Thursday, September 27, 2012

It's not like I don't know the outcome...

I know how deadly pancreatic cancer is.  The stats on this type of cancer are mortifying.  If you have never googled Pancreatic Cancer or never had a family member/friend with pancreatic cancer, maybe you just don't know how critical the situation is.  You hear the word cancer thrown around in almost everyday conversations anymore.  Some people think all  cancers are curable.  Some think that no cancer is curable and will constantly live their lives in fear of that thought.  I have heard hundreds of stories of breast cancer survivors.  Hundreds...  I challