Good Vibes All Around

Shortly after things settled down at my parents’ house, I excused myself so I could go outside to call a good friend of mine.  Gerry had wanted to know my results, so I wanted to give him the courtesy.  After taking in the bad news, he offered to ask his cousin, an emergency physician at a mid-town hospital, if he knew a doctor he could put me in touch with.

Only minutes later, I was speaking to Gerry’s cousin about seeing the stomach/esophageal surgeon at the hospital his cousin also worked.  He said the surgeon was very well known in his field, and arranged an appointment for me for the following Monday, at the surgeon’s weekly clinic in the hospital.

I knew by instinct, by the apparent reputation of this surgeon and what Gerry had told me about his kind cousin, that this surgeon would likely be the one to operate.  So I accepted with great appreciation.  How could I refuse such gracious assistance.

All things became mechanical by this point.  I began to do some research and forcefully prepare for the worst.

After several years, Gerry told me that his cousin, having known some details of my diagnosis, warned him, “It doesn’t look good for her.”

Amazing how so much is said when you’re not present in a conversation like that one.  I wanted to be there for everyone, but everyone was there for me – trying to protect me from any news that might be inimical to my fight.  Though I always want to be fully informed, I am thankful to everyone for sparing me, and giving me every opportunity to stay open-minded.

 

Finally!  My scan results were confirmed “negative” last Friday.  Although I still have my abdominal pain, I’m debating returning to my family physician for reassessment.  If my scan came out clean, I’m not sure if there’s any advantage to testing the area again so soon.  Maybe I’ll wait awhile to see if it subsides.  But I promise not to ignore it!

Be well.

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My Three Siblings

My three sisters were at work, but they wanted and needed to know the results.  I called them with the pathology results, since I don’t usually see them on weeknights.  Mary worked close by and made it there within a short time.  I laugh now when I think about what she said to me as she sat around the table with my mother, my mother-in-law, and myself.  “Just give me some time, and then…”  The just of her unfinished sentence, as she gestured with her hand, was that she would be strong for me once she could grasp what was happening.  My oldest sister, Lisa, soon arrived, since she had already finished work, and was driving home when she heard.

I’m sorry to say so much is a blur.  Bits and pieces come to mind, and they are not even in chronological order.  Asking my family what they remember about that day was futile, as they too were at a loss.  My sister, Mary, did say that she remembered that, once the pathology results were revealed, things moved pretty quickly.  Ironically for me, it was grueling and seemingly endless.

Susy, only thirteen months older than me, stayed at work for quite awhile because she was not able to drive home after I gave her the news.  I had told her not to panic.  Of course, she did, and from being overemotional, passed the telephone to her colleague.  Susy doesn’t handle serious or emergency situations very well.  After I asked her colleague to put Susy back on the line, I said, “Don’t worry, they will operate and remove it.”  When she was finally able to drive to my parents’ house, she first stopped by the local church to pray.

Lisa’s children, Claudia and Ricky, were old enough to understand the gravity of my illness.  Claudia was with her now-husband when her mom called her.  She was at his house crying for about an hour, then headed straight for my parents’ house later that afternoon, where we were all still sitting around the table.  She also picked up a rosary at Notre-Dame Basilica, one day after her university class, and had it blessed for me.  Ricky remembers the street corner he was on, waiting for the bus after school – he was in senior high.  They were heartbroken.

 

Keep in mind, you are reading only my second draft, and often, I revise my posts for the memoir.  Sometimes I remember more, reword parts of it, or move sections, so if you ever get to see a book published, it will be somewhat different.  The story will be the same, of course, no embellishments or lies, just more details. 

Thank you to all of you who’ve given me feedback and encouragement.  That alone is inspiring.  I do receive phone calls from close family and friends that are learning new information from my blog.  Sorry for that!

