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Mom's Story

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I always figured I’d leave it up to Mom to write her story. Mom was never one for the written word, though, and absolutely despised public speaking…so I guess this is where I step in and take over. The time has passed for her to be able to tell it herself, anyway.

All through the winter of 2003 there were terrible “colds” and “flu” going around. It seemed that everyone had a cough, a runny nose, congestion of some sort or another. Kleenex was in short supply most places and since Mom worked with the public every day as an operator in the hair salon she owned, it was no surprise she got hit pretty hard with all the creeping crud going around. She went to the doctor a few times over the winter, trying to get some relief from the cough that was nagging at her. She was told she had bronchitis, pneumonia, COPD, a heart condition…you name it, it was suggested as a diagnosis for this cough that just would not go away. We thought we’d heard the worst when they told her that they had diagnosed CHF (congestive heart failure). We were wrong. In May of 2004 Mom went back to her family doctor and told him she’d like to have a chest x-ray done. With all the breathing difficulties that she’d been having for the past few months, one was never done. She told me later that she knew, in the back of her mind, what would be found.

She told me a few days later that the x-ray had shown a “spot” on her left lung. The doctor wanted to do more tests and they were going to admit her into the hospital to get them all done at once. The news came in quick succession. She was done with the diagnostic procedures in a couple days and the results were in…non-small cell adenocarcinoma, primary tumor in the left lung, mediastinal lymph node involvement. She was scheduled for a scan of her brain…and sent home to digest all she’d learned so far. The results of the scan were “as bad as it gets”, there was a tumor in the brain and a small “spot”. She was staged IV and told that with no treatment she could expect around 3 months. If she chose to treat aggressively she *might* see a year’s survival.

I’ll be honest and say that her decision to treat and do it aggressively was not one she jumped to easily or quickly. Many times I wondered if I’d get a call from my step-father telling me that she’d decided to just “take care of it” herself. She’d watched a younger brother and sister die of different cancers and had another brother battling another one at the same time that she was diagnosed. She knew all too well what the face of cancer looked like, too, having fought the beastie in the form of cervical cancer years before. Ultimately, she told me, it came down to her grandchildren and wanting more time with them. She was going to fight and she was determined to make the best out of it.

Treatment was not easy. She was put on weekly chemo treatments and had daily radiation to go with it. By the time that the radiation ended she had burns on her chest and back that we would put salve on to try to help heal. It zapped her energy. She couldn’t eat and was lucky to get liquids down. Her treatment and the cancer played heck on her blood stream…clotting became a word she knew all too well. Mom was hospitalized many times for pulmonary embolisms, deep vein thrombosis, and general clotting issues. Then there were the times when no one was sure exactly what was going on and the times they got her blood “too thin” and had to watch to make sure she wouldn’t injure herself and bleed out. Somehow, she made it through it all.

A year passed (now 2006)and we’d hoped to celebrate it with good scans. There were mixed reviews. Her lung and the lymph nodes in the middle of her chest had responded to treatment remarkably well. Her brain, however, was becoming problematic. The original tumor had grown back. Still wanting to fight for all the available time she could have, she chose to being more radiation treatments to her head…whole brain radiation. After giving that “time to work”, she and her doctors went for a last-ditch effort of repeated stereotactic radiosurgery to the same tumor. It was not to be. By the time the new year rolled around (2007), she was out of treatment options. It was never something we really sat down and talked about…there was no moment when she said “I’m done with treating this.”

Mom’s doctor’s originally said that she would be lucky to see a year of survival with the most aggressive treatment available. When she died she had lived 2 years and 10 days from her date of diagnosis with stage IV non-small cell adenocarcinoma. Our time with her after her diagnosis was filled with ups and downs of treatment, all kinds of anxiety, worry, tears and heartache. But it was also filled with two years of time that we were able to spend with her. She saw her first grandchild turn 8 and her 4th grandchild born…and learn of a 5th on the way. She saw two years worth of sunrises and sets, her flowers bloom, and birds at the feeders. Those are times we’ll never forget. I’m proud to be the daughter of a great woman who fought the beastie named lung cancer…and I’m proud to be able to share her story.

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