Please visit my site at http://groups.msn.com/PancreaticCancer This story in loving memory of my mother Carol..........
It was March 26, 2004. I was in training at our local Veterinary Clinic, and I got a call on my cell phone from mother. She had been sent down to IU Med Center in Indianapolis after being hospitalized several times for Pancreatitis. What my mother told me on the phone that day, changed our lives forever. She was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. Through her shaken voice, she delivered to me the devestating news. That day, I went to my boss, sat in her office in tears, shared with her the news I was just given, and told her I could not work for her at this time. I informed her that my mother was just diagnosed with cancer, and that I need to be with her through this. She understood completely, and told me she was sorry to hear of the news, and that when the timing was better in my world, to call her and she would find me a position with her again. I was so greatful to hear those words, as I was really enjoying my job working with the animals.
Mother came home, and had just one week before her Whipple Surgery would be done, on April 2, 2005. During this week, we made arrangements for her pets and who would care for them, and went to see an attorney, to get her will established and power of attorney for me. She also had her taxes filed during that week. This was a difficult week for us! On April 1, 2004, we all loaded up in our cars, and headed down to Indianapolis. My Aunt and Uncle and cousin from New Hampshire, were on an airplane, headed to the same location. We got a couple hotel rooms, and stayed the night, awaiting the 10am surgery for mom the next day. Mother had to drink this awful tasting stuff, as a pre op prep. It made her very sick, and she was throwing up bile.
The morning of April 2nd was now here, and we all got up, got dressed, and walked over to the hospital, which was right next door to the hotel. Mother was very nervous, but kept up her brave front! In pre op, I was with mom until it was time for her surgery. They took her back, and we all held our breath while she was in the operating room. Her surgery lasted about 5 hours if memory serves me. The surgeon came out, told us that mom got through surgery fine. She needed 4 pints of blood, but he saw no cancer growth on her liver, and told us that the whipple was complete. He did say however, that he was unable to get all of the cancer, due to SMA involvement. I asked him what that meant, and he explained that there is a vein and artery that runs through the middle of our pancreas. He said that moms artery was part of the tumor, and he surgically got as close to that artery as he could, without cutting it and causing more problems for mom. When I asked him of moms prognosis, he said and I quote 'Your mom has, at best, with chemo and radiation, approximatly 12-18 months' This information was hard to swallow! Only a year to a year and a half left with mom, I said. Oh my God, thats devestating!
Mother stayed in the hospital until she was released on April 15th, my husband and my anniversary. We spent alot of time with mom, making trips back and forth from home to Indianapolis. Her recovery in the hospital was rough, as she was in alot of pain from the surgery. This whole time, I kept my brother and sister in law in Florida, informed of everything that was going on with mom here, in Indiana. We brought mom home, to our home, and I took care of her while she recovered from the whipple. She ended up staying here with us, the entire last year of her life, with only going to her home for one month. Six weeks after being released from the hospital, mother started with her chemo and radiation. She was treated with Gemzar (chemo) only 3 times, before her blood platelet counts dropped, and she got very weak and sick. She continued with the radiation, but was back in the hospital with blood clots in her right leg, from her groin to her foot. After that trip to the hospital, she came back hom with us, and I continued to take her to her radiation treatments every morning, for the next 5 weeks. It wore her out, and she was glad when it was all over! Her treatments ended in the summer. My brother and his family came up for a visit. Our dad came out to our house too, and we all spent fathers day together. It was a nice time together that summer, and a summer Im sure none of us will forget. My brother made several trips up to Indiana that year, wanting to spend as much time as he could with mom, as he saw her decline more and more, each time he saw her. Mother also had to have IV hydration, suffered from a staph infection in her pic line, was put on antibiotics, and went through so much more. Thanksgiving week, my brother and sister in law, and one of their sons, came up to spend the holiday with us. We had a family portrait taken that week, and we really enjoyed eachothers company. They spent a week here, and had to head back home, in Florida. Every time they left, a part of mom went with them, as mom was so sad when she had to say goodbye, not knowing if it might be that last time she would see them again, and my brother and his family feeling the same. It was always a goodbye, full of hugs, kisses and many tears!