Mom & Dad, I Have Cancer – Part 2

My other employer, Howard, came on the line when Lyanne passed on the news.  He and I had been friends as well as colleagues since 1990, when we worked together at a large law firm once he graduated from law school.  I helped him start his own firm almost a year later, and ended up working with him until my diagnosis.  I’d like to think I was his right-hand man.  His family and friends would tell me Howard felt that way too.  We continue to keep in touch.

All I remember from my conversation with Howard is, “Do whatever they tell you.”  I never forgot those words.  He admitted a few years following my ordeal that he thought I was crazy for going through so many tests.  In one way, I thought his comment was funny.  On the other, it just goes to show you how unexpected this was for everyone.  Howard never knew all my symptoms, so would obviously question my paranoia.  I never took my health issues too seriously either.  If the Help-Line nurse wouldn’t have told me to go to the hospital, I don’t know where I would be today.  Perhaps not writing this survival memoir.

We turned onto Maritain Street, where my parents lived.  As I stared out the window, the homes, the cars, and the people began to appear further than they actually were.  The drive up to the house was unusual.  I felt everything pulling away from me, and a sense of loneliness encircling me.  The detachment was so strong, I almost felt consoled.  It’s amazing how our brains cope at a different level during trauma.

So how the heck was I going to tell my parents their baby girl has stomach cancer, and would need a very risky operation?  I have no recollection of the exchanges between Mariano and myself during the drive, or the thought process of what I could say to my family.  Mariano tells me, “You were quiet and you weren’t crying.”  I suppose the telephone calls were a great distraction for me.

Mariano parked the car on the driveway in front of the basement entrance.  My mother was taking care of my daughter and my nephew – what she did every day while my sister and I went to work.  We were lucky to have a healthy stay-at-home mom to help raise our children.  My mother-in-law was also there, since she knew we were receiving important results.

When we’d walk in the house, there were usually aromas that filled the air.  Homemade tomatoe sauce brewing or chicken cutlets frying would tell your stomach, “Why go home and make dinner?”  And the baking!  My mother was also constantly making cookies and cakes.  Her famous birthday cake was large enough to feed at least twenty-five.  The Easter bread was sometimes baked just because there were little grandchildren around – they loved the mini buns so much.  Today was different, and ironically, no one was in the mood for food.

As I entered the family room, which at the time we called the playroom, those familiar surroundings became comforting, even for me.

Mariano entered ahead of me.  It was as though my parents were waiting by the door for us.  “It’s cancer, and she has to get operated.”

In Italian, my mother pleaded, “Don’t even joke about that.”  She came toward me.

“It’s true,”  I added.

My mother cried helplessly.

My parents became quiet.  Each took their respective place in their comfort zone.  My mom sat in a chair at that metal table in the kitchen, and my dad in his reclining chair in the family room.  He didn’t sit back in it as usual, but near the edge.

I gave my mom a hug from behind.  No words, no possible comfort, only stillness.  After a few moments, I went to my dad, squatted down, and put my hand on his lap.  No words, no possible comfort, only stillness.  They were both pensive and teary-eyed.  My heart hurt from their pain.  How could I stop this from destroying my family?  They tried to keep their emotions at bay, probably for my sake, but I felt that if they could, they would scream at the top of their lungs.  They knew what this meant.  They dreaded what was to come.

I didn’t cry.  I couldn’t.  I had to be strong.  Being in control during critical times was normal for me.  At that point, my emotions were unknown.  My state of shock protected me, like an armor, to mask all that was fuming inside.  But even in this unrecognizable and vulnerable state, how could I be so unyielding?

 

 

I still await the official clear from my doctor’s office.  Mariano and I have seen him twice, and the technician’s report has yet to be posted for the doctor’s review.  Yesterday, I left a message at his office, so I hope to get some news soon.

In the meantime, I mourn yet another loss.  A good family friend, who spent a much longer time in the hospital while my beloved mother-in-law was there, passed away on the weekend.  He too had cancer, as his wife did (my mother’s best friend, whom you’ll learn about in my memoir).  May he rest in peace, and his family find strength and healing.

Cancer deaths seem to be growing, despite all the research, all the money, all the treatments… but we must do what we can to fight the deadly disease.  And we must help each other along the way.

