Food Fights and Cancer Staging

autumn autumn leaves blur close up

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“Dad, you are going to have to eat if you want to beat this,” I told him. His appetite was already decreasing and he hadn’t started chemo yet. He tried to eat, but his favorites no longer tasted good. Sometimes food would get caught in his throat. The white trash can beside his recliner was his new best friend. He coughed up phlegm over and over, sometimes it seemed like for hours.

One of the hardest things for me was to watch someone who loved food no longer be able to eat. He tried to drink Ensure, but dairy products worsened his phlegm issue. I was angered by his inability to eat. Did he not understand, if he didn’t eat, he would never make it through chemo? I pleaded, “Dad, please, just a few bites.” I threatened, “If you don’t eat, you’ll have to have a feeding tube.” Finally, I had to resign myself to be happy with two bites of jello. He tried. He really did. There comes a point when it’s no longer worth arguing over.

On October 30, we met with the oncologist. She staged his lung cancer as Stage 3. This stage seemed doable and hopeful to us. She was confident, that with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, he would be able to beat it. Before anything could be started he had to go through Chemo Education. We scheduled the appointment. He wouldn’t make this one, though, because of an infection. Later we learned the cancer could have caused a false positive for it. Days continued to pass with no treatment.

The day we returned for Chemo Education, Dad was very sick. He was weak. His breathing was labored. The nurse walked us to the conference room to discuss the chemo/radiation plan but I stopped her before she could start.

“Look, my Dad is not doing well. He’s having a hard time breathing. We don’t know what to do.”

She asked a few questions, left to speak with the oncologist, and returned to tell us to take him to the Emergency Room. This would be the first of a few ER visits. Once again Chemo Education was rescheduled. Mom and I spoke privately about the chemo. For whatever reason, it seemed God was keeping him from it.

There were two ER visits that week. He was finally admitted to the hospital on the second one. That weekend we learned through the pulmonologist just what malignant pleural effusion meant. This was one of his symptoms from the lung cancer. His cancer was now in the fluid lining his lungs. If you Google it, as I did, you realize it’s prognosis is poor.

“Doctor,” I said, “we just want someone to be honest with us. What are we looking at here?”

“Well, I’m not an oncologist but anytime there is cancer in the fluid it is Stage 4.”

Silence. Stunned silence.

Dad responds, “But she said it was Stage 3.”

“She is wrong,” the pulmonologist stated emphatically. “It is Stage 4.”

We stare at him in disbelief. Tears well up. Somewhere in the conversation six months to live was mentioned. Those words changed everything.

To be continued.

Posts in this series: Impending Doom and Dad’s Diagnosis

Impending Doom and Dad’s Diagnosis

yellow notebookUrban Dictionary defines “Impending Doom” as apprehension or a feeling that something bad is about to happen. For several weeks, I was hit with this feeling-a heaviness of spirit intermingled with thoughts that indeed something bad was about to happen. I questioned myself: Is it Dad? Is he going to have another heart attack? Is he going to fall again? Is it my Mom? Is Granny going to die? Is Doug, my husband, going to be hurt? What would we do without his income? What if it’s me? Over and over this heaviness came in waves. For those who have experienced it, you understand what I am talking about. Then something unrelated to my family or health issues occurred. It was dramatic to me and I assumed this event was it. The feeling of apprehension left and life continued on.

My Dad had been dealing with breathing issues for several months. He was finally diagnosed with COPD and put on medication. Yet, his breathing worsened. He was referred to a pulmonologist. She discovered some issues that needed further investigation. On October 6, 2018 my Dad had his first PET scan. Almost two weeks later, on October 17th, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. This was the impending doom. 

I suppose, just as there are stages of cancer, there are stages family members and friends go through with their loved one. I will be sharing my stages. Initially it was disbelief, only to be short-lived and quickly followed with a fighting spirit that says “We can beat this.”

I bought a little, yellow spiral notebook to record the future doctor visits. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to fill it with many visits. Cancer is funny that way. I call it “The Beast.” Some survive it, some don’t. Some can handle the chemotherapy and for some it is the chemo that kills them. In the end, we make our battle plan to fight this beast, but the Lord in His sovereignty still controls the outcome.

“All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?”
-Daniel 4:35 ESV

To be continued.

 

A Grandpa Christmas

Sis with Grandpa

Christmas 1979: My Sister and Grandpa

In the mid 70s, when every day was #Shoplocal in our small hometown of Benton, Illinois, Star Best, P.N. Hirsch and Woolworth’s were the stores of choice. Today’s Amazon arrived in the hands of excited children, like me, in the form of a Sears Roebuck or JC Penny catalog. As I lay on my grandpa’s family room floor, the colorful, sleek pages were earmarked with the hope that Santa would deliver my much-desired Mrs. Beasley doll.

My grandpa, a hard-working coal miner, loved Christmas. Each year he gave my mom one hundred dollars to spend on my grandmother at Star Best, an exclusive boutique on the square. My mom and grandmother sat aside a Saturday to drive up to Mt. Vernon and begin their holiday shopping. I was included. If they were going to Woolworth’s Department Store, they were not going without me. I loved walking through the store and seeing all the different items they had. The best part, if I behaved myself, was the grilled cheese and strawberry shake I would get at their restaurant for lunch. Mom and grandma always had to rush their shopping. If we were not back by two in the afternoon, Grandpa would be pacing the floor and looking out the window until we returned.

Packages from Sears and JC Penny arrived in the mail, hidden in closets, to be wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree. Finally, Christmas day was here! We each took a turn opening a package. After all the packages were opened, Grandpa would say, with a beaming grin, something like: “Now, I’m sure I saw something in the basement that Santa couldn’t put up here. Let me check.” Up from the basement he would come with a shiny new bike or some other big gift we had asked for. Grandpa also used the department store catalogs to put money in. My sister and I would go page by page to find one-dollar bills, fifty to sometimes one hundred total, hidden in their pages. Grandpa was never very affectionate, but after all the gifts were opened, my sister and I would give him a quick kiss on his shiny balding head. He never made a response, but I think he secretly liked the attention.

We each had stockings with our names on them. My grandpa did the Christmas socks even for the adults. We opened them last. The contained candy, Cracker Jacks and little gifts. My grandpa liked to play jokes. One year he put coal in my sister’s sock. “Were you not a good girl this year?” he asked her. She started crying. Grinning he said, “Wait. Santa made a mistake. Here’s your sock.” He pulled her real sock out from behind a hiding place.

Time changes things. Star Best, P.N. Hirsch and Woolworth’s are gone. Grandpa passed away several years ago. With his passing, Christmas was no longer the same. The beaming smile was no longer seen pulling gifts out of the basement. His laughter as a jokester no longer heard. You see, Christmas was never about the gifts, but about the person, my grandpa, who gave them out with such joy.