March 17th, 2010 Mom had her next dose of chemo scheduled. Auntie A had gone home for a few days after Mom got home from the hospital but she was back again before the next chemo a week later. We were all nervous about how this one would affect her. Mom was determined to go ahead no matter what and the doctors kept the orders in her file. Auntie A took Mom to the appointment and took her home to rest. Mom insisted on going out the next morning for breakfast and keeping as normal a routine as possible. Home care kept a very close watch on her with a nurse coming in every day to check her vitals. Everyone knew what to watch for and knew they had to get her to a hospital in a hurry if she exhibited any of the same symptoms as the last time.
Within a few days those symptoms had returned. Her intestines had stopped working again, her white count was dropping and her body was shutting down. But my Aunt was able to get her to the hospital without an ambulance. And we started again. The weekend doctors said there would be a CT Scan done to find the blockages and figure out what to do next. The CT Scan didn’t happen and we weren’t getting any answers. Her doctor was gone for a few days so we had his colleagues. By Tuesday I was frustrated by the in-action. I had requested that if there was something they didn’t want to discuss with my Mom directly they should contact me. But they didn’t so on Tuesday I took a half day off from work and I called Winnipeg Oncology and asked for some advice on how to handle the situation. Winnipeg said to request the CT Scan and let the doctors know that if they have any questions in regards to my Mom’s care they should contact her directly. So I went back over to the hospital and had a meeting with the doctors in Mom’s room.
I went through the issues and asked what we were to expect? Would this cycle continue? Was there something that could be done to prevent the cycle? When was the CT going to happen? And the questions went from there. She had a CT later that day and we had another meeting with her doctor when he came back. I requested to talk to him with my sister. I asked him what we were really looking at. Do we bother looking for a new apartment without stairs? Will she come out of the hospital? Do we look at long term care? Being completely honest, what did his gut say about how long she had? His answers: Best case scenario a year, more likely 6 months. Yes, get her an apartment. Sign a year lease but be prepared. The cycle will continue with her intestines. Discuss the future of chemo with her oncologist.
After that conversation I knew that we were on the down side and we were sliding. We began grabbing on to whatever we could to slow down the decline. And we didn’t tell Mom anything that the doctor had said. Number one rule for me was no matter what happened outside her room I put on a smile when I stepped inside. The most important thing was keeping her spirits up and it got tougher by the day. That stretch in the hospital was the longest in the 18 months. And she wasn’t happy about it.
She had an oncology appointment in the city in mid April. Even after a month in the hospital we weren’t sure if she would be able to go. She was just too weak. But she was determined and wanted to go even if it was on a stretcher. And so that’s what we did. The ambulance took her and she lay on a stretcher throughout the appointment.
The original agenda for the appointment had been to discuss further chemo and the possibility of surgery for the breast tumor they hadn’t even touched yet. As well as options for helping to keep her intestines from closing, but it was pretty evident that it was due to tumor growth and the options were there to make my Mom feel better. They weren’t realistic. When the doctor saw my Mom the appointment changed drastically. The agenda was suddenly about whether to continue chemo at all and putting everything on the back burner. The oncologists were amazing and very good at deflecting and redirection. Basically, she told Mom that she had a rough go as of late and maybe it would be nice for Mom to have the summer off from treatments. We could revisit everything in the fall. She wanted Mom to enjoy the summer and asked what plans we had and encouraged the family visits. Mom thought it was great. I don’t know if she had any clue that the doctor didn’t expect to see her in the fall. This was the doctor’s way of letting her down easy. Quality of life over quantity was the buzz phrase of the day. Mom seemed relieved. They gave us instructions on how to handle things if Mom’s intestines weren’t working when she went home. And gave us the after hours number just in case we needed anything.
I went home thankful for the chemo being stopped and hanging on to our plans for summer. But first we had to get through the next month of Mom being in the hospital. That wasn’t going to be easy.