The Day Mom Got Her Wings

FOOD FOR THE SOUL

This is part 2 of my story of my moms battle with cancer.  I was going to stop after the blog on her diagnosis, but the next 6 weeks were probably the most precious time I spent with my mom.  It’s funny how after months of hoping against hope that she could beat it again, we are faced with the realization that it is not to be.  The reality has hit us square in the face and it was time to step up and care for the person who has been the rock in all of our lives.  When I was married, my husband and I moved 7 times.  Each time my mom would show up with her BBQ and Texas Sheet cake for everyone to have lunch after the moving was over.  It didn’t matter if there were 2 or 20 to feed, she was there.  She had the kindest heart and was one of those people who didn’t know a stranger.  I can’t even begin to write about how many times she was there for me, and for anyone who needed help.  She was a great role model, be it thorough her work ethic, or her cooking skills.  There was nothing she wouldn’t do, nothing was beneath her.

About a week after her surgery, we brought her home.  She was on oxygen, but seemed to have very little pain.  Kelly and I took turns staying the night, sleeping on the couch, with her beside us in the recliner.  I can remember trying to sleep while listening to the quiet clicking sound of the oxygen concentrator.  Often times I would wake up in the middle of the night only to find her sitting in her chair smiling at me.  She would say ” I am so happy you are here Shelly Sue, I know it’s hard on you.”  On the nights that we couldn’t stay, dad would take over night duty.  It she was able, she would lay propped up on the couch, with dad laying on the floor, as near as he could be.  I found myself going through the routine of  work, taking care of my family and then doing all I could do for her.  I watched the weight drop off of her, and the breathing becoming more labored.  And still she remained beautiful, joking with the grandkids and others.  She never questioned “Why me?”, and she never showed anger at her diagnoses. I found myself  just staring at her, trying to file those snapshots in my memory.  We would visit as often as we could, and the visitors seemed to be endless.  They had planned to begin chemotherapy, this time for comfort measures, not for a cure. The weekend before chemo was to start she told my aunt that she didn’t think she was going to make it to that appointment Monday.  I think she had a premonition that she was going to meet her Heavenly Father.

Moms senior picture...beautiful!The doctors no longer give you a time frame that you can follow, so we didn’t know if she had 1 month, 3 months, or a year.  I remember a deep discussion Kelly and I had about what would we do if she began having pain and was uncomfortable.  How could we find the strength to sit at her side watching her gasp for breath…slowing sliding away from us?  It was incomprehensible to me…….and I think God listened to our laments because I am almost positive a pulmonary emboli took her life that Sunday morning.  She died the day before her chemo was to begin.  Dad and I were with her that Sunday morning when she left us and became one of Gods angels.  I just happened to stop by after church to check on them, and Dad met me at the door, stating mom couldn’t get her breath.  She had some breakfast and told dad she wanted to take a bath.  I sat by her side, holding her hand, telling her that as soon as she could get her breath Dad and I would help her out of the tub.  She took my hand, smiled and softly said thank you. She then looked at Dad, and laid her head back and she was gone.    I often times wonder why I was there that day? I never wanted my last memory of my mom to be of her dying in a bathtub.  She was a very private lady, and I knew that would never have been her wish either.  Why didn’t I tell her that I loved her when I knew she was passing?   Why do things turn out the was you least expect them to turn out?

It has been 12 years since she left us, and the pain is not as crippling as it was then.  As I reflect back to the day I realize that God knew that Dad needed someone to be there with him.  Something private and deep passed between the three of us that morning, and Dad and I became close after that Sunday morning.  Mom was always there for me, and maybe it was my time to be there for her.  I will never know if she even realized that I was there at the end, but I will never forget the look that passed between us, conveying love and trust between daughter and mother.  A love that will remain in my heart until we meet again in heaven…where there will no longer be pain, tears, hurt or that horrible “C” word ♥

What About The Other Guy?

