My mom has cancer. This is nothing new. I think it’s been about 3 years since she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer- maybe 3 and a half years. I’m not sure what stage it was in when she was diagnosed, just that it was advanced and while they were able to remove a large 6lb tumor from her abdomen, they were unable to remove all of the cancer because of the way it had grown in and around some of her organs.

Originally, the news was extremely upsetting and I had a hard time accepting it. Over time, life seemed to go on and my mom seemed OK. Things sort of got back to normal, a new normal, and it was nice to think that maybe we could just live with cancer-for like 20 years or so. I might have been in a bit of denial- I still am.

Things have gone downhill more recently. I’m beginning to think that this is the beginning of the end. Maybe it’s past the beginning of the end- I’m not even sure. I live three hours away from my family and I am very much out of the loop. Tonight I read on Facebook that she’d been admitted to the hospital. It seems like it’s not too big a deal- a bowel obstruction I think. The details are fuzzy yet. I called my sister when I saw the post from my mom’s friend on Facebook and she told me what she knew which isn’t much yet. My mom will go for a CT scan tomorrow and then they will know more. They know that the cancer is very active- we will find out just how active once the tests come back I guess.

My mother has been fighting and enduring round after round of chemo.  When the doctors told her last year that they didn’t have any other treatments to suggest she found a clinic in the US that would suggest treatments based on samples sent to them.  We were very hopeful about this option and the clinic suggested a combination that my mother’s doctors would not have considered otherwise. At first, the treatment seemed to work despite making my mom very ill. My parents were able to go up to their house in Florida for the winter but had to come back early very hurriedly when my mother noticed some rapid cancer activity. Cancer causes fluid which builds up very quickly and is extremely uncomfortable to have to endure. My mother has it drained sometimes. It is too bad they had to come home early as my parents love it in Florida and it seems to be really good for them but it is important for them not to get stuck down there where healthcare isn’t free like it is here. :)

My mom started back on a chemo routine here but has been very ill over the last month which has led to some skipped chemo sessions and some extra emergency room visits. We were down very briefly over the Easter weekend and she mentioned that she’s not sure that she should continue treatment as at some point she needs to consider quality of life over length of life. She is not old- she will be 65 in a couple of weeks.

I am not sure what I am supposed to do. Being as far away as I am, it is very easy to pretend that nothing is wrong or downplay the severity of the situation. It is hard when I go up there because I am reminded when I see her of how sick she actually is. The phone is very kind.

We don’t have unlimited time to take off work. Do I go down there now or do I wait until things worsen? We are going down for the weekend after this one and then again for a weekend in June. Is that enough? How do I know what is enough? How do I know if this is the end? This could go on for another three years. My sisters are asking if I will be spending more time down there and I don’t know what to say. They are all much older than myself and in different stages of their lives.  Everyone gives the blanket suggestion that I should spend more time down there but reality says that I still have a mortgage here that needs to be paid, a dog that needs to be looked after, and two jobs that need to be kept. I’m not looking for absolution or anything but I am honestly wondering what it is that I should be doing?

If I go down there, what will I do? Do I just hang out with my Mom? Is a week enough? A weekend? Two weeks? Are there things I’m supposed to be doing- for her? with her? for me? What sorts of regrets might I have later? How can I avoid them? I am the youngest of a very large family and am very used to being told what to do. I just need someone to tell me what I’m supposed to do now.  Are there some things I could do for my mother from further away?

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5 Responses to Thoughts On Cancer

  1. Sheryl (Cdn Gwen) says:

    I’m very sorry to hear about this.
    No one can tell you what to do, you have to do what feels right in the situation.
    That being said, I’ll share what is going on with my family. My daughter was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, got treated and has been cancer free ever since. My sister was diagnosed late 2011 and has just finished her last chemo, going into radiation now. My parents live local to me, my 3 sisters live 2 hours away.
    My fathers health declined rapidly over Christmas 2011, he has recovered somewhat, but now has to use a walker for the rest of his life (which is better than the wheelchair he had to use in January). My sisters now take turns visiting most weekends, but do talk on the phone almost everyday with my parents.
    My parents put the brave face on for most, but when my sisters experience in person the reality of their health, they are still shocked and hurt / scared. I feel like I’m in the middle of everything.
    One thing I’ve learned from this, is that it is important to listen to what the ailing parent wants.
    It is easy to assume we all have to swoop in and fix things, save the day, make them feel better, etc. But most of the time we do this without asking what is actually wanted from us.
    Your mom will probably have some days when she is feeling better than others, talk to her and find out whats she wants / needs from you. Too many visitors can be exhausting.
    Perhaps having less frequent, but better quality visits would be good?
    Do you have a good relationship with your mom, or are there things that need to be resolved?
    My boyfriends father passed away in March, after having been in hospital since New Years (he lived 2 hours away). Each Sunday, he called his mother to see if it was a good day to visit (some days his father wouldn’t have known if anyone was there or not). The days his father was lucid, he went to visit.
    How far away is your mother?
    Don’t let anyone guilt you into anything, do what you feel is right in your heart. Talk to her and find out what SHE wants.

