As always, I have started writing this post several times, and several thousand times in my head, but I haven’t necessarily wanted to share broadly all of the thoughts I’ve had swirling.
Although some of the news has been crappy, the crappiest has not been entirely mine to share.
To get this out of the way, although I had a quick scare where I found something lump-like, it was just a scare, and my physical health is fine. I could use to be more active, lose some weight, and anxiety is my constant companion, but other than that fine.
More than April Showers
The bulk of this story starts the last week of April 2018. I had been working remotely (from Snoqualmie) for a tech company based in New Jersey, which had been expanding and contracting on the marketing side, although I was the only person with “communications” in my title for the entire time I was there.
I learned a ton, did some work I was really proud of, but in general was spread so thin I thought I might be able to actually reach HQ from my house. So, it was not a shock, and even a little bit of a relief when I got laid off for the first time in my life.
The biggest relief was because of the bulk of my news in this post. Earlier that same day, my mom, who was diagnosed with Colon Cancer that same week in 2010 (and I wrote about in 2013) called to tell me that her colon cancer had spread, in the form of eight tumors in her brain.
Summer of My Discontent
The other big thing that happened just a few weeks later was my youngest boy, aka our Cockapoo, Fenway, showed signs of Congestive Heart Failure. He didn’t stop breathing at home, but it was touch and go for a while. We had to sign a DNR, because CPR only works in like 2% of cases like his. He spent a few days in a special oxygen cage at our vet hospital, and he now has a canine cardiologist. Which we traveled to Oregon for, because they are overbooked in Seattle. Who knew?
I figured out going on unemployment for the first time in my life, and was applying for jobs to keep that going, but was trying to be picky. I didn’t want to just get another job, I wanted to make a career move. In the meantime, I was trying to make the most of the one gift the layoff gave me, time.
We visited my dad in southern Oregon, where he and his wife moved for his own health reasons. I taught my 15-year-old how to drive. I got in some quality dates with my husband. I spent a lot of time in Olympia with my mom.
The first thing mom did was get whole head radiation to reduce her tumors. Her hair fell out, there were new wigs, but this time it was harder and harder to heal. Her doctors at some point told us that with her original 2010 prognosis, she wasn’t expected to make it more than 2 or 3 years. They had tried every single treatment they could in the next several years, but after the radiation and returning to her original chemo, we didn’t really have anything new to try.
We needed to prepare to say goodbye.
Mom was still working pretty much full time as a victim advocate for the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office. She had to take time occasionally for treatments, but she started to even go into work on Fridays, when she was wearing a pump that delivered a drug so toxic, she could only take a drop every 15 min, so the tiny bag of chemo had to be delivered over something like 36 hours. She used to take the day off because she didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. After 8.5 years, she finally reached the point of “fuck that noise” (my words, not necessarily hers) and went to work anyway. It made a few people uncomfortable at first, but they got over it.
Over the next several months, the chemo kept the tumors somewhat at bay, but never completely. She developed enough new tumors in her liver that we went to Spokane for one last Hail Mary of a treatment, known as Y-90, where they went directly in through her femoral artery and sent little glass beads full of radiation to her liver. It worked for a short time.
But it was now the summer of 2019. She has been undergoing chemo for pretty much 8 of the last 9.5 years. And she was taking more and more time off of work as the treatments took their toll. So, this summer, I spent a lot more time in Olympia, and as of July 31 she officially retired.
In the meantime, I had been interviewing for a lot of roles, but always seemed to be the runner up. I didn’t have enough of a tech background. I was too senior; I was not senior enough. I finally started doing some consulting work, because although my husband has been wonderful and patient as I spent more and more time not working and helping mom, I was starting to climb the walls. And although I know I have more to offer the world than what I do at work, way too much of my self-worth is tied up there. So, as my ego deflates more and more, I shrink into myself.
The worst came when I was on a job for 12 days when I got fired, another first in my life. No one actually pulled out the words, but I had been trying hard to make things work despite some communications issues (I have other words, I will not put them in writing) and suddenly lost access to the document I was editing without warning. That was October 1, 2019.
Total Eclipse of the Heart
I know the song has NOTHING to do with what I have been dealing with, but I keep having Bonnie Tyler’s words flow just outside my consciousness.
