Monday, November 25, 2013
On Friday Dad and I went to meet his oncologist. As we walked in we knew that once again the scans would be reviewed, the medical tests analyzed and the outcome would again be bleak. I quietly watched and listened to my Dad and the doctor review everything and discuss his situation. I only spoke when medical details needed to be clarified and to review the journey of how we ended up in this office...telling people over and over how you came to find out that your life was ending is not an easy thing for anyone to talk about. The doctor asked my Dad all kinds of questions about his current health status which when considered by itself would lead you to believe that my Dad is a healthy 84 year old man. The doctor even commented "Ken, if I hadn't seen your scans and medical tests and was basing our consult on just what you have shared I would think you are very healthy for being 84 years old...but." That tiny little word that turns our world upside down. "I have reviewed your scans and your lung cancer is at a very advanced stage as is your bladder cancer." He went on to discuss the possible treatment options, the medical approaches that could be considered and his approach on quality of life. Again I hear my Dad say the words that touch and break my heart at the same time "Doctor, I have lived a wonderful life, I lost my wife in February and I miss her more than I can express. I know that what I have can't be cured...that at some point this is going to end my life and I want you to know that I am ready to go. I want to enjoy my remaining days with my children the best that I can." I watched the doctor's eyes tear up and he said "Ken, I hope that someday when I get to be your age I can make that same decision and be okay with it too."
How many of us can say that we are happy with our lives, that we do not want or need anything else and that we can let go? My plaque, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart" flashed into view and I needed to be reminded of that as the doctor continued. He explained that although my Dad is not symptomatic at this point that he will most likely begin to experience more symptoms in the very near future and then he spoke the words I had been dreading...that in his experience a person with two late stage cancers would probably have a time frame of months instead of years and his best guess would be 3 to 6 months. Although the reality of what he said was clear and the impact of those words had us both in tears there was still a feeling of peace. I think God shelters your heart from what your mind is interpreting, kind of a shock reaction. He then went on to talk about setting up hospice and meeting with a social worker to put any and all medical paperwork into place. It is hard at this point to think of things like hospice and "Do not resuscitate" orders when your Dad is sitting next to you with little to no symptoms of cancer. Maybe instead of shock, numbness would be a better description of how you feel when you begin hearing these statements. My Dad's only issue at the moment is back pain which could be normal discomfort for an 84 year old or pain from the cancer in his spine. At this point the knowledge of what you have begins to work on your mind as to the source of the pain. Dr. Maul discussed with my Dad the treatment option of doing a short blast of radiation not to treat the cancer but instead to reduce the pain and that is what we will be scheduling for this week, along with a hospice informational meeting and a visit with the social worker. The following week he will have a procedure done on his bladder to remove the tumors.
Once the treatment path was agreed upon we again decided to lighten the mood and go out to eat. Really good comfort food can do wonders for soothing the soul. We talked about everything, came to an agreement on signing on with hospice even though at this point we would not require any services yet. I always thought hospice was brought in at the very end but Dr. Maul explained that it is better to bring them in early and have them perform things like checking vitals if running out in the cold or snow to a doctor's office is not appealing to the patient, assessing any medical device needs, providing emergency numbers and a care plan. We talked about chemotherapy and I listened as Dad thought it through but I did point out to him that I really enjoyed watching him enjoy his perch fish fry and sweet potato fries and often chemo causes a patient to lose their appetite or taste for food. Right now he has a great appetite.
Even with everything that is going on, the bleak prognosis, the medical interventions we still found things to smile, laugh and joke about. We both agreed that if we can keep smiling and laughing at times we are doing okay. For me, this journey is a rollercoaster of emotions. One moment I'm smiling, the next I am just staring at him, then the tears come for sometimes no reason at all, then something he says or does makes me smile or laugh and then I feel like I'm holding my breath and have to remind myself to take a deep breath and relax and the rollercoaster continues.
With all the medical appointments and the time frame we have been given I have decided to stop working for a while and just be there for Dad. Today was my last day of work at Duluth Trading to allow me to arrange meetings, go to appointments or just spend time with my Dad. I am so very fortunate to work for a wonderful company that has stood by me and supported me in the medical challenges I have had with Sam and now my Dad. I will miss work and my friends at work but I will always appreciate the time I spent with my Dad and I know that sometime in the future I will return to work.
As we come to Thanksgiving I have so much to be thankful for and although some days the challenges are overwhelming I know that there is always, always something to be thankful for. Wishing all of you a wonderful and Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your family, let them know you love them, forgive and forget the differences, embrace the time you have with them and cherish each and every moment! Good Night everyone!