I used to have a blog called Real Housewife of Cobb County. I started when I quit my job to be a stay at home mom when my youngest daughter started her senior year. Most people expected the blog to be along the lines of the Real Housewives TV show, but it was just a therapeutic place for me to write about life.
It makes sense then, that lately I have been missing my blog about life in general, because there has been a lot happening in my life, and while I am not forgetting to be grateful for all of the blessings, lately, there has been a lot of sadness and tribulation.
My Mom has been battling stage 4 cancer since January of 2012. She has endured life altering surgeries, been through countless chemotherapy treatments (4 different regimens over 6 years, but we lost track of the number of treatments after she was on a maintenance chemo for a year), and let’s not forget the round of radiation for a tumor that popped up on her spine. Up until June of last year, she has been the victor. You would never know if you met her that she was a cancer patient. In June of last year, however, she had a pulmonary complication from the maintenance chemo that she was on. She also developed what seemed to be an undiagnosable debilitating back pain that by November would have her housebound, mostly immobile and dependent on Oxycodone for relief. She has had a pretty rough road from them until now.
She started Taxotere in February. We were told that this was a last line of defense, if it didn’t work there were no other options. At that time, she had developed tumors in her groin lymph nodes that could be clearly seen on the outside of her body. The silver lining was that one of the 5 medications she had to take to offset the side effects of the Taxotere were some mack daddy steroids. The steroids stopped her back pain. That was a ray of light in a pretty dark storm. I live 750 miles away from my mom but I have been able to go to each of her treatments with her and stay for a few days after through the blessing of intermittent FMLA leave.
The last time I left her on March 25th, I truly felt I was watching my Mom die before my eyes. Either the chemo was not working or it was killing her and it didn’t really matter, which one it was, she was fading away before my eyes. Her breathing was so labored that I worried for her to sleep. She had developed what she referred to as a weakness in her legs – she could truly barely walk. I came home wondering when I would have to return on a full-time basis to care for her until the end. Two days after I left, she had a doctor’s appointment that caused such concern that they moved her scan up by nearly 2 weeks to see what was going on. The scan revealed a blood clot in her leg and two in her lungs. This might not seem like good news, but to me, it explained the breathing and leg weakness issues. I thought, ok, they can treat this and maybe the chemo is not as bad as I thought. Maybe it’s working and the weakness and breathing will improve now that the blood clots have been identified and treated.
My Mom spent M-F in the hospital monitoring those blood clots. The same week she was hospitalized my 94 year old Grandma fell and ended up with an open fracture of her wrist. She underwent surgical repair with general anesthesia — very risky at that age.
My husband and I had a trip to Italy scheduled the following week and teetered all week on whether or not to cancel that trip. My Mom came home, my Grandma came home and my Mom’s exact words to my concern that I was going to come home to no surviving family was “well if we die, we’ll still be waiting here when you get back” — she’s a funny lady.
I left for Italy thinking that my Mom was taking one cycle off of chemo to recover from her blood clots and hospitalization and that I would go up for her next scheduled treatment on May 1st. She actually sounded so much better than she was before they found the lung clots that I had hope she would once again defy the odds. Even though she sounded better than she had, there was something dodgy about our conversations and I actually said to my husband that I think my Mom is lying to me. I think her scan showed cancer growth and she’s stopping treatment. I called her Oncologist (I am on her HIPPA forms) but couldn’t get a clear cut answer. I would found out later she swore her doctor, his nurse and her closest friends to secrecy so that I wouldn’t cancel my trip.
I speak to me my Mom everyday and even upon my return she continued to tell me that she had a follow up coming up to see if she would have her next scheduled chemo treatment at the beginning of May. Again, I have this 6th sense that she is withholding information but I figure I would get to the bottom of it the following week when I am there in person.
But that’s not how it happened. I was sitting at my desk at work on Wednesday, April 25th, when I received a call from a woman who identifies herself as my Mother’s Social Worker and gives me the name and number of my Mother’s nurse. They have both visited her this morning and she is in good spirits and not in any pain. The Chaplain will also visit this week. Ummmm….wait….what? I hate to sound stupid, but exactly who are you? “I am with Hospice, your Mom has entered Hospice. She identified you as the decision maker and said you have a medical power of attorney…I’m sorry, I thought you knew….”
I made plans to return to Cleveland a few days after that phone call. I thought I would get here and we would have some enjoyable moments over the next few months. I would get some things in place for her and travel back and forth, between Atlanta and Cleveland, just more frequently, until the very end when I would be here full time.
Instead I would arrive to find my mom almost completely unable to get up from her recliner, where she has been sleeping because it keeps her back more comfortable. I would walk into her home to realize that, just based on the condition of things, she had not been able to care for anything for at least a couple of weeks. She has a wonderful tribe of friends, but they are all in their 70’s with limitations of their own. They made sure she was not alone, not in pain, had groceries and that her cats were cared for.
My mom appears to be declining rather quickly. I had to move her to in resident Hospice care. I could not lift her out her chair anymore. We had issues this last week that compromised her safety and her dignity and she needs 24 hour care. One of my daughters was here last weekend and the other is coming this weekend.
I’m trying not get ahead of myself. There are so many things I will have to take care of, and I am fighting with myself to take one day at a time. How does the mouse eat the elephant? One bite at a time. One of my mother’s favorite sayings.
I’ve been visiting my 94 year old Grammy. Her wrist is healing nicely but the general anesthesia did take a toll. Always sharp as a tack, she is not quite the same. It’s so sad to me that she will outlive two of her 3 children.
Since I’ve been here, my Dad’s youngest brother, my Uncle Brian, unexpectedly died in his sleep. I can’t remember the last time I saw my Uncle, but my youngest got to spend some time with her Grandpa and all of the uncles not too long ago. Here is a picture of all of them. My Uncle Dan told the waitress to “hurry up and take the picture before one of us dies.” Two have died since then. That is the sadness of death really. It is not sad for our loved ones, I am a Christian and believe in life everlasting. But it is sad for us who live with a void in our lives.
As long as I am writing about life’s valleys, I have to include my niece Kristen. She is my husband’s sister’s youngest daughter. She is 47 and she is in desperate need of a liver transplant. Desperate need. Of all of the things going on in my life, she causes me the most concern. She is too young. She has children who still need her. But, I have to believe that Kristen is going to get that liver. And the God is going to hold her until she does.
I have a pretty healthy attitude about death. It is as natural as being born. Everything living thing will eventually die. None of us will escape. I had seen with my own eyes that my Mom had probably run out of grace this time around. I have seen her suffer greatly this past year and I think in this world, that perhaps watching a loved one suffer is the hardest thing to bear. So, I will be thankful for the blessings in my life and the ability to be with her now.