Friday, June 09, 2006

Mom

Five years ago my Mother was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells. At the time of her diagnosis she had been sick for a couple years but had been misdiagnosed. The specialists in Seattle didn't give her much of a chance to survive beyond about 3 weeks.

Mom got herself into several study groups, underwent an autologous stemcell transplant and some incredible chemo and radiation therapies. At one point the radiation treatments she was receiving required her to stay isolated from eveyone. She had to give herself the injections via her hickman line. Then she had to take her own vitals and supply the information to the doctors. We used to joke with her that they clinic was saving money by turning out the lights and letting her natural glow illuminate the building.

My Mother had a strong will to survive and she used it to the max. But helping her along was my father. He hardly left herside during the entire last five years. Even though he was recovering from his own bout with prostate cancer during the early days of Mom's treatments.

About a year ago Mom's cancer started coming back. Since multiple myeloma is uncurable they can only treat the cancer they cannot eliminate it. So in almost all cases where some level of remission occurs the cancer almost always resurfaces in a couple years. Mom's stayed away for 3 years. Unfortunately the massive trauma that Mom suffered during her first treatments made second treatments difficult or impossible. She got into a couple study groups but they were not helping.

Several weeks ago my Mother took a turn for the worse when she suffered a 90% kidney failure. Then just before she was scheduled to start dialysis they discovered that she was bleeding internally. This meant that dialysis wasn't going to be possible.

Her cancer specialist didn't give much hope. Her one long shot was to use thalomid (a chemo drug) to stabilize the cancer long enough for doctors to find and fix the bleeding and then hope that dialysis will help her kidney function. Unforutnately they found out that the kidney failure was most likely due to the cancer not abuse by the treatments, which meant that dialysis wasn't going to help much. But the cancer had to be controlled before they could even try. The kidney failure also meant that she would not be eligible for the latest experimental study that she was signed up for.

Then early June arrived and my Mother really wanted to be here in Ridgcrest for my oldest daughter's confirmation on Sunday June 11. Then she wanted to be in Everett Washington for my nephew's high school graduation on the next weekend. So against all her doctor's recommendations she got into the car and told my father to drive her from Cheyenne Wyoming to Ridgecrest CA.

My Mother and Father arrived here late tuesday afternoon. Mom was in really bad shape. Weak, incoherent and in a lot of pain. It would be easy to blame my Father for allowing her to travel in her condition. But my mother has the ability to be very stubborn about things that she sets her mind to them. Once she decided to come to Ridgcrest she would come here whether Dad helped or not. I would not have put it beyond her to get on a bus, or to start wheeling herself down the freeway in her wheelchair. Neither logic nor common sense would change her mind once she decided something. Threats would be completey worthless. Noncooperation would not be tolerated. My Dad, who has worshipped the ground my mother walked on for over 45 years and has never told her "No" for anything, decided that since her chance of surviving more than another week was pretty slim anyway he would bring her here. It was that, or spend the last week of her life, being the evil demon who took away her reason for living.

So they loaded into the van and headed for Ridgcrest.

Mom stayed holed up in my youngest daugher's bedroom for a day. She couldn't talk to anyone and refused to communicate with anyone other than my Dad. Then on Wednesday my cousin Ric, who had come up from Orange County to see my parents, and I found out that Mom had started throwing up blood.

We immediately called an ambulance to take her to the hospital. The paramedics arrived and were getting ready to transport Mom when she became lucent long enough to convince the paramedic that she was coherent and did not want to go to the hospital. Dad and I could not convince her to go, and the paramedics could not take her against her wishes. Fortunately for us, Ric was here. My cousin Ric has many varied talents, but the one we needed then was his ability to sell an anvil to a drowning man. Ten minutes alone in the room with my Mom, and he had talked her into going to go to the hospital.

Arriving at the emergency room Mom was in extreme pain. Blood tests shocked the doctors, the nurses and everyone in the hospital. Mom's blood levels were stunningly low and the toxin levels of her blodd were off the chart. The attending Doctor said he had never heard of anyone having blood numbers this low, or toxin levels that high and still be alive.

We got Mom into a hospital room and hooked up to an IV and plasma and got her some pain medicene that she would not throw up. For the first time in weeks Mom was not suffering. She slept, and she relaxed.

Then, I was asked the hardest question of my life. "How much treatment do you want for your mother?" My mother had signed a DNR five years ago and had said several times that she didn't want heroic measures to extend her life. I personally think everything that she had done the last 5 years to be pretty heroic. But I know what she meant. Because I held her durable power of attorney it was my decision to make. I talked to my sisters and my father and all three said that the most important thing was that Mom not suffer any longer. She had done enough of that for five years.

Talking to the doctors they all confirmed what I already knew. The plasma and platelets and the IV fluids were not going to save my mother's life. They would only buy her a couple days or so and those days would best be spent sleeping under the influence of the pain medication. My father was at my home getting something he hadn't had for four days - sleep. Then I made the hardest decision I have ever made in my life. I told the doctor to discontinue all treatment except that necessary to keep my mother resting and pain free. I beleive the medical/legal term is "Comfort Care Only."

So they disconnected all treatments except for a pain medication drip that would keep Mom pain free. My Mother drifted into and out of sleep, but never regained a coherent level of consciousness.

But she did stun the doctors and the nurses one last time by surviving for another 24 hours.

Mom died, peacefully and pain free in her sleep at 1:50 this afternoon. At her side was my Dad, right where he had been for the last 45 years.

Just when I thought my day couldn't get any worse, it did. This evening I found that my trials were far from over. My dear wife and I had to tell our children one at a time that their Grandmother had passed away. For me it was like reliving the moment over and over again. Each child's grief was like a brand new break in my heart. Fortunately I think they are all accepting it better than I have. It will help that Grandpa will be staying around here for several days and we have convinced each child that Grandpa needs them to spend a lot of time with him. So far it seems to be helping both Dad and the kids.

Now I have to stop hiding behind this blog posting and go back to dealing with a situation that I have known was coming for 5 years but still find myself struggling to deal with. I have family and friends to notify, Paperwork to start, a family to care for, and a wife who's arms are waiting for me to cry myself to sleep tonight.

5 comments:

mostly cajun said...

You have my prayers and sympathies. I've been through it. It isn't easy. Love the ones that are laeft, your dad and your family, and revere the memories of your Mom.

And yes, your wife will know it's okay for you to cry...

I'm sorry for you. Good luck.

MC

Jodee Pedersen McClure said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Grouchy Old Yorkie Lady said...

My deepest sympathies, David. I lost both my parents to leukemia, and both fought long and valiant battles against the disease, so I have a sense of where you might be emotionally right now. I will keep you in my prayers over these next few days.

David said...

Thank you all for the kind thoughts and prayers.

Jodee, I deleted your comment because your phone number was in it. Internet security and all that stuff you know. (wrote the number down first though, just in case)

I think we have everything covered there. Mom and Dad have lots of friends in Cheyenne and I still have a couple good ones around there also.

Thanks again everyone.

Erik Rader said...

David,

I'm terribly sorry on your loss. The thoughts and prayers of myself and my family are with your and yours during this difficult time.

Erik