Christmas was here now, and I knew in my heart, it would be our last Christmas with mom. Mother had lost so much weight, yet was still so beautiful to me. We took photos of that Christmas, and I was so glad that mom had the energy to go with us to my in laws house. She even had a little bit to eat, which was a blessing. Mom had no appetite really, but would take a few bites of something now and then.
Now January 2005. Mothers health was really failing now. She had no appetite still, and was having trouble with her bowels, and was complaining of back pain and pain on her right side. By the latter part of January, I was noticing moms color was changing. She appeared to me to be jaundice. Her belly was swelling and she was developing Acites. She was on pallitive care with Hospice now, and had a great nurse named Jan. Jan didint notice moms color being different like I did. Jan changed moms pain meds around, and mom seemed to be finding more comfort now. By February, mother found out through another CT scan, that her Pancreatic cancer had reocurred, and also spread to her liver. She was now very jaundiced, and in liver failure. We knew it was just a mere matter of time now. Moms hospice nurse switched mom from pallitive care to complete hospice care, and her nurse was here daily then! Mom was put on a medication called, Lactulose. This med helped moms body rid of the toxins from the failing liver. Mom also was dealing with Portal Vein Thrombosis, and had a pleural effusion in her right lung. Moms urine was very dark and looked like coffee or coke too. Her bilirubin counts were so high, that even her tears were yellow! It was March now, and once again, my brother came up. I called to tell him that mother was throwing up coffee ground emesis (blood) and thats not a good sign. Mom got through that however, but continued to decline. My brother knew that it would be that last time he would see her alive, and that his next trip here would be for her funeral. Mom slept alot, but had been for months.
As time got nearer to her death, we discontinued the lactulose, and then mom started to become more withdrawn, more confused about time, and began hallucinatiing. She got to a point, in the last 2 weeks of her life, where she could only take sips of water, until she could eventually no longer swallow at all. This lasted about 4-6 days if I can recall. She became bed ridden, and incontinent. I turned her every 2 hours, gave her bed baths, kept her lips moist, and kept her as comfortable as I could. Mother was talking with the unseen, and having what she referred to as dreams. Moms blood pressure and heart rate would fluctuate hourly and daily from high to low. Some days her heartrate would be 120 and other days 70-80. Her blood pressure would go from 125/95 to 90/60. Four days before her death, when she could not swallow her liquid morphine, I begged for a morphine drip. Mother got it, and I was relieved to know that she was getting pain meds somehow, and she was comfortable. Mom was on the morphine drip for 2 days before she died. The night before she died, I prayed to God to take her out of this life she now had. Her quality of life was gone, and she was struggling to breath now. Her eyes, closed most of the time, with exception to one eye, which she could open just half way. Moms blood pressure was 60/?. I couldnt even get a diastolic reading.The next day, April 9, 2005, I went into moms room. It was a beautiful sunny day, I opened her windows and said 'Morning mom, today is a beautiful day, the sun is shining, and the gates to Heaven are wide open and waiting for you. Today would be a perfect day to transition from this world to the next'. I wondered if mother even knew I was talking to her. Her eyes had been half open for several days now, and glazed over and tearing. She appeared to be semi comatose, but I remember my mother, the nurse, telling me years ago, 'hearing is the last thing to go, and dying people can still hear you even if they cant respond'. Knowing that in my heart, I felt mom heard everything I said. I called my aunt and my brother that day, and held the phone to mothers ear so that they could say what they wanted to say to her, and they did. I knew this was the day, as moms blood pressure had been holding at 90/60 for many days, today it was 60/40 and very weak! Moms breathing was different. Every breath I would take, she would take 2. Mother had 2 bm's in her bed that day, and I got her all cleaned up. As I sat in there with her, watching her breathing patterns and talking to her, I saw her abdomen contract a couple times. Mother had released her bowels. I called my youngest daughter into the room to help me get mom cleaned up. Moms color was dark, and she was very cold, and I knew it was just a matter of minutes. I got her cleaned up, and excused my daughter from the room, and thanked her for her help.