FOOD FOR THE SOUL

supportI just had a one hour visit with my ex-husband, the first face to face since his cancer diagnoses.  Sure, there have been phone calls and texts, but not a face to face.  He shared his fears about death, his fears about being a burden on his new wife and his family, and how he never expected to have cancer.  I am in a strange situation, on one hand we shared 27 years of ups and down, and on the other hand, he is now remarried and has a new wife and family.  Our divorce was anything but amicable, so this makes this whole situation all the harder.  Again, I am choosing to follow my heart, and will do what ever I can do to give support, and advice if asked.  He and I have now come full circle, and while we know we will never be able to live in the same house again, we can be friends.  It is funny how a life threatening event can cause many people to once again put life into perspective.  One thing I discovered when my mom, dad and sister were diagnosed with cancer, is that this diagnoses is often times harder on the loved ones.  I remember Kelly and Mom telling me that is was much easier to be the patient than to be the family member.  I shared this with Bill, and encouraged him to take time to support Mary (his new wife).  She is going through so many emotions at this time, as are all of us.  But it hits closer to home for her.  I can only imagine how she may feel cheated, in a sense, because she was alone after her divorce until she met Bill, fell in love and married.  Now a mere 6 months later they are facing one of the hardest challenges that life can throw at a couple.  Life is just so freakin unfair at time.  I can’t even begin to count the times that I have been slapped down by life.  Again, we have 2 choices in life…let it win, or beat it within an inch of its life.  It’s okay to challenge God, it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to bargain, it’s okay to be sad, but it’s NEVER  okay to give up.  In 1968 Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote a book about the 5 stages of death and dying, based on her work with terminally ill patients.   The steps are 1. Denial…2.Anger….3. Bargaining…..4. Depression….5. Acceptance.  That simple model has now become a reference for anyone going through a life changing events, from  breakups of relationships, to dealing with a terminal illness.  It is such a good read…and can be so inspirational to know that the feelings you are having are valid, and quite frankly okay to have.  Sometimes a person will start with one step, touching briefly on the following steps, and then ending with the last step.  Others will circle a few time, touching on a few of the steps, but hopefully landing on the last step, which is acceptance.  As person really can’t move on and be at peace until they reach that last step….even if they touch a tip of their toe on that step, and then stumble back down a few steps.

I personally went through a bad breakup a few years ago, and trust me, I stomped on every one of the 5 steps.  For 2 years I was like a child on the playground, playing  hopscotch all over those steps.  Then one day, I decided that the step proclaiming acceptance was the one I needed to land on, and stay there.  So my point here is that Bill needs to remember that while he is fighting for his life, he needs to always be aware of those around him, and support them as well.  Even if it involves reassuring that person that nothing will happen that they can’t get through together. He has been blessed with a wonderful woman, and I can assure him that she is scared to death.  There is nothing scarier than the unknown.  NOTHING!  These things can also cause you to challenge your faith in God.  Frankly, you can be pretty honked off at Him….and anyone in raised in the faith knows that is not the way to feel…but  He will wait patiently for you to work it out and come back to Him.  I strongly believe that God puts these challenges in your life, and then sits back and watches how you handle them.   I did suggest that they get into a cancer support group, and soon.  My mom, sister and I joined one when Kelly was done with her cancer treatment.  The wonderful thing is that you realize that you are not alone, your thoughts and fears are real, and that there are others out there that can help you to get over these bumps in the road.

So as I said before If God brings you to it, He will see you through it!  We just need to stand united, knowing that not one person is alone here, and it’s okay to be scared, angry or at peace.  Never be too proud to get the support you need, even if it’s through blogging, as has become my saving grace.  You are never alone ♥

