Brave Faces

Tormented by fear-filled thoughts and by the physical pain that seems to be increasing, Mom puts on a brave face each day, but there’s a deep sadness that weighs heavily on her and just won’t go away.

“When I’m gone…” she starts to tell me something that I’m sure she thinks is important, but I don’t hear her finish the sentence as I’m lost in my own head imagining and trying to push back the unthinkable.

I decide to crawl into her twin bed and cuddle up behind her.  Our mutual warmth seemed to soothe us both. Our breathing slowed into a common rhythm and we found some peace amid the chaos of cancer.

Chemo Restarted

With CA119 numbers increasing, it was decided that Mom would restart chemo. Since this is not curative, but rather an attempt to slow the cancer and give her more time, the same dose and type of drug that had worked before was to be used.

Dr. Savage warned her that the chemo might not work as well, or be harder to take this time around.  A prescription for Fentanyl patches was given to her for a steady delivery of pain meds, instead of having her try to remember to take a pain pill every few hours. (Mom is allergic to many pain meds, so trying to figure out what will work is a challenge.)

The chemo treatment went well. The tech found her port and Mom didn’t even feel the needle going in.  No nausea or significant fatigue after the treatment because they gave her steroids beforehand which actually amp her up for a day or two.

But then the crash.

Day three after chemo Mom could barely get up to use the bathroom. Her fatigue was off the charts and consistent pain continued, despite regular oral pain medication.

I spent a couple nights over at her house, helping and waiting out the chemo effects.  It took about five days before the fatigue began to lessen and she could navigate her world a bit better.  The pain continued, but she was doing her best to take her enzymes, eat, drink water and engage in conversations versus sleeping all day.

Happy Thanksgiving

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On Thanksgiving she looked beautiful.  Make-up and hair done, she radiated holiday spirit and the love that binds us.

She’d gotten up early to get the turkey cooking, and had worked on Grandma’s stuffing the night before. Between the two of us we managed to get dinner on the table at lunchtime to allow for an early evening for all of us.

Exhausted, but trying not to show it I know she wanted to continue to visit.  I assured her we’d be back and walked her down the hall to her bedroom. I got her into her pajamas and tucked into bed. And then she began to cry.

I took her face in my hands and put my forehead to hers.

“I’m thankful for you” I said.

“I’m so thankful for you too. More than you know…” she replied.

I know Mom…I know. 

 

 

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Painful Realities

The remission is over. CA-119 numbers are back and at 2147 they are higher than they were in January following diagnosis.  This is not good news, but Dr. Savage is encouraging us not to focus solely on the numbers.

Mom’s most recent MRI showed the tumor as smaller with undefined borders, but the pancreas itself shows density changes – signs of disease and inflammation.

Chronic and Increasing

I think the hardest part right now is the increasing pain Mom is going through and how much it controls everything in her life.

She wants to be present in her life and not take any drugs to alter that, but in enduring ceaseless midsection pain, control is taken away from her anyway.

Managing the pain by taking Norco (pain meds) every 4 hours and making sure to take enough Kreon (pancreatic enzymes) before taking anything in does help, but not enough to fend off the chronic fatigue that comes from fighting constant pain.

I feel like I’m constantly barking not-so-helpful orders at her.

Eat more pot brownies.

Use a cold pack on your back.

Use a hot pack on your front.

Sometimes it seems it’s all I think about.

The New Plan

Mom and Dr. Savage talked things over today and decided to begin chemo yet again after Thanksgiving.

Dr. Savage explained that since we know what works, we’ll go back to it.  Meanwhile she’ll research some other drugs in case this one becomes ineffective – which can sometimes happen as a patient’s cancer learns to fight off what’s coming.

The scary part is how hard chemotherapy can be on the body.  Mom is already weaker than she’d like to be and losing some weight as it’s so hard to eat.

Yesterday when were out and about Mom said to me: “Sometimes it’s hard to remember all of this is palliative and not curative.” 

That’s pretty much life in a nutshell for us all right now isn’t it?

In retrospect Mom’s comment resonates on a lot of levels. Whether it’s the general election or cancer it’s true.

Nothing will make it all better, but doing “nothing” really isn’t an option.

November Is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

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When we first learned that Mom had pancreatic cancer it felt like we were in free fall. With no footholds and nothing to grab onto, we clung to each other and braced for the inevitable – hitting bottom.

Much to our surprise Mom responded extremely well to chemotherapy and her cancer went into remission.

Four months of normal days post-chemo was a gift of time we’d not expected, but gratefully accepted.  Knowing that only 29% of pancreatic cancer patients diagnosed this year will survive to 1 year after diagnosis made this even more significant.

There is a great need for education about this disease, and hope for those patients and families who are going through the treatment process.

November 17th is World Pancreatic Cancer Day.  With 280,000 new cases diagnosed each year and survival rates of just 2-10% five years after diagnosis, pancreatic cancer is worthy of further research to discover its cause and effective treatment of the disease.

During November please consider educating yourself about the latest updates in pancreatic cancer research and treatments.

Set up a Google alert with the keywords ‘pancreatic cancer research and treatment’, and share links to information you learn via these updates with friends, family and the public on social media.

This is one way you can support pancreatic cancer awareness now and in the future.