Food Fights and Cancer Staging

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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