Rollercoaster ride: and not the fun type

It’s been a long couple of months. People keep asking me for updates and it is a long story and I am lazy and not up for telling it multiple times. So I’m going to tell it once. Here. Read it or not.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that my father has been battling cancer for the second time in his life. In 2008 he was diagnosed with stage three esophageal cancer. Following chemotherapy, radiation, and an esophojectomy, he was doing well and had bought himself a motorcycle. He had been given a 15% chance to survive the next three years and by all accounts, he had survived. His tests were coming back clear, he was gaining weight, and we just continued to pray for his health.

Last summer, however, he started not to feel well. Following a series of doctors visits and one trip to the ER, we found ourselves back at Vanderbilt, where his esophojectomy took place, and were told, on the day that my great-grandmother passed away, that my Dad had rectal cancer.

They decided that it wasn’t a return of his previous cancer, which would have been fatal, but a new one, so maybe we’re lucky, but what kind of luck is that? This time the survival rate on his stage two cancer is 80%. Last fall he underwent another round of chemotherapy and radiation and was slated to have the tumor removed next week, but he simply wasn’t getting better. He wasn’t recovering from the treatment, which is needed to proceed with surgery, and, in fact, he was getting worse. When Dad went back to Vanderbilt to have his pre-op meeting with his surgeon, we got some bad news. The surgeon believes that Dad’s cancer has spread to the lining of his stomach, and if that’s the case, the surgery wouldn’t proceed. So the doctor ordered more tests and scans.

Dad had another CT and PET scan, and while we waited on those results, he continued to get worse. He couldn’t hold down any food and became jaundiced, turning a lovely shade of yellow. Two Mondays ago we went back to the oncologist for the results of his scans and were relieved when they told us that they had come back clear. The PET scan, which tends to be an oversensitive test, didn’t light up at all; no live cancers were shown. But the oncologist wanted to hospitalize Dad because of the jaundice, which was believed to be the result of either too much painkillers or an obstruction in his gallbladder by the appearance of the CT scan.

Dad was admitted into the hospital that afternoon in Bristol, TN, after receiving some IVs at the doctors office. Because of my Dad’s medical history and his failure to really improve, it was decided that he would be transferred to Vanderbilt last Thursday. He made it there at 3am due to having to wait for a bed. On Friday we were told that his symptoms were typical of a metastasized cancer in his abdomen and that they were going to do some more scans, including an MRI.

The MRI showed fluid in his belly and an obstruction to the bile ducts of his liver, causing a back up and therefore the jaundice. It was decided on that on Monday they would go in and do an ERCP to place a stint in his bile duct to relieve the blockage. That weekend we waited, Dad was put on TPN, nutrition through his IV, and he seemed to be doing pretty good. He ate well on Sunday and we even had ice cream just before midnight because he was placed on MPO orders, nothing by mouth.

On Monday he was taken down for the procedure in the early afternoon. The procedure took two hours and was unsuccessful; they weren’t able to place the stint. When the surgical team took Dad up to his room he was shivering uncontrollably despite the four blankets piled up on him, and they weren’t able to get his vitals under control. The Rapid Response Team was called in and the decision was made to transfer Dad to SICU. Once in SICU, as they were putting him in the bed, Dad crashed and was placed on life support.

We weren’t really aware of what was going on until a doctor came out and took us into a private waiting room. The doctor told us that Dad had aspirated on stomach acid during the procedure and had been placed on life support. He also asked us if he had a living will and would he want to be recesitated. At no point are these things you want to hear. After a while, and a period of freaking out, we were allowed to go back and see him. Dad was sedated, tied down to the bed, and would freak out if we touched him.

After finally calming down, I went to the hotel to get mom some clothes to stay in. I had been staying with Dad the whole weekend, but given the circumstances, neither of us were going to leave him for the night. While I was gone Mom texted me to let me know that Dad had started to initialize his own breaths and that the ventilator was now only helping him by inflating his lungs. He had only been on life support two hours.

When I made it back to the hospital, Dad was no longer sedated and was trying to write notes on his leg. He wanted to know how we were. The next couple of days were a whirlwind of doctors telling us any number of things, that Dad has 6 months if he does have cancer and they can’t get his liver alleviated. That he could live three years if they can treat the liver and then the cancer. That they can pull the tubes and send him home to die. Palliative care was sent in, a pre-hospice care, if you will, and Dad’s doctor is named Dr. Coffin. And while we tried to hold out hope, most of his doctors are doom and gloom.

We have been told that there are essentially a few various causes for my father’s conditions, but the doctors have all defaulted to terminal cancer. Other possible options are an infection in his liver, the result of his altered anatomy and radiation or something endocrinological. The fluid in his belly could be backed up bile from his liver, broken down blood that’s the result of malnutrition, or cancer. None of the scans have shown any tumors in his abdomen, and nothing really indicates cancer besides the syptomology itself.

