>Cancer seems to be one of those things, like many, that you don’t really realize how awful and destructive it is until you witness it firsthand. Obviously everyone knows it is a horrible disease, and I’ve known people who have both survived it and died from it, but I haven’t been particularly close enough to any of them to really see what happens. My grandfather had prostate cancer, but he was already living in the nursing home and suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s when he was diagnosed, so I never saw the effects that the cancer had on him. My father-in-law was diagnosed with lymphoma about a year and a half ago. He went through chemo and he visibly struggled with it, but he continued working throughout his treatment, and aside from seeming more tired than usual, he did really well. One of my childhood friends has breast cancer, but I believe she’s in remission now. We lost touch and when I found her again on FB, I noticed that all her recent pictures featured a headscarf. I put two-and-two together and when I asked her about it, she confirmed it. One of my sorority sisters in college died from chemotherapy complications for lung cancer. They found a tumor on her lung when she was 11, and it had gone unnoticed for so long that it spread down to her ovaries and had snaked it’s way all around inside her so badly that they had to remove her ovary and some other stuff, but mostly she was ok. When she was 20, she started to get sick again and it turned out the cancer was
back. She suffered respiratory problems from the chemo and decided she did not want to be put on a vent, so she passed away.
None of this has really hit me until now, watching my mom battle it. She was so ill and tiny to begin with (just 85 pounds at the start of treatment), that the chemo and radiation have just wreaked havoc on her body, leaving her at a whopping 70 pounds when she was admitted to the hospital on Monday morning. She can’t walk without assistance, she throws up everything she eats (although this has improved since she was admitted, as they’ve been giving her anti-nausea meds via IV and have stopped all treatments), she can’t swallow very well due to the radiation for the tumors in her lymph nodes, and she is severely depressed and anxious.
Watching your tiny, 70 pound mother lie in bed and struggle to cough up chunks of blood is not pretty. Having to help her sit up so that she doesn’t choke on her own vomit is even worse, especially when you touch her and realize all you’re touching is bone covered by a thin layer of skin.
She is doing slightly better now that she’s able to eat and drink. They’re giving her meds to boost her appetite, and they’ve increased her anti-anxiety meds to help her sleep, but she is still nowhere near healthy. One of the radiation specialists came to visit her yesterday and informed her that radiation would be starting again on Monday so that they can finish the last 8 sessions (she’s completed 27 out of 35). She said no, she’s not doing it. There is just no way she is going to gain enough weight and be well enough in 3 days to withstand more of these sessions. It’s just not possible. She understands that her window of opportunity to complete the treatment might pass her by (for whatever reason, you can’t have more than one round of radiation), but she’s ok with that because doing it would probably kill her.
I’m scared because I know there is no cure. Treatment can help to keep things under control, but what happens if you can’t complete treatment?