Be well,

Patricia

A Trying Time

Hope you’re all doing well.  This excerpt is about recent events, as most of you are aware…

In the early morning of March 21st, the day my husband would accompany me to receive the results of my scan, we received a call from the doctor at the hospital where my mother-in-law was being held since the previous Monday.  “How is she?”  I asked, after he introduced himself.

“Not good.”

“Oh, no.”  I thought the doctor was calling to say she had passed away.  I quickly passed the telephone to Mariano.  Instead of announcing what I had feared the most for her, the doctor wanted permission to commence stage 4 care, so she would be more comfortable.

My mother-in-law never had excruciating pain – or she never led on how much she was really suffering – and the prior evening, she had struggled to express to her son, “Don’t let them give me that medicine that makes you…”  She was too tired and weak to continue, but waved her arm as best she could, signalling the unconscious and vulnerable state she refused to be in.

Since she hadn’t been in too much pain, and the doctor was giving her some medicine already that seemed to keep the pain she did have under control, Mariano told the doctor, “I’d like to come in and see how she is, before I decide to give her morphine.”

It was only 6:40 a.m., so when he hung up with the doctor, I told him, “Why don’t you go to the hospital, and I’ll go to my appointment alone.”

Now, despite the fact that I have gone to my result-appointments alone for several years, this time felt different.  For over a month-and-a-half, I was experiencing pain in my esophagus, a pain only Mariano and Isabella were aware of, that led to concerns about recurrence.  Then, I realized I had never had this particular pain before.  It consisted of tenderness and irritation on the inside, even pain while eating increased.  I kept having to unhook my brassiere to relieve some of the pressure in the area.  About one week before I realized I had the pain, my daughter and I were in what seemed like a small car accident.  But, even after a month-and-a-half later, she is still suffering from whiplash symptoms, and I still have neck and back pain as well.  I began to question if the pain in my thorax was related to the accident.  Could it have been?

It doesn’t make sense.  Aside from the pressure of moving forward and back in our seats as a result of the two rear hits, Isabella and I didn’t actually hit any part of the dash.  Although the muffler was pushed down to the ground and hung by a thread, and the bumper had a large crack, you wouldn’t think we would have received such an impact.

All this to say, I didn’t want to be alone to receive my scan results this year.  But the way things sounded for Mariano’s mother, I was ready to deal with it on my own.  His mother’s situation needed immediate attention.

“How long can it take at your appointment?”

“I’m not sure.  I’m one of the first patients, so it shouldn’t take long.  But if you need to go, I’ll just leave earlier so I have time to find parking.”

“No, it’s ok.  We’ll stop by on the way back.”

 

When we arrived at the hospital that is following me, I went in for my lung X-Ray, while Mariano looked for parking.  My surgeon wants to see the X-Ray before each visit.  Since all tests and reports are on a server, they can be accessed immediately.

I was called after about thirty minutes (since I was forced earlier to go to admissions to renew my hospital card, waiting time passed quickly), so we headed to room 16 to meet with the surgeon.  There, we waited again a few minutes so the doctor could finish with the patient in room 18.  He rotates between three visitor rooms, and his assistant keeps things rolling from the center desk in that sectioned-off clinic.

The surgeon always walks in with a friendly, “Hello, how are you?” during this one-day-a-week clinic to give each patient good or bad news.  Room to room, you might hear some of those results, since he doesn’t close the door.

I suggested that Mariano ask my surgeon about the stage 4 care his mother’s doctor recommended, and he agreed.  I thought his decision process may be easier and his perspective clarified if he learned more about the protocol.

My doctor reviewed the online lung X-Ray, but didn’t see the technician’s report for the abdominal and thorax scans.  He opened up the scan pictures and scrolled through the images.  “I don’t see anything obvious, but I’m not the expert.”

I explained the pain that recently began, and, as expected, he said, “You have always had pain.”

“This pain is different.”

He gave me a physical exam, but didn’t find anything worrisome.