Cancer…I HateThat Word

FOOD FOR THE SOUL

 “Her cancer has returned and it’s peppered throughout both of her lungs.  I’m sorry.”  Those were the words that my sisters, dad and I heard from the surgeon that beautiful July afternoon in the family conference room.   We knew that there was a slim chance that the cough that had been racking my mothers body for months was not cancer, but we always held hope.  Five years earlier we stood at the foot of her bed and heard her family doctor proclaim to us that she had a mass in her colon, and it looked to be cancerous.  My mom was still very sleepy from the colonoscopy so we were not sure she heard his proclamation.  In complete and utter shock, my youngest sister, dad and I bolted out of different doors, leaving my other sister, Kelly, at her bedside.  It was a horrible and selfish thing to do, but we needed to compose ourselves before we relayed the news to her.  She went through surgery to remove the mass, had chemotherapy and the cancer was in remission within 6 months.  We really didn’t discuss it much, because in our family you remain stoic and you “do what you have to do” in order to get the job done.  I had so much respect for this woman who gave me birth.  She went to her chemo treatments in the morning, and then went to work in the afternoon.  If there were any side effects we were unaware of it, for she never complained.  This was her private journey, and we respected that. Her only fear was that she was going to lose her hair.  I smile as I type this because she was such a beautiful and proud lady, and we were pleased that the poison coursing through her veins to kill the cancer cells, did not take her hair.  Five years had passed, with each check up bringing good news, and at the five-year mark she had won the fight.

The cough began early spring of 2001.  My sister and I are both nurses, and we tried in vain to talk her into getting a chest x-ray.  She was being treated  for asthma and bronchitis by the same family doctor that had diagnosed the colon cancer years earlier.  What was he thinking?  Could he not make the connection between the cough and a possible reoccurrence of the cancer?  Why would he not refer her for a chest x=ray?  She was in charge and while we made our concerns clear to her, I think her feeling was that if he didn’t mention it, then it wasn’t necessary.  To this day my sister still carries the guilt of not making her go for an x-ray.  I tell her repeatedly that you were not going to make her do anything, and I think she knew in her heart that her cancer had returned.  The thinking is “If they don’t tell me I have it, then I don’t!”   She is finally hospitalized with “bronchitis” which leads to a collapsed lung.  Her doctor attempts to put in a chest tube at her bedside as we rush to the hospital.  It is apparent as I enter the room that there is a problem with the chest tube placement, as her face, neck and upper chest were swollen, and her the tissue under her skin felt  like rice krispies.  We then literally bully her doctors associate to release her so we can transport her to Springfield where her care will be taken over by Dr. Hazelrigg, who had previously performed chest surgery on my dad. We had total faith in him, and at this point we would move heaven and earth to save this wonderful woman.  She is admitted and many tests, CT scans, MRI’s and consultations are completed.  It was decided that exploratory surgery would be completed and a date is set.  I can remember so clearly sitting in that waiting room, watching families go into the consultation room, only to exit the room in tears.  I said to my sister, “I pray the nurse doesn’t come out and tell us to wait for the doctor in that room!”  Shortly after the words left my mouth, the nurse came out and we were herded into that room.  The door was quietly closed leaving us in stunned silence wating for the confirmation of our fears that had plagued us all spring and summer.  Dr. Hazelrigg enters the room and the rest is a blur….”There was too much cancer to remove….”  “We just closed her up…”  “Take her home and make her comfortable….”  “I’m sorry…”  My mom was 63 years old, she was my rock,  how could I live without my mom?  We put on our brave faces and go to take her place at her bedside as she slowly wakes up from surgery…..not knowing there would only be 6 weeks left ♥

My mom in the red holding my nephew.

My aunt Lois, her sister,  next to her.

Crossing Over

FOOD FOR THE SOUL

 I am not afraid to die!  Hopefully that time will come much much later in my life, but when that day comes I will welcome it.  Please don’t misconstrue my words, I am not depressed, nor do I want to die…. I just mean that I am not afraid to die.  When I first graduated from nursing school I worked in the nursing home a few blocks from home.  I was only going to stay until I could find a better job, possible one with weekends and holidays off?  Working in a nursing home if hard backbreaking work, but the trade-off is that you have the honor of caring for people, some  who are nearing the end of their lives.  My career there lasted for 11 years, and I was humbled to be in the presence of many who took their last breath and “crossed over.”  I always felt I did my best nursing when I was able to care for those who were about to embark on the beginning of their eternal life.  The life that they were prepared for, because they knew that this life was temporary, and the next life would be forever.  There would be no more pain, no more suffering, just a wonderful life beyond anything they had ever imagined.

