In 1988, Mom started having a pain in the center of her chest. Numerous tests were done including at the University Hospitals in Iowa City. Nothing could be established. Finally in December 1989, a tumor had grown large enough to be diagnosed. The fight was on again. Doctors in Iowa said nothing could be done to the cancer but it was very slow growing and shouldn't bother her from leading a normal life. Doctors in Indy had another thought and in 1992, with a 20% success prediction, she underwent radiation treatment. She beat the odds and the tumor shrunk until it was undetectable. She was in remission again.
In November 1994, a tumor was discovered in her remaining breast. This one was large, not just a small lump. First order of treatment was chemotherapy. This was started immediately with the only side effect being loss of hair. Dad & I can relate! But the chemo did little to fight the cancer. After another mastectomy, the Doctors found that the cancer had spread around the breast and they got what they could. They took so much skin from her chest that a skin graft had to be taken from her thigh to cover it. This was followed by another round of radiation therapy. Doctors weren't very optimistic at any remission. Regardless, it didn't slow them down. In the early 1990s, Mom & Dad visited China in one trip, New Zealand & Australia in another and after the last mastectomy, chemo & radiation, spent 3 weeks all over South America. There were several cancer scares in the period from March 1995 on, especially after the South America trip when chest pains returned, but that was ruled that the shaking of a late-tripbus ride had hurt her already well abused chest.
By early 1996, Mom was getting weak and having trouble breathing. Doctors blamed it on her heart, diagnosing atrial fibrillation, an uneven heartbeat. Finally she was having so much trouble breathing she had to be hospitalized, gasping for breath. Doctors found fluid built up around a lung keeping it from expanding and letting in air. They stuck a needle in her back to drain the fluid, a painful treatment that resulted in an hour of intense coughing. The Doctors suspected congestive heart failure as a cause of the buildup. They were wrong. Fight #4 against cancer had begun. It was found that numerous small cancer cells were on the outer lining of 1 lung causing fluid to leak out. Chemo began again and this time the typical side effects were there. Her health was up & down, the folks did get in a trip to Iowa in the spring but towards early summer, the side effects worsened. Nausea was one of the worst and the anti-anxiety drug Ativan was prescribed. It only resulted in intense fatigue and mind problems. She began to get very confused and even suffered from hallucinations. We suspected the Ativan and got her off it. The Doctors suspected cancer in her brain and scanned for it. As Mom predicted, "there's nothing up there!" and was right. Off the Ativan, her mind cleared up. The oncologist switched her to a different chemo drug with minimal side effects and her life improved, allowing 2 trips to Iowa, unfortunately for loved ones' funerals after cancer deaths. Mom had a good Thanksgiving & Christmas.
But by early 1997, the fluid buildup around the lung returned proving that the mild chemo was also mild on the cancer allowing it to increase. This time to drain the lung, a tube was put in and she carried a bag around with her to measure it. Less painful but very inconvenient. Then they sprayed a "stop leak" chemical in which worked. A 3rd chemo drug was started. These chemo treatments started in early 1996 varied from every 1 to every 3 weeks but on the weeks when she didn't have treatment, they had to cross town to the oncologist's office for blood tests. And the cardiologist had her to the hospital several times a month so he could monitor the oxygen level in her blood. This chemo's worst side effect was killing her appetite so she started losing weight very fast. Fatigue was more pronounced as well. Finally in early August 1997, she was so weak she was hospitalized again to see what could be done to help her. They found her blood oxygen level way too low, also fluid buildup around the other lung so the tube was put in to drain the fluid and after a few days, the "stop leak" method was tried. She got out of the hospital after a week of rest, improved but still very weak.
Her oncologist was not optimistic about the future, giving no hope if chemo were to be stopped and little hope if it continued. She improved for 1 brief weekend and we went to Lake Shafer in northern Indiana for a get together with her family, coming in from several states. By the end of that following week, the cancer hit her liver and she turned bright yellow, very jaundiced. The oncologist said little the first time he saw her but on the next week's visit, he hospitalized her again. Doctors there tried a procedure to unblock passages in her liver that the cancer had plugged. It was very painful so they knocked her out. It was unsuccessful. They offered to try again but she was debating. Meanwhile they found that the fluid had returned to the lung that was emptied a few weeks prior and on Labor Day, Monday September 1st, they put her under and inserted a tube once again. She took a long time to recover from this anesthesia but did wake up Monday evening. We all went to see her and even smuggled in a milkshake for her which she enjoyed.
The Doctors had given a 2nd attempt at clearing the blockage in the liver a 70-80% success rate so she decided to let them try again that upcoming Wednesday. Unfortunately, the following morning, Tuesday September 2nd, her breathing stopped, she died just as she wanted to, peacefully in her sleep. She would have been pleased with the timing as she had just crossed the line between a life worth living and a life that would be very unpleasant. She didn't want to live when she was incapacitated nor putting Dad through having to care for her like that. She was at peace with the thought she was going to God. Now we have to adjust to that.
CLICK HERE for the article in the local paper
CLICK HERE for a tribute by Pam Hays of the Family & Childrens Council
CLICK HERE for a few poems Mom wrote about her illness and other family members
CLICK HERE to go to Mom & Dad's page
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