March 6, 2015

The Big C

Just over 3 years ago my Mom went in for a routine surgery. She had a lump in her arm. The day she went in I was already worried. I had a really strong feeling something was wrong. I am sure Heavenly Father was preparing me. I was in Sacramento visiting my in-laws the day of the surgery. I hated being so far away - but looking back I see what a blessing that really was because my husband was right there to support me instead of at work. The surgery was to remove a portion of her blood vessel in her arm that had a clot. They would be replacing it with a portion of vessel from her leg. What was meant to be a routine surgery ended up several hours longer than normal and when she woke up from surgery her life was to never be the same. Mom had cancer. Leiomyosarcoma. It wasn't a clot in her blood vessel and the prior 2 years of trying different medicines to help break it down, suffering through a lot of pain and side effects from the medicine, the brushed off blood test, the Dr. and the three radiologists who misdiagnosed it all weren't enough to point them in a different direction. It wasn't until she was in surgery that they realized the gravity of the error. We suspect that she had to be resuscitated during that surgery too. But we may never know for sure.

It was hard to watch her in complete shock. Trust me when I say she tried very hard to be positive through everything - but as if the utter devastation of hearing the word cancer wasn't enough - she got to learn that hers was aggressive and it had been misdiagnosed for years already. It was a hard blow. Through all the stress and emotion she struggled to be patient with the Dr. who had misdiagnosed her, with the dysfunctional BC medical system (Canada), and with cancer and all of its mysteries and unknowns. It is apparently very common for patients to get PTSD from being diagnosed with Cancer. She sure did. There were so many times she felt helpless. What would you expect? The Dr.'s told her there are few options and offered very little support.

The first Dr. she visited insisted she amputate her arm. He insisted it was her only chance. She refused to just take his word for it. She consulted the Cancer Care Society in Seattle, WA to get a second opinion and was told that amputation might not be necessary. Eventually Mom had a second surgery on her arm - because the margins weren't clear from the first surgery. (The fancy way of saying they didn't get all the cancer during the first surgery.) That surgery took its toll on her. It made the use of her arm very difficult. The seamstress in her died. She couldn't even look at most of her sewing stuff. She gave away her sewing machine, cleaned out her stash of crafts and cried when we bought our new house and I showed her my new sewing room. She knew things would never be the same. It broke my heart to know she couldn't do many of the things she loved so very much. Gardening was also very difficult. We planted her flowers for her in the spring but part of me wondered if she would really be able to appreciate it.

Soon Mom began to refer to Cancer as "The Big C". It seemed very fitting. Radiation therapy was hard. It made her so sick and there were side effects. All the while her anxiety started to increase and her heart began racing with more frequency. (Something she suffered from on and off for many years prior to her diagnosis.) She tried many holistic remedies, changed her diet based on nutrition classes she had taken and even tried several alternative therapies and massage therapy.

Eventually, after many Dr.'s visits and seeing many various specialists Mom found a Chemotherapy that they were willing to let her try. Her heart condition had eliminated so many options on that front and even this Chemo was new and involved great risk. Her first round of Chemo she went into complete shock and had one of the worst reactions the hospital staff had ever seen. They gave her some more medicine and tried one more time later that same day. It helped but again she had another severe reaction. Dad said he had never felt so close to losing her. They were given the choice of attempting it one more time a few weeks later and after much thought and prayer decided against it. (Much to the relief of the Dr. and medical staff.)

The cancer continued to spread aggressively. Her liver, lungs, pelvic area all had lumps. Eventually it was on her back, arm and many other places. August last year Mom got very ill and after a brief hospitalization was sent to a hospice. It was a beautiful place and one that she had hoped to be able to get into when the cancer became too much for her and Dad to deal with on their own. After a few weeks she felt ready to go home. Just days later she fell and broke her pelvic bone. Actually, they think it was already fractured, but that her fall made it worse. She quickly returned to the hospice.

I can't even write about the visits I had with her there right now but I will tell you that she was in a beautiful place and surrounded by the most amazing, supportive staff. She could not have been in a better place. We were there for American Thanksgiving and many other times in the last few months. Much of November and early December I spent up in Canada assisting my Dad with her care. My siblings all did the same. We took every effort to visit with her, help our Dad, and make the best of the little time we knew we had left with her here.

On December 9th Dad called me to let me know she was fading quickly. One of the awesome nurses there called shortly after him and asked me to come right away. That night I drove the three long hours to the hospice. It seemed to take forever to get there. I visited shortly with my Dad and, though Mom was unresponsive, I bid her farewell. The next morning, on December 10th, 2014, she passed away.

I can't say that my life changed that day. It had changed a long time before that. I had lost my Mom to Cancer already - it was just the final farewell to her. Even so - the world seemed to freeze. Pressing emotions - ones that I had carried for months and years - all came crashing in. But this was what I had been preparing for. And despite the crashing waves of hurt I still had to get up, keep going and be there for my Dad and family. The only thing that carried me through those next few days was Heaven sent strength. I do not know how I would have made it otherwise. I know the prayers of many, many people were buoying us all up. I look back on those days that followed, as we prepared for her funeral and see so many miracles, so many wonderful angels that touched my life forever and know that Heavenly Father was taking care of us all.

My Mom was an extremely private person - we were all able to recognize her fear of others talking about her. She was raised to be private. Out of respect and in order to not hurt her - I never talked about this on social media. My siblings never did either, and I assume it was for the same reasons. It has taken a lot of effort on my part - being a blogger and someone who writes as a means of therapy - to not write about my experiences. In fact, I struggled in the last year to continue on with my blog because when I sat to write a post I really just wanted to share this story. But I couldn't. I have been so careful that even now it is hard to write this story. I don't want to hurt people by telling her story but I need to put it in words.

I know that Cancer touches the lives of so many. I know it well. My husband lost his mother to Cancer when he was 16. It seems we are all very much affected by it somehow. Cancer sucks. The Big C can be cruel. However the beauty, the miracles and the personal growth that I have experienced because of it still have my mind reeling. I have much to learn. I have slowly begun to heal. I am slowly wrapping my head around a new normal. I have relied a lot on my faith, and found strength through Christ, knowing his atonement was not only for my sins, but to help heal my pain. I am already experiencing firsts and while some days I am fine - sometimes I still cry. I love my Mom - she was and is one of the most wonderful people I ever knew. I am so blessed to be her daughter. I miss her very much, but I rejoice knowing she is in Paradise, finally free of pain, and waiting for me there.
{Photo Credit: Umbrella Tree Photography}

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