At 4:30pm, not 5 minutes after cleaning her up, as I sat in the room holding moms hand, telling her how much I love her, and how it was ok to let go, she took three normal type but shallow breaths, turned her head and looked at me, got a sad look on her face,and died. Mom gave me a gift by doing that. Looking into my sad eyes as I held her hand. I had just told her to hold onto my hand and let go, only when she has joined the hands of her parents. At 4:30, everything stopped! With moms last breath, her mouth open, and eyes half open. It was Saturday. Moms breathing, her heart, my heart........the birds stopped singing, the wind stopped blowing. It all came to a silent and still hush. I had a house full of my family, and it was just mom and I there together. I sat there, and knew it was over for her. No more pain, no more suffering, no more fighting this dreadful disease. She was finally at peace. She was home! I quietly stood up, placed moms hand on her belly, and told her I would be right back. I hated to leave her room, and leave her at all, but I had to tell someone what just happened ! I walked out of her room and into my living room where my youngest daughter was sitting and I said, 'honey I need the phone, grandma just passed away'. She jumped off the couch and ran into moms room and began to cry. This wonderful litte girl only 13 years old, who helped me so much through this journey with my mom. I made the necessary phone calls, and was in no rush to have mothers body taken to the funeral home, I still had things to do. Moms mouth was open and that bothered me. I had been coloring my mothers hair for many years, and she needed her hair to look nice for the showing, so, my best friend, the hospice nurse, and I colored moms hair. We gave her a bed bath, got her looking wonderful. When I looked at her, her mouth had closed. She had what appeared to be a smile on her face. She knew where she was, and what we had done for her. I believe that with all my heart! At 8:10pm, I walked out of my house, behind the guys from the funeral home, and watched them load mom up, and take her away. Everything done with dignity and respect! Just the way mom wanted it! I hope she is proud of me, and for how I cared for her.
On Tuesday, we went to the funeral so that I could style my mothers hair, and do her makeup for her showing. That was the first time my brother and sister in law had seen mom, since they were here in March. They needed that time with her , to grasp the reality of her passing. Mother didnt look like herself at all, but I did the best I could with her cosmetics and hair. Wednesday, there were so many people who came to pay their final respects. It was amazing! I read moms eulogy I had written that night at the funeral home. Everyone was touched.
Thursday, April 14th, was the day of moms funeral. For several days, I had been strong, dealing with the finality of her death, and it hit me! When the curch played the song 'On Eagles Wings' I lost it! When we got to the grave site, I had preplanned a white dove release. The man was there with the dove, in a beautiful white box. The priest had the graveside service, and it was time for me to relese the dove. Another beautiful sunny day, in fact it was beautiful that whole week! I stand there, and explain to everyone why I am releasing this dove. How it represents mothers life, and how when I open the box, this beautiful dove will fly high into the sky and circle around, until it finds its way home, as mother has. Well, I open the box, and the dove just sits there! It looked around, and then when it was ready to fly, it took off. It was a beautiful way to close such a sad day, and a very wonderful memory to leave others with.
I write this story, only one month after losing my mom. I miss her so much, and I find myself crying more, and mourning her loss. I loved her so much, and we had such a wonderful relationship with eachother. I feel so blessed to have had her for the time we did!
I wanted to share this story with others, as writing it, helps with mourning. I recently found out that Grief, and Mourning are two different things. Grief, is what we feel internally. Mourning is expression of our greif externally, but sharing it with others.
To anyone who is living with this horrible cancer, or to those who have lost loved ones from it........This story was written during my mourning process and I encourage anyone to write!
In loving memory of our mom, Carol. I LOVE YOU MOM!!!!!
Written by Trish (a grieving adult daughter)