On Wednesday Dad went in for a second ERCP which was successful, giving us a chance of fighting this if it is cancer. He recovered just fine from this second procedure, besides being sore. The fluid was drawn off from his abdomen, an astonishing 5 pounds worth for a man who tips the scales not too far above 100. That fluid is being tested for cancer, and we should know the results sometime in the next months or year. They said it could be Monday, or it could take a week. Thanks for making us wait on finding out how the rest of our lives will be played out.

Dad has recovered remarkably well from all of this. He was able to eat some yesterday and sent me home last night. This morning he was discharged from the hospital, and any continuing treatment will be done at home in Virginia unless he’s able to have surgery to remove the rectal tumor. That will only happen if his cancer has not spread. So now I get to spend my days waiting to see how much time I have left with my Daddy. We’ve had some hard conversations, are talking about trips we should take, and the hardest question i’ve ever been asked was my Dad asking me if i thought he’s been a good father. There have been way too many ups and downs to this ride and I want to get off the roller coaster now.


About CCTgirl

Just a crazy girl taking MARTA.
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15 Responses to Rollercoaster ride: and not the fun type

  1. becca says:

    i did not like reading this, so i can only imagine how you must feel. i am glad you shared this so we know what is going on and will continue to keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. mybookfetish says:

    I lost my father in 1998 to lung, liver, and esophageal cancer that eventually spread to his blood and caused a fluid build up around his heart. From the time he was diagnosed until we lost him, was a week shy of two months. So, I certainly know to some unfortunate extent what you are going through.

    It’s not an easy road, by any stretch, and although we know each other only through Facebook, please know my thoughts are with you and your family as you go through this.

  3. Froggie says:

    Sorry to hear you’re going through this. Hoping for the best!

  4. Betsy A. says:

    I’m so sorry for your family’s situation, Ashley. I will keep you all in my thoughts and prayers. Lots of love, Betsy.

  5. Melly says:

    all i can say is that i love you sweetie, and that i’m here if you need to talk… you were sooo there for me with my mom, and if you need anything – please don’t forget to ask…

  6. Robert says:

    It is like being on the worst kind of rollercoaster, up and down never knowing what tomorrow will bring. Just try to take care of yourself and your family as best as you can.

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  8. Jewel says:

    Hey Ashley
    I’m really saddened by your post, but am relieved to know that you are there to help your dad through the next courses of his treatment to what I pray: recovery. Keep your chin up and if you need anything, please let me know.

  9. lynn says:

    I am so sorry for your Dad’s struggle and your family difficulties. Its been a very long and difficult few years for your family. I am thinking about you and your wonderful parents. Much love and Many hugs

  10. Debbie says:

    Oh Ashley. I am so sorry you are going through this. I’m sorry I asked for an update on your father on another post today. It wasn’t until just now, when I was checking for any new MARTA Rocks updates, that I even noticed your blog to the right. Thank you sweetie for writing it. Having lived through something similar, I know how hard it is to keep rehashing all the details. But you did it once for those who care, and you did your Dad proud. You’re a helluva writer. And a loving daughter. God bless you and your mom and dad. And I’ll keep you all in my prayers. Really. (I’ve gotta go wipe off my face and blow my nose now.)

  11. CCTgirl says:

    Thank you, everyone. I’m overwhelmed by your responses and support and I appreciate it more than you know.

  12. ashley cassell says:

    Oh ashley I had no idea!! I will keep you in my prayers!! Although I may not know your father I believe he has been a wonderful father!! He helped raise a wonderful loving intelligent young lady that I am privileged to know! God bless you and your family!!

  13. Jennifer @MARTA says:

    Ashley, I am so so sorry to hear about what is going on with your dad my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. God bless and stay strong!!!!

    “One day at a time–this is enough. Do not look back and grieve over the past for it is gone; and do not be troubled about the future, for it has not yet come. Live in the present, and make it so beautiful it will be worth remembering.”

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  15. Jenny says:

    I don’t even know what to say. I just read this post and the more recent one. I’ve told you before that I can’t imagine going through what you’ve been through and I don’t know how you put one foot in front of the other and keep going everyday. I am so sorry that I’ve been out of touch over the past couple of weeks. Please know that it’s not because I haven’t been thinking about you, quite the opposite in fact. I knew that you were going home but when I got your message last week I had no idea how bad things had gotten. I hope that you got my voicemail on Wednesday. School’s been being all school and shit and now I’ve got clinic to be all clinic and crap. (I hope that made you smile.) But seriously, please know that you can call me anytime. Let me know when you are back in Atlanta, I would love to have you over for dinner. Or we could have coffee or something if the thought of me cooking sketches you out (again, going in for a little smile). It’s your call, just know that I’m here for you. Whoever said it earlier in this thread is right, your dad has one hell of a daughter. Your strength and grace has inspired a lot of people. You and your family will stay in my thoughts and prayers. I love you.

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