  Over the years there have been those patients that just leave a mark on your heart, and leave a message that verifies what I know will happen when we pass on.  I went into one of my cherished patients room one evening to give her bedtime medications.  She took her medication, and I took care to be sure she was comfortable and tucked in for the night.  She was at a spry age of 93, and was still as sharp as a tack.  She had me sit at her bedside because she had something to tell me.  I was so busy, but I took the time to sit on the edge of the bed knowing she needed to share something important.  She took my hand and announced…”Honey, Tomorrow I am going to die!”  Just like that…as simple as telling me that she needed her pillow propped up.  I looked into her beautiful face and asked how she knew that, because she seemed to be in stable condition, even for her age.  She just smiled and squeezed my hand, and  told me that Jesus had visited her last night.  She said the room was filled with a bright light and He sat with her and told her that she would be standing before the  gates of heaven very soon.  I had chills, and started to tell her that perhaps she was dreaming?  She smiled at me and told me that this was the moment that people wait in earnest for, and she was ready.  I smiled at her and gave her a quick kiss on her forehead and wished her a good nights sleep, wondering if I would see my favorite lady when I returned to work in a few days.  When I returned to work, I learned that she had died in her sleep about 5am, the day after we had spoken.  I can’t tell you what that does to your psyche…I was raised as a Christian, but at the young age of 23, this was very foreign to me.

  About 5 years later I was caring for a man who was suffering horribly from bone cancer.  He would just cry when I would enter the room, and beg me not to move him.  I would quietly tell him that I was so sorry, but we needed to change his position in the bed to prevent pressure sores, and that we would try our best to make the move as painless as possible.  I knew that even the slightest movement caused excruciating pain, but it couldn’t be helped.  The CNA and I would plan the easiest way to turn him over before we started, using folded sheets placed under his torso that would help us cradle him while we repositioned him.  We would move as gently as we could and he would try to be strong, but always ended crying out in pain.  One afternoon his breathing became shallow, and his blood pressure was slowly going down.  His kidneys were not functioning at all, and the time was coming when he was going to leave us.  I called his son, who lived about an hour away, and I strongly suggested that he try to come as soon as possible.  He said he had some things to finish up, and then he would come.  We didn’t move him much that day, at that point comfort was the number one thought for me.  He kept asking for his son, and I kept telling him to hang on, he was coming.  His pulse and blood pressure continued to fall, and his breathing became labored.  He seemed to sleep peacefully for about an hour, then woke up and said “Shelly, thank you for calling my family to come to see me. It is so nice to see the room full of so many people.”  He was smiling from ear to ear, and the pain seemed to be gone.  I looked around the room and there was no one there but he and I.  I told him that his son should be arriving soon, try to hang in there because he wanted to see him.  At that moment he looked beyond me and seemed to survey the room, smiling and nodding his head as if saying hello, and then died.  His son arrived shortly after his death and I explained what had happened.  He said he wasn’t surprised, and was sure his mother was there to meet his father, as well has his whole family who had previously passed.  He said the exact thing had happened when his mother had passed away, and his dad told the story many times.  Perhaps his dad had told the story so many times that he truly felt there were people in the room, or the cancer had affected his brain, perhaps the adverse effects of the  pain medication, or maybe he was having delusions?  All I can tell you is that there was such a feeling of love and warmth in that room when he took his last breath that I will never fear crossing that bridge into the next chapter of my life ♥

PS: My intention with this blog is not depress any of my readers,  but I want my experiences to give some hope to those who have lost loved ones and are struggling.  I have experienced many of these moments and may write about some more of them at a later date.