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When your loved one has cancer, heartbreaking conversations are part of the deal.
When my dad was diagnosed with Lung Cancer, I knew there was going to come a time when we would have really difficult, traumatic and heartbreaking conversations.
We were sitting in the urgent care at Memorial Sloan Kettering. We were trying to get some vomiting under control when it came back, and we found ourselves being seen for the 2nd time that week.
Daddy looked so miserable, and the 2-hour ride from upstate was kind of rocky, but we made it. And as he laid on the hospital bed waiting for the doctor… he told me that if this didn’t get any better, and if we couldn’t figure out how to relieve some of this stuff, he may have to make a different decision. Meaning, we would stop treatment and let nature take its course.
These are heartbreaking conversations to have with someone you love.
As the week progressed and new information began coming to light, our future was looking bleaker and bleaker.
I am not a doctor, but here is how I understood the information. For the first time ever, (after several spinal taps) they found a few cancer cells floating around in the spinal fluid, and they were concerned that these new symptoms meant that the cells had spread to his brain.
There was a discussion about how that would affect the current treatment plan and what would happen if the cells had indeed moved to the brain. It was explained that his mind (the one thing that had remained sharp throughout this whole ordeal) would probably be affected. Or at least that’s how he interpreted it.
“It may be time,” he said, “to stop the treatment and just enjoy the time that we have left.”
By the 3rd day in the hospital, as he was undergoing (a million) tests to confirm everything, daddy had decided that he was done with treatment. He wanted to take control of his life and enjoy the time he had left.
He advocated to the doctor’s that he would like to go home and wait for the test results, as he had a lot of things he would like to get started. After 3 emotionally charged days, and several heartbreaking conversations, we were able to leave the hospital.
It’s crazy how this journey takes you through so many different stages and emotions. And as you move through the process, what you hope for and what you wish for, changes.
Things you NEVER expected to hope for, suddenly you’re praying for with all of your might.
As much as I want to keep my dad forever… what I want even more than that is for him to have no pain and no suffering. I don’t want him to spend whatever time he has left on a treatment that isn’t helping when he could be doing the things that he loves.
The step we FAILED at (which is super important), is that all of these decisions were being made BEFORE we had the information we needed.
This is a really stressful and intensely emotional journey and you are ALWAYS preparing for the worst. Most of the time throughout this process, I’ve found, we land somewhere in the middle. The situation is not great, but we are also not the worst-case scenario.
Make sure you have all of the facts before you make important decisions and have the heartbreaking conversations.
Since the beginning, my whole family has been coming to terms with mortality. The reality is, you can think about it, stress about it, and talk about it all you want.
It’s in God’s hands. And when it’s your time, it’s your time. There is nothing you can do about it.
And when it’s not…
After daddy made the decision to stop treatment we made an appointment to talk with his Medical Oncologist. The first thing we learned was that the cancer had not spread to the brain. (To say we were surprised is an understatement, you could have heard a pin drop in that room).
Dr. Veach (whom we LOVE!) said he would totally understand stopping the treatment if we were sure it wasn’t working. But, we weren’t sure. And a scan (different than the one done at the hospital) would be needed to tell if that were the case or not. (Immunotherapy is really new, and it takes a long time to work- so you can’t always tell right away.)
We got the test that week and you know what?
It showed the cancer has not spread since we started the treatment. Which means this treatment was actually working for us. And while its different for everyone, this treatment can work for a long time.
I know that I will have to have the heartbreaking conversations again eventually with daddy, but I am glad I don’t have to have it today. The stress involved in this whole situation and the discussions you find yourselves having can be seriously overwhelming.
It’s really easy to make assumptions about what’s happening before you actually have all the facts. And, before you know it, things are spiraling out of control. In retrospect, I wish I could have “hit the brakes” on everything that week, maybe slowed things down a little. I could have saved myself a week of crying.
Don’t forget to stop…breathe and clarify the facts. You will be thankful you did.
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