is determined to stay around as long as possible for her kids and grandkids. She is truly inspirational. Don't sell yourself short, Courtney. Your entire family is an amazing support system. Your mom needs that, and that knowing that she has that love and support is a lot of what is sustaining her. Love you all. Big hugs to you and Kelly.

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