Every now and then I get a little bit restless and I dream of something wild
Every now and then I get a little bit helpless and I’m lying like a child in your arms
Every now and then I get a little bit angry and I know I’ve got to get out and cry
Every now and then I get a little bit terrified but then I see the look in your eyes
Every now and then I fall apart
I have lost track of days, but since then, they have moved too fast and slow at the same time.
I had a couple of days of wallow, when I went and dragged my mom to my house. She’d been lonely & a little bored, so I “kidnapped” her to my house, to see my kid (now driving on his own as a High School Junior) and took her to his Cross Country meet. She didn’t feel well, had been having “intestinal distress” as someone who has a half a colon and many years of chemo is wont to do. She wanted to be home, so I brought her to Olympia.
The next week, I got a call. She wasn’t acting normal. I finally got her on the phone, and she seemed okay, but I told her I’d come down to take her to chemo the next day, October 17. When I arrived, she didn’t remember any conversations with me. She was so dehydrated that she couldn’t walk, could barely talk, and ended up not even remembering most of that week until we got two bags of IV hydration into her over two days. We also decided to stop chemo. Her tumor markers were coming back up, and it was obvious that the chemicals we were putting in her body to kill the cancer were finally killing her.
We went through a blur of changes. My brother got a one-way ticket from his home in LA to be here and help her as needed. We fought to get her more hydration as it seemed to be the only thing that helped. All she could stomach were meals I found from her old recipe files, many in my grandmother’s handwriting. That and our old family recipe for fudge.
We got her on home hospice. They brought a wheelchair and a seat for the shower and a seat that helped her get on and off the toilet. We went from her falling every day to less and less falls, and I started contacting family. She has a sister and three brothers, and those closest could visit, she spoke with her youngest brother on the phone. My husband and I took a quick overnight trip, and my boys (son and dog) spent some quality time with her, although she was only really awake from 10a-5p or so.
My brother had to make a trip home for a job, and she promised to hang on until he got back, although she kept getting weaker. When I booked the flight, I added in some extra days for him at home, and he brought his girlfriend, who hadn’t been here before. I agreed to be here to make sure she had someone on hand.
On Thursday, November 14 the only sibling she hadn’t seen came to visit. She was tired, but I wasn’t alarmed. That night, she only ate a couple of bites of dinner and fell asleep on the couch. She has not fully woken up since.
As of this writing it is November 23. She has gone nine full days with no food or water, with only 2-3 short moments of lucidity on the 16th when she talked to my brother, husband and son on Facetime. She smiled and said “I love you too” when prompted. Other than those moments, we have been here to support her as we wait for her to let go.
I have had a lot of friends lose parents in recent years. Our parents are getting to be that age. Everyone wishes they had more time with their mom. So, I feel like a complete asshole as I try to figure out what will make her let go. She has amazed the medical community at every turn but watching this husk of my mother in pain is slowly killing me. I can’t leave, she wouldn’t want to be alone, and I would hate myself for blinking when I have been here this long.
I don’t want to talk about it, because there is no news, and nothing of use to say. Although I have tried so hard to be strong for everyone…
Every now and then I fall apart.
Ange you are in my heart right now. I love you. Always will.
Ange, I went through something similar with my mom exactly two years ago. Not cancer but so many other health problems over the previous decade. She went into the hospital in early October 2017 and never left. It was November 16, 2017 that I had to make the heart wrenching decision to cease all treatment and go with comfort care only. The doctors said she had a day or two at most at that point. They said that every single day except November 23, 2017 and that was the day she finally let go and passed away. I spent a lot of time at her bedside telling her as she lay unconscious that it was okay for her to go, that we’d be okay, that we loved her. And I, too, wondered, what’s going to help her let go? I had to finally accept that she’d go when she was ready and nothing I did would change that. All I could do was try to remain present for her and make sure she was surrounded by quiet, unwavering love and serenity. I wanted her to feel safe. I don’t know if this helps or not. Your experience is not mine, despite some similarities. And while you have to navigate this experience alone – emotionally, spiritually if not physically – know that you are not alone.
Ange — I am so touched by your story and how open and honest you are at a very difficult time. The comfort you have given you mom is the best thing a daughter can offer. Simply be there for her and try to be strong. Peace be with you and your family. Hugs.
I love you and I’m holding your family in my heart. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
Falling apart is okay.