    Hope something I’ve said helps, I realize each person and family is different.
    PM me if you want a shoulder or to vent etc…

    • Marianne says:

      Thanks. I was able to speak with her today and am planning to visit this weekend. She is three hours away. She is looking forward to it and wants to have all of her kids around (there are a bunch of us…). I feel much better after having been able to speak with her. I am the youngest and I know she sugar coats things for me and is not as honest with me about things as she is with my older siblings but I’m OK with that. It’s nice to be reassured by your mother even when I know she’s scared herself.
      That’s great about your daughter and sister having dealt with cancer and coming out the other side! That’s what I was expecting at the beginning of this journey and I still don’t completely understand why they can’t fix it or just make it a bit better! It is nice to hear that even though things don’t always go well, cancer is not a death sentence in every case!

  2. Sheila Groleau Smith says:

    I’m a RN and a breast cancer survivor so I can give you what I know personally and as an observing outsider:
    If she says she’s sick of chemo and wants to quit be supportive and let her know you agree with any decision she makes. Back to that quality thing and it sounds like it makes her plenty sick. If she wants to try more and is is actually stabilizing or slowing the cancer it makes sense to try again. The tapping to drain fluid is a comfort measure and not a cure.
    The bowel obstruction is likely caused by the cancer spreading. Decisions here: More surgery and likely a colostomy to keep the plumbing running? A comfort to some degree and the ability to eat, but not a cure. It comes down to how aggressive she wants to be. As compromised as she sounds it would be a very slow poor healing recovery. Help her get the facts.
    As for visits: Talk to her. She is still competent and can make decisions. I personally tell my patients family’s if they need to make a decision ~ would they not prefer to skip a funeral(Sorry harsh here.) and spend time with the living? Or does it mean more to pay last respects. My personal feeling is that if I spend quality time now, I will have no regrets if I can’t finance a trip for a funeral. Mom can appreciate you now not later. It is also time to discuss end of life items if she wants to while she can still participate so she can have things done her way. Ask and let her know that it is OK to say “No” or “Not now.” You can say goodbyes and share tears and let her know it is OK for her to go when she is ready. Let mom make end of life decisions if she wants to. Clothes for the funeral. A special song played.
    Sorry to sound morbid. When I got my cancer diagnosis I had my whole funeral planned in my head. Letters to my children for life milestones under serious consideration too. I wanted to be ready, but I wanted a say in things too.
    It is heartbreaking to watch some you love as they are dying. All you can do is let her know you love her. It’s what we all like to hear.

    • Marianne says:

      Thanks- this is very helpful. Having learned a bit more now since the other evening, we are definitely in a palliative care situation… The Dr.’s are just trying to keep her comfortable and I believe that this is a relief for my mother. From what I understand, if they can get some stool moving (she had an exciting bathroom visit this morning!) then her life will be prolonged somewhat (months instead of weeks). The cancer is very active right now and the Dr.’s have said that surgery is not an option. She is hoping that she will be able to eat again sometime- she really wants a sub. :)
      I agree with you that it is better to spend time with the living but I am not so far that I will need to choose between visits and a funeral. I am more unsure of how much I need to be there. We had a very close friend pass away from the same disease (my mother nursed her throughout her convalescence- how ironic that she now suffers the same thing!) and I remember at one point her best friend put her life on hold and planned to stay with her (6 hours away) until she passed. At that time it seemed that she would not survive more than a week. She held on for a few more months though and the friend was even more unsure of what to do then because she was not able to stay away from her home life for months! That is sort of the dilemma I am feeling at the moment.
      Knowing a bit more now about what’s going on, having spoken to my mother and with the recent good news of the BM, I am going up this weekend and next and I feel good about that. She would like to have some one on one time with me which frankly scares the shit out of me (weird, maybe but it makes me very uncomfortable). I’m not crazy about feelings and do my best to avoid talking about them. Obviously, I’ll suck it up. Thankfully, my parents have had funeral stuff all planned for some time now so that is not something we will have to worry about.

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