21 August 2015

Life... Unscripted

It's been awhile since I posted... I had grand plans to share a post about losing toenails, how my training was kicking off for my first Half Ironman in October, how my fundraising was going for Climate Ride and my training as well... and then life happened. And all that flew out the window. I've been thinking a lot over the last two months about things I want to say, how to express how I've been feeling, but been unable to really put it into words here on the little blog.

Two months ago my mom was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer that has spread pretty invasively to her liver. There are possible spots in other parts of her body - although some we're not sure if they are cancer or indicators of other issues. This diagnosis rocked my family to the core. My mom has been feeling a little off since the spring, but two weeks before her diagnosis I went to visit (they live down near Hilton Head in a great little retirement community) and we all went and shot some balls at the driving range, hit a few on the putting green, and she and I went bowling with the neighbors. I could tell that she was fatigued, but we were out there doing things. Apparently a week later she could hardly get out of bed! The diagnosis came with a guess that she's actually had colon cancer for up to 7 YEARS... with basically no symptoms until the liver involvement recently. I remember her asking me when I was there if she looked jaundiced - always an indication of something going on with the liver - but in my opinion she looked fine. My mom has always been one of those people who doesn't rush to the doctor when something is wrong - me on the other hand, I head over to the doc in a box at the first sign of something going on. So I was disappointed to hear that my mom had missed her recommended colonoscopy 3 years ago.. especially considering my grandmother (her mother) died of colon cancer in 1990. Family history means it's important to stay on top of testing. That's why when I turned 30 I had the genetic screening for breast cancer done, to determine if I needed to start mammograms early or could wait until 40 (my mom's sister had breast cancer back in 1997). Luckily the test came back negative so I haven't had to endure the mammograms just yet. But family history is serious, and making sure you're on top of your game and ahead of the cancer curve is important. This just hit home as to how important it is for our family.

The day after the diagnosis my siblings and I were able to get away from work and drive down to be with our parents... it was Father's Day weekend. It was a somber celebration of family. My mom had changed so much in the three weeks since I'd seen her last. She spent most of the weekend in bed, but also had to prepare for a colonoscopy on Monday morning to determine the extent of the cancer. Definitely not fun prep - and I'm not looking forward to it, but you can bet when it's time for me to start doing it (they recommend 40 now because of the family history) I will do it. My dad's friend Steve passed away last year after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis - he was originally given 6 months, but lived three more years, able to see his youngest son get married and knock a few pretty awesome things off his bucket list. But my mom had also seen the ugly side of cancer with Steve - the side effects of the chemo, the constant doctors visits. And a part of her was thinking "I don't want to deal with that." That first weekend, the pastor from their church came over on Sunday afternoon and talked with all of us. Mom said she was at peace with dying, and that she was thinking about not doing any treatment at all. It was hard to hear. It's one thing to be at peace with dying - it's another to decide not to try to live. It's hard to ever try to think how you would respond to a situation like this - and everyone's diagnosis is different... everyone's experience is different. But having someone close to you diagnosed and not be immediately ready to dive in and try to beat the disease is tough. It's really tough.

She opted to go in for treatment - working with the oncologist near them. It was tough not to be able to be there, not to meet with the doctors and hear more about her prognosis. It was tough to hear over the phone how frustrating it was to get the port installed (insurance is a nightmare in all instances, but especially when you need immediate, life-saving treatment, and find out at the 9th hour that the doctor you've lined up doesn't actually accept your insurance). It was tough to hear how late in the day of the first infusion how sick mom got. It was tough to hear that because that first infusion was SO awful that she was thinking about not continuing.

But it was a blessing to hear that dad had sought out Cancer Treatment Centers of America and was looking into a second opinion. A second approach that is more holistic - that treats the whole patient, not just the cancer. It was a blessing to hear that mom was willing to meet with the team there, to hear what they had to say. It was a blessing that the CTCoA campus in Newnan would be able to accept their insurance and that mom would be receiving treatment just outside of Atlanta. It was a blessing that we would all be able to be there - that I would be able to meet with the oncologist, the naturopath, the nutritionist, the physical therapist. That we would be able to see this amazing place that would be taking care of our beloved.

But it was tough that because of mom's horrible experience the first round to hear her say that she still wasn't sure she wanted to try again. Sure the team at CTC had addresses many of the issues she had the first time around and made adjustments to help. But the first time was so awful, it was hard to imagine it not being bad. But we had a serious family pow-wow, and mom went in for the second round. It was so much better - after a minor hiccup with accessing the port. She didn't get as sick. She was even able to go to PT the day after the infusion.

She just had her third round this week, and seems to be doing better, although the cancer markers are still elevated. The plan is infusion every two weeks, with repeat scans at the end of September to see where we are. Until then, we wait with hopeful expectation that something will make a difference.

Part of the reason it has been hard to write these last two months is because we didn't have a clear-cut plan as to what mom would be doing. None of us are ready for her to just give up and let go. The idea of Christmas without my mom... it's not anything I want to think about ever, but especially not this year. I'm not ready. Sure, my mom and I haven't had the most amazing relationship over the years. I was a typical teenage daughter. But in the end, I love my mother and the idea of even a day without her is too much to bear.

Cancer sucks. The day I found out, I was at work. Only one word came to mind. Fuck (sorry to be so vulgar). Fuck you cancer. You ruin people's lives every day. We do so much to end cancer - we support amazing charity partners, we look desperately for a cure. But the day cancer comes to your home, all you can say is fuck. Fuck you cancer. I hate you for coming to my house. And I hope - and I pray - that you find your way out. And soon.

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