Mom’s Cancer Story – February 2019
This past winter my family went through a whirlwind with my Mom that I don’t even know where to start! So, I will tell the story from the beginning… it is a long story, but it will surely entertain you!
Late January on a normal call to my Mom she tells me she’s been sick with the flu (she thought). She sounded exhausted, but normal for someone who says they are sick. 2 days later we get a group text from my Dad that says “Mom is OK. But she is in the hospital. I’ll update you all when we get some info” (vague Dad text). I remembered our conversation days prior and texted back if this is her “flu” and I got a “No flu. We are figuring it out” (vague again).
So, let me back up. What I did not know from my “flu” conversation with her days earlier is she also was healing a bladder infection. She is a second grade Teacher (in portable classroom) so teachers and bladder infections are not uncommon.
Back to the hospital admit. My Dad had taken my Mom to her Doctor because she had become so weak with her self-diagnosed flu and my Dad found her mumbling incoherently in the hallway of their home and drove her right in. My hero Dad waited for her to get her “flu test” (my Mom’s way of saying something is wrong with me and I’m calling it a flu bug and I’ll get over it just fine). The test was negative for flu and now she was really becoming incoherent in the Dr. office so the office offered my Dad to drive her ASAP to the local hospital or accept a call to 9-1-1. He took her and the Dr. called the hospital warning them she is coming and urgent. She was septic!
Septic! Let me speed this up…. she had a bladder infection, went to Dr., had blood draw and given antibiotics. Then started getting sick, felt like the flu and within 5 days symptoms were harsh and she is mumbling. Now she is in the hospital and perceiving to be unaware of where she is. They do a neuro scan (only complaint she had was body aches and headache behind eye). Nothing shows on that scan. They find out she was healing from bladder infection so they do a bladder/kidney scan and THERE IT IS!
She has a huge stone sitting in her right kidney blocking the spot where secretion happens, so nothing is moving through that kidney and backed up and she is septic. She was rushed into surgery where they placed a stent to keep that stone out of the way, flush her kidney and start heavy IV antibiotics to heal her sepsis and blood infection before they deal with shrinking that stone. We were so relieved they found the cause and reversed the sepsis, but what a close call!
I am in the room the next day at her hospital bedside visiting when 2 Doctors walk in and I notice their badges read (GI, MD). They introduce themselves and ask how she is feeling and myself (no dummy to medicine) am highly curious why Gastroenterology is here. My Mom is talking away assuming this would be normal (in her situation a floor MD and Urology, yes, but GI?) Then they say, “when ER did the kidney scan they got a part of your colon (transverse-top section) in that image and I was called to look at what they saw on that scan. We don’t like it, it might be a mass and we need a colonoscopy ASAP in the morning…” the look on my Mom’s face! She is 1 of 7 kids and 2 of her brothers have had colon cancer. The Colonoscopy was done and they were in that afternoon to confirm the mass is the size of a plum and once healed completely from infections they need to take that section of her colon out.
So, let’s recap! Bladder infection-sepsis, blocked kidney, stent in place, stone still in kidney, mass in colon, still blood infection so no one wants to do major procedures so we sit and wait and heal, but…..
Her glucose is sky high since being admitted and BP all over the place. I am there (different trip in) days later when her hospital MD walks in and gives her the update for how she will be discharged, finish antibiotics and follow up with Urology and GI for these procedures for stone and mass. Then it clicks in my head…
“Dr? My Mom had blood work done at that first Dr visit several weeks ago. Did they check her glucose then? We don’t have those results.” Knowing her Dr is the same medical alliance I knew the floor MD had access to that early winter blood work. TA-Da! Her A1C several weeks ago came back at 9.1 (normal is around 7). She is diabetic (GEEZ-no wonder stones and weakness and high Glucose and BP)!! Now that Dr. gives us a panic look like she is just learning this too! I think she assumed my Mom was aware she is a new diabetic and therefore that’s why her numbers are high and slow to come back. But, clearly the staff just found out in that very moment she is truly a diabetic patient, seriously!
Fast forward to now, the stones were ‘blasted’ in an outpatient urethra-scope surgery and he did a beautiful job breaking up the stone. She did leave with a fresh stent (oh, did I mention this was her 3rd stent because in all of this she was discharged but readmitted 2 days later after getting very ill again and it is because that original stent became infected). Stents are painful she found out, but a few days later it was removed and she was stone and infection free.
The cancer, colon surgery, was a huge success. He did have to remove a fairly large section and healing was long. The longest part was waiting on Pathology but it came back as stage 2A and in her case that meant yearly colonoscopy’s from now on but no chemo needed. Yay! What a ride!
She just went back to her second grade kids this week after all of the healing and is tired, but luckily she escaped a chemo lifestyle and is just learning how to be a diabetic and taking nutrition classes.
There is a lot to learn in this story
First of all, if one has blood work done and you do not hear back then don’t always assume no news is good news! As a part of me wonders that if she was contacted many weeks earlier about a 9.1 A1C and started the diabetes healing maybe none of this would have happened!
On the other hand, I can’t help but think that thank goodness this did all happen. Talk about divine intervention! Had she been told about her glucose and started therapy and had the stones never grew then how would she have caught the colon cancer? Maybe by the time it was too late!
The wait for Pathology
You can imagine the emotional roller coaster my Mom and Dad were on for weeks. If you know anyone who has had to have cancer removed and wait for those results it is brutal! She wanted to have many ‘what if’ conversations and had to sit almost a week and wonder if she will be in a chemo office or not soon. If only technology for this was ASAP!
Support for Cancer patients and survivors
As we look back at times as a family on all of this, my Mom keeps saying one thing over and over. Of all the emotions, all the in and outs of the hospital and Dr, all of the waiting and worrying and the one thing that she keeps saying is “I cannot express how grateful I was that Erin (me) was in that room with me the day GI walked in!” When they said the word “cancer” I honestly do not remember anything that was said to me by them. Erin remembered it all for me. I would have had a thousand questions that I had no idea were answered by them in that conversation…” at the moment someone said the C-word she had a family member by her side and that is the 1 moment she is left holding onto.
Imagine patients who take themselves in to an appointment and may not have someone that came with them when they are told the C-word. My Mom was told the word “sepsis” and “diabetes”, but overshadowing all of that and pathology waits, it mattered most that at the very beginning a body was sitting beside her in that room.
Support for a cancer patient? Offer, all the time, and even persist that you accompany them to visits. If there is no way at all for you to be with a loved one at that appointment, call the Dr yourself or make an ASAP follow up for further questions when you can be there. My Mom also told me, “It is so weird how un-scared I felt right away. I thought I should have questions, but didn’t. The fact that you were in the room when they walked in was the blessing I needed or I might have really become more emotional over that talk.”
From the mouth of a cancer survivor, be in that room for them. Be their ears because as soon as they hear that ‘C’ word they are likely to not absorb anything else being said to them and that will leave them at home, later on with a thousand questions skyrocketing their emotions.
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