How we got here

I suppose, if I were to write a blog about my father’s struggles with cancer I should write about the thing itself.

Esophageal cancer is steadily increasing in prevalence, and it is a difficult and nasty cancer. 85% of people diagnosed with a stage III esophageal cancer do not survive three years. Most of the time, the cancer isn’t discovered until either stages III or IV, making it more deadly.

My parents came to visit me for the fourth of July in 2007. I went to Whole Foods, bought the best steaks I could find, and we had ourselves a lovely cookout. I spent $70 on steaks, I think. Something ridiculous. Anyways, that was the first time my father had trouble swallowing. By September, when we went to the beach for a family vacation over Labor Day, he had to leave the restaurant because he couldn’t get his dinner down.

That started off a series of doctor’s appointments, endoscopies, and the eventual diagnosis of esophageal cancer.  We found out that December that my father had a condition known as Barrett’s Esophagus.  Barrett’s Esophagus is the body’s reaction to chronic acid reflux; the soft and supple tissue of the esophagus toughens itself against the constant irritation from the acid, changing to tissue more similar to that of the intestines, tough.  Often times this change is the precursor to the cells going out of control and becoming cancerous, which is what happened in my father’s case. 

Dad was sent to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in January of 2008; our doctors back home just weren’t accustomed to dealing with his illness, as it’s still not that common. And we live in a very rural area. We were told in February that it was cancer, and Dad started treatment shortly thereafter. He had five chemo rounds and 28 radiation treatments. He was given time to recover and in June he underwent an esophojectomny. The upper part of his stomach was removed along with his esophagus below his collar-bone. The remaining portion of his stomach was pulled up to his throat.

Dad recovered fairly quickly and for nearly two years, things seemed to be going well. He put on weight and bought a motorcycle, the first bike he’d had since I was born. My father had lived his life for me; turning in the hot rods and bikes to live by example. But surviving all that he went through, he figured he’d reward himself. Six months later, he bought a bigger Harley.

His pet scans came back clear, as did his blood work, and we thought that we were in the clear. Then this past spring he started to become constipated (please, Daddy, forgive me for telling all your business). More tests were run and a tumor was found inside his rectum, just inside, and it had almost completely blocked off his bowels. His weight dropped, worse than it had before, and he underwent 2 more rounds of chemo and 26 radiation treatments. He simply couldn’t take those last two.

After his treatment was concluded another surgery was scheduled to remove the tumor, but he just wasn’t getting better. In fact, he became worse, and the rest you can read about in this earlier post.

Here we find ourselves.  Dad is to build up weight and strength until he can begin more chemotherapy.  There will be no radiation for this third round, only chemo in the hopes to prolong his life.

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She tosses and turns a lot, too

I’m home this weekend to be with my father. Of course, the whole family is staying with my grandparents so that my Papa can help out with my Dad when George’s at work. It’s weird. I’m not going to lie. It was novel a few months ago. Now, stressful.

There is no being alone in this house (except when my grandparents leave, that’s when I get to steal into their room to use the computer. No wifi. No cell service. I’ve fallen into the Twilight Zone). And my father, bless his heart, the meds have him slightly off balance. Off balance like asking where we are at all times, what we’re doing, and heaven help you leave him alone. He’s moved a recliner in his old room to sleep in, the thought is it will help with the bile from coming up at night and making him have to throw up constantly. This, however, means that my mom is in the bed all alone. Meaning there’s now room in their room for me, too. So instead of having my own room, I’m sharing one with my parents. I get it, Dad wants us all close given the circumstances and countdown on time when we can be together. But it’s not easy.

Did I mention not only is there a room that connects to theirs through a jack and jill bathroom BUT a basement with another bedroom?  And our own house just two houses down?

There are talks of me moving back down here to be more hands on with the business and, well, you know. I think I may go insane. And I feel so selfish for saying that. But I don’t feel like I can give up the little bit of sanity and release my life gives me to move back out here.

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No good news

I’ve been avoiding this post like the plague. Like committing it to the blog makes its finite, seals my fate.  Like writing about it means there’s no turning back, and I have to face our future.  But not writing about it doesn’t change any of that. 

This week we found out that the fluid was indeed cancerous.  The cancer has spread, meaning that there is no longer a cure to my father’s illness, it’s only about treatment.

To further that, they have determined that fluid is metastatic esophageal cancer.  They had not originally thought the tumor in his rectum was a result of the esophageal cancer because of its location, it wasn’t typical of the spread of that type of cancer.  Unfortunately, it was, and that’s why it didn’t respond to the treatment he had been receiving and continued to spread.  We never had that 80% chance to beat it.  He never had any chance.

Dad’s oncologist has given him nine months to a year as a timeframe.  This is mainly so he knows to get his affairs in order.  Maybe to also make me spaz out.  Nine months may mean not another Christmas.  It may mean he won’t see his 56th birthday.  It means I will be a basketcase.  Since we’ve found out I haven’t done real well being by myself.  I curl up in bed with one of his sweaters and cry so hard I hyperventilate.  I had no idea that I could cry so hard my chest would hurt days later.  And I’ve been going through all my photos to find the ones of my Dad and the G.  I don’t think I can handle this. (And I feel so selfish for saying that.)

Posted in Cancer!, Depression | 6 Comments

Your love, support, and prayers make it easier

I can’t express how much everyone’s kind words and support have meant to me. Nothing says loved like crying in a coffee shop because of the messages and comments I’ve received. My father has an appointment with the Oncologist back home tomorrow, so we might find out something then. With prayers, it’ll be good news.

I know a lot of people, especially the ones that have never been through this, have no idea what to say to me. That statement has been made to me on more than one occasion. There isn’t anything you need to say to a friend who is in my situation, all we need is your support. A kind word, a hug, and someone to answer the phone at midnight when the stress is too much and you have to cry to someone about something irrational like you can’t use the bathroom out of fear that your Dad might need it.

I just need to know that there are people who care and who I can count on. And I know that I’ve found that in you.

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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.

Posted in Cancer! | Tagged | 15 Comments

It can’t come soon enough

I spend a lot of my time worrying if I did something to bring this year on myself.  It’s been a hard one, a sucky one, and I can’t help but to think this is karma kicking me in the butt.  So maybe there’s a guy in my past I haven’t been upright to, but I’m so bad at telling people that I’m not interested.  Maybe it’s because of having to give my kitty up.  But this?  Do I deserve this whole year?  And my poor Daddy?  And losing my great-grandmother? 

I’ll give up my bike to karma.  I’ll give up my car and that perfect job to karma too.  But this year has been too much.  I’m not in the Christmas spirit at all.  I’ve not put up any decorations and the only present I bought was for Moira.  I jsut can’t bring myself to consider anything else.  I wish I could think of something for Dad.

I’m ready to see 2011.

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Personal Crisis

Yesterday I started panicking, as I am known to do.  But I never panic over anything normal, o no, that would be easy.  Or, well, normal.  I panic over crazy stuff that I have no control over.  Like the fact that when I was little I couldn’t pronounce Rs.  I was in speech therapy for years, all because I replaced my R sound with a W. 

I’m an adult now, and I haven’t been in speech therapy for fifteen years or more.  But combine a best friend who is a speech language pathologist, so we discuss the topic a lot, with an occasional slip up and a boy named Rory and I get panic attacks.

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