Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A New Sense of Sorrow: My Mom's Battle with Cancer

The day we came home with Elleigh, my mom went to the hospital. The week before, she'd had a sudden onset of a kind of paralysis in her legs. They felt heavy, she couldn't move them well, and she collapsed at work. Her symptoms weren't anything so concerning that she went to the hospital at that time, and her doctor didn't feel concerned enough to send her to the hospital later in the day when she came into the office. The doctor adjusted some of her blood pressure medication and sent her home to rest for the weekend, and on Tuesday, the doctor told my mom she thought maybe she'd had a slight stroke. She'd need further tests to confirm which would be done on an outpatient basis, but a headache later that evening sent her to the ER. She was admitted and tests began the next day.

After a whirlwind week of tests and various false diagnoses, two biopsies and some other tests confirmed my mom has Oat Cell Carcinoma with a comorbidity of Eaton Lambert's Syndrome. Oat Cell Carcinoma is a very aggressive type of small cell lung cancer. "SCLC is the most aggressive form of lung cancer. It usually starts in the breathing tubes (bronchi) in the center of the chest. Although the cancer cells are small, they grow very quickly and create large tumors. These tumors often spread rapidly (metastasize) to other parts of the body, including the brain, liver, and bone. Almost all cases of SCLC are due to cigarette smoking. SCLC is rare in those who have never smoked" (BaylorHealth.com). Eaton Lambert's Syndrome is a neurological disorder that accompanies 4% of SCLC diagnoses, and this is what caused the numbness in her legs that still persists.

By the time she got her diagnosis, we had such a sense of mistrust towards the doctors at the hospital she was at. I did some research and had her care transferred into the Baylor Health Care system. We hooked her up with an oncologist who has extensive experience dealing with Oat Cell Carcinoma. We really like him and his approach to this type of cancer. She's already undergone her first round of chemotherapy and has another round scheduled for later in the month. After a couple of rounds, the radiologist will try to determine if he can add radiation to her treatment plan. Surgery is not an option with this type of cancer.

I've been very overwhelmed by this diagnosis. The reality is this cancer will be part of my mom's death. There's no cure for this cancer, and the treatments they do merely buy time. On a positive note, her cancer was caught earlier than it typically is, so we're hopeful she has years to live instead of months. Though we all know death is imminent, it's been sad to watch her come to terms with a timeline. It's also been sad to watch a very strong, independent woman reach a point where she has to physically rely on people -- for rides, to help her off the ground when she falls, etc. The speedy progression of this disease has also been overwhelming as just thirty days ago, she was working full-time and leading a busy life. To so quickly be so ill is a challenge.

I've been meaning to update for a while, but I thought if I waited, someone would come along and say she'd been misdiagnosed and all would be well. That hasn't happened -- and it won't.

Time to deal with reality, I suppose.

As for where I am, I'm very sad about this cancer, and I'm very sad about the fact that every day my mom lives will be one of her last. Anything we do is tainted with the knowledge that this could be the last time, or that we're prioritizing because she's dying. The reality of all she'll miss and how I'll miss her absolutely consumes me from time to time. It's been a challenge to know how much to share with the kids. We've been honest, but reassuring so they won't feel scared, but then they struggle to understand my random tears. They're not sure what to think, and we're not sure how much to tell them. God's grace is enough even in this, I just wish I didn't have to know that for sure.

"The difference between shallow happiness and a deep sustaining joy is sorrow.
Happiness lives where sorrow is not.
When sorrow arrives, happiness dies.
It can't stand pain.
Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief.
Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance,
and of endurance into character,
and of character into hope --
and the hope that has become our joy does not
(as happiness must for those who depend upon it)
disappoint us."
-- Walter Wangrin, Reliving the Passion

"The things we try to avoid and fight against
-- tribulation, suffering and persecution --
are the very things that produce abundant joy in us.
Huge waves that would frighten the ordinary swimmer
produce a tremendous thrill for the surfer who has ridden them.
"We are more than conquerors through Him" IN all these things
-- not in spite of them, but in the midst of them.
A saint doesn't know the joy of the Lord in spite of tribulation,
but because of it.
Paul said "I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation."
-- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Rom 8:37, 2 Cor 7:4)


All content © Mandigirl, 2007-2013.