Last week, when I posted pictures of my family from the Sandhills, it was painfully obvious to me that my Mom was missing from them. It was hard not to write about the fact that she was too sick to come with us, but I wanted the post to be happy and joyous and I didn't want to talk about what was wrong. I heard that a family friend noticed that my Mom was not there, maybe a few people did, and some of you might have seen me mention on Facebook three weeks ago that she was admitted to the ER and are wondering what's going on and how she is doing.
Around June 15th, a week before our trip to Canada, I learned from my Dad that my Mom hadn't been feeling well. She had been having diarrhea on and off for a few months. When I asked my Mom about it, she told me that back in March she thought she had food allergies but that when she went to her doctor to get tested everything came back normal. She started to feel better and they went to Hawaii in April without any problems. After they came home, maybe by mid-May, the diarrhea had returned. I urged her to go back to the doctor when I learned that she had lost about 20 lbs since they had come home from Hawaii. She had some more tests done, for parasites and anemia, but still everything was appearing normal. She requested a referral to a G.I. specialist and had to wait at least three weeks to get in to see him. When we arrived in Canada it was obvious she wasn't feeling well and we talked about what might be wrong. Everything from irritable bowel syndrome to Crohn's disease was suggested.
When she checked on the referral to the specialist, the paperwork had been lost, the doctors were disappearing on vacation and it seemed she wasn't going to be able to see anyone for a while. It was difficult to watch her losing weight, in pain and unable to come on short trips with us. She wasn't herself and it was not getting any better. On July 7th, after we had left their place in Medicine Hat and gone up to Calgary, she went to the emergency room to try to get some answers. They did a CT scan and discovered a 2.5 inch growth where her large and small intestine meet.
It's the worst kind of news and I fought the urge to drive down and see her again. The way she was feeling, having us come back down with the kids would have been too much. But we consoled ourselves with the fact that they hadn't used the c-word. You know, cancer. So far, it was just a growth, maybe a polyp. The hospital sent her home, the G.I. doctor was busy, something about the weekend, and he could see her on Monday for a consultation.
Finally on Monday, July 11th she was able to meet with the specialist again (can someone tell me WHY it takes so darn long to see these doctors?!) and he told her that it might be cancer. I was sitting on the plane, flying away from my Mom, as she told me on the phone that she might have cancer. That word just kept repeating itself in my brain for the whole flight. There is such a heavy weight that comes with it, and after all we have been through with my father-in-law, somehow we thought we'd get some kind of reprieve. Like there is only an allotted amount of cancer that one family can deal with at once. It's not fair that we now have two sick parents between Chris and I, but that's life I suppose, it's rarely fair.
Since I have been home my Mom has had two more exploratory procedures (a colonoscopy and a barium enema) to determine what is really going on. The cancer diagnosis is only based on the CT scan, so I suppose there is a chance that it is not cancer. Right? A benign tumor is not cancer. But why are the doctors already saying it's cancer? I have so many questions but being here and not there I can't do very much other than listen to what my parents are telling me.
During the two exploratory procedures, they discovered the growth is actually outside her digestive tract. It is pressing against her large intestine and that is what is causing her immense pain and the diarrhea. Since it is not inside the colon, they were not able to do a biopsy and she needs surgery.
Initially, the earliest date she could get in for surgery was almost a month away. There was no way that she could last that long without eating. Even the doctor was hinting at having her family doctor admit her to the ER for emergency surgery. However, thanks to a cancellation and the G.I. doctor's persistent receptionist, my Mom was able to get a surgery date just a week later.
She is scheduled for the surgery this Wednesday, the 27th, and they will hopefully be able to perform a resection, completely removing the tumor and surrounding tissue. Then they will be able to do a biopsy and figure out if this is a benign growth or malignant cancer. If it is cancer there might be radiation and chemotherapy to come, but hopefully all that is required to get my Mom's health back to normal is the surgery.
In the meantime, she isn't able to eat very much. Mostly because when she does eat, it is incredibly painful for the food to pass through her system, so she doesn't eat solid foods. She is losing weight and has little energy. She's never been this skinny and honestly I am most worried about her weight loss. She is able to eat a little bit, but it must be liquid and she is fighting nausea and the pain that comes with food passing through her system. She is on pain medication and is trying her best to eat as much as she can. When I talked to her this morning she seemed to be feeling alright. The mornings are better, I think as the day wears on she gets more fatigued and sick.
Please keep her in your thoughts this week, for the strength to get through the next few days, for a successful surgery without complications, for a benign tumor and for a quick recovery. Thanks on behalf of my Mom for the emails, phone calls and moral support. The highlight of the week was when her three sisters drove five hours one way to just stop in and give her a hug. She looked out the window, saw a car pull up in the driveway, all three doors opened and her three beautiful sisters got out all at once. It was a tearful reunion and a much needed source of strength. They stayed for just the day, returning home to their own families and jobs that night, but they came and it meant the world to her.
Part 2: From Bad to Worse
Part 3: Waiting For a Diagnosis