“My family doctor showed me where he felt something in the abdomen, and said that if I was not scheduled for a scan already, he would request one – especially considering my history.”

 

The discomfort as my family doctor pressed on the ribcage where my brassiere rests, was also very evident.  Then he directed my hand to the lump in the center of the abdomen, right below the ribcage, where the stomach used to be.  There was definitely something large and rounded, but the pressure created more pain, so the investigation was brief.  I took his word for it.  When I needed to show my surgeon the lump, I couldn’t point it out.

“So, there are two things here.”  My family doctor had explained that brassieres can cause chest pain.  “Some women feel like they’re having a heart attack.”  Wow!  But he was genuinely concerned about what he felt in my abdomen.  “Go see your surgeon about this, and let me know…”  He quickly added, “…the next time I see you.”  I wonder if his attitude toward this issue didn’t give me more to worry about than need be.  But better to worry for nothing, than to have real reason to.

 

“So since I don’t have the official report, you’ll have to return for the results.”  It was the only way to rule anything out.

I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved.  He didn’t have a specific concern about the pictures, but still wanted the report to confirm anything he couldn’t see.

Before we headed out, I gestured to Mariano to ask the surgeon about his mother’s situation.  The doctor confirmed that it is indeed the point where doctors realize the patient is in final stages, and they want to be sure the patients are not in pain, so they will administer morphine to keep them comfortable.

It was so sad to see that Mariano had come to understand that he was losing his mother.  Throughout the recent months, I got the impression that he may not have wanted to see the truth about this mother’s destiny, regardless of her age.  For that reason, I felt I should continue accompanying them to her appointments with the oncologist.  I know how difficult it was for him, and although he wouldn’t ask me directly, I know he wanted me there.  When we knew about the progression of her cancer, I asked his mother directly if she wanted me to accompany her for her doctor visits.  “Of course, I do.  You don’t even have to ask.”

Mariano’s eyes watered as the doctor went on about end-of-life protocol, and he needed no further confirmation.  As he walked out ahead of me, the assistant and another woman speaking with her, looked perplexed by Mariano’s reaction to the visit with my surgeon.  The assistant likely knows the patients’ results, so she wondered why he was crying.  Even I reacted when he turned to me with red eyes and face, and tears trailing down, “They think this is because of you.”  He smiled.

We walked out of the hospital and headed to the car.  “My cell is dying,” Mariano said – a common occurrence for him.  He barely uses his cell phone, so he doesn’t think of charging it overnight.

As we approached the hospital on the return from my appointment, Mariano offered to drop me off near the entrance before passing it.  “…so you don’t have to walk.”

Parking in the hospital lot was twenty to thirty dollars, so Mariano always parked on the road (what a nuisance to have to do this constantly).  Finding a parking spot near this particular hospital was frustrating, because there were few areas where you were allowed to park.

I walked through the front doors, sprayed some hand sanitizer that we were forced to use so we wouldn’t bring in more germs, and headed down the hallway on the right to the elevators that would lead me to my mother-in-law’s room on the eighth floor.

The elevators here usually took a lot of time, so you would have to squeeze into them because so many people would be waiting.  This time, it was quick to arrive.  As I arrived on the eighth floor, I walked out to the right.  The nurse’s station was ahead on the right, but the room was in the first aisle on the left in front of the station.  I wondered why the doors to access the rooms within that section were closed today.  When I stood in front of her door, she wasn’t there.  The woman that stood outside of the room, chatting with her colleague, asked me who I was looking for.

In French, she replied, “Have you spoken to the family today?”

“I’m her daughter-in-law.”  My heart is racing.

“It’s five minutes we haven’t been able to get a heartbeat.”

My heart fell.  “Where is she?”

“She’s in 806.  There’s a woman there with blondish hair.”

I headed a few doors further as quickly as I could.  Somehow, I thought I would see her alive.  There was little time to think.

“Ma!”  I cried.  Staring at her half-opened eyes and still, parted lips, there was no reaction from her.  She was gone.