Tuesday, August 20, 2013
So this is what it feels like, to feel powerless. To feel bereft, before a loss. To know the ache in your chest is just the beginning of the hurt which may never, ever end. This is where I am at, since May 7th. May used to be my favorite month. The pollen subsided, it meant flowers, sun, cooler temperatures than the swelter of July or August. May meant Mother's Day, and my beloved Mom's Birthday (I have numerous posts in years past, on May 28th, paying homage, to her). This year, on May 7th, at approximately 7:30 am, I received a phone call from my Mom. She had news. For over 18 months, Mom--Demetra Leonora (Comati) Allender-- had complained of extreme exhaustion; she'd asked for--and been denied--a chest x-ray, even though she explained she sometimes felt short of breath. It's not like she was considered at-risk, for much of anything. After all, my then-73-year-old Mom still worked full-time, and rose every morning very early (5:00 am)to walk/run 3-5 miles. She has always enjoyed working out at the gym, and is extremely fit. Suddenly, it was not possible to do those things, anymore... The only serious illness in her family, was the awful incidence of Pancreatic cancer, which took both her older, and then younger sister, years ago...and given that Mom was so tired, and that doctors wanted to "rule out" cancer, a test to screen for digestive cancers was performed. "You are Negative for Pancreatic Cancer", said her doctors. The exhaustion continued, and a serious cough, ensued, and then, persisted.... Finally, she was given the chest x-ray she'd repeatedly asked for, and the doctor told her right away, that "...a nodule, and a mass was found, on her right lung..." A biopsy--standard procedure, she was told--was ordered. So, on May 7th, my Mom called, to tell me the results of that biopsy. In a labored, winded, tiny, voice, my athletic, fit, beautiful Mom said: "Lisa, it's cancer; I have cancer..." "What, Mom--it's LUNG?" "Yes..." "Oh, Mom, I am so sorry....but you never ever smoked; I don't understand. Can you get a second opinion?" Then, after catching my own breath: "Mom, we'll get through this. Do you know what stage?" "No, they haven't done that yet..." At this point, my sister Tina must've come into the room. My Mom lives with Tina and her husband, Tom, and apparently had searched the upstairs for Tina, early that morning, to share this news with her. "It's cancer, Tina, the doctor just called. He asked if I was alone, and I told him, 'No, I'm here with my daughter'." I heard my lovely, former-cheerleader sister ask, in an uncharacteristically soft tone, "I was in the shower...Who are you on the phone with, now, Mom?" "Lisa...when I couldn't find you, I called her." I giggled and said "Gee, thanks, Mom--you couldn't find Tina, so ya called me....Of course... This is hilarious..." We all laughed. I was on a plane to my sis Tina's, within three days, and stayed too-long-for-a-houseguest-but-maybe-long-enough-to-assist-in-Mom's-needs, as Tina works a full-time-job-outside-the-home, and as she drove Mom to and from numerous medical appointments, I cooked some meals, cleaned up the kitchen, made phone calls, researched cancer and treatments on the internet, and helped with laundry, and Mom's medicine-memory... We welcomed Mom's only grandchild(my gorgeous sis--Tina's equally stunning daughter)--Breaz--back home from college, and we held each other and we laughed about how many colors my hair has been, and we joked about Mom losing hers, soon, due to the radiation treatments to her head for the brain tumors (10 tiny tumors in all, but only 2 are concerning, and only 1 of those, considered rather serious--it is in the "mid-brain", which may be responsible for a sudden lack of balance.) We celebrated Mother's Day (my hubby Hansoo treated us to both Greek food in the afternoon, and then dinner out, on Mother's Day--Italian!) together; we celebrated Mom's birthday (some fancy grilling, including lobsters, courtesy my kind bro-in-law, Chef, Tom; great Cajun Boil (spicy shrimp, corn, potatoes, Andouille sausage), from my wise chef-sis, Tina), together. I had called Cancer Treatment Centers of America on the same day my Mom received her diagnosis, but I did want to appear pushy in fetching her to visit the facility (which opened in August, 2012) in Newnan, Georgia...CTCA is very famous for their work, which began nearly 30 years ago, in Chicago... Tina knew of CTCA, and knew folks who'd availed themselves of the Pennsylvania facility; Unc Bud (Mom's sole remaining sibling)knew of CTCA, and I was hoping Mom would give it a chance. She'd already had Radiation for her brain-- and we were told she had a very rare type of cancer: Never-Smoker's Non-Small-Cell, Stage 4, Lung-to-Brain Cancer. "Surgery is not an option; you can get Chemo, once every three weeks..." they'd told her, in Florida.(The doctors in Florida are great, as is their world-renown medical center, but Mom was looking for "more aggressive treatment", as she put it) The cancer had already metastasized, but Mom has always been a competitive person--she's not going down, she is beating cancer, back.. We flew up from southeast Florida, Mom and I, the day after her 74th Birthday, on May 29th, and it's been quite the "journey", as everyone who's ever tangled with cancer calls it, ever since. Once we were accepted for treatment at CTCA, the real work began: an everyday trek, approximately one hour and twenty-minutes away, for a Monday-through-Friday date-with-Radiation-to-Lung, and then, once a week, 6 hours of Chemo to kill cancer cells in the Lung (Chemo does NOT eradicate cancer in brain). Big kudos to Dan Morrison, a man who may not be "blood", but he is most certainly, our kin. He has driven us everyday, and also has assisted me at home with everything from dog-care, to vacuuming... Within two days of meeting Dr. Bechara, he arranged for Mom to have a breakthrough surgery which allowed him to burn away the cancer which had pushed into her (narrowed) windpipe, causing her to sound perpetually winded, whenever she spoke. It literally improved her life, overnight. Her recovery from surgery was quick, and with her windpipe "widened to normal", she could breathe easier, and receive oxygen such that her thinking was clearer, and she began to feel better.... Dr. Cavanaugh (Radiation Oncology) and Dr. Randolph (Chemo Oncology) are stellar doctors. I'm so impressed by their individual accomplishments, and their incredible empathy for their patients. CTCA says they have "The Mother Standard"--treat every patient "as if she is your own mother." So I'll be updating this more often now, because just as Mom has her "second wind", so do I. And the ominous tone, as I began this post? I won't go back and edit it, change it to sound more "upbeat", because if I've learned anything from cancer, it's that the reality--and what you feel about that reality--changes: not day-to-day (I tell Mom, "We don't have 'Good Days and Bad Days', all our days are great, but we have a few awful hours..."), but minute-to-minute, word-by-word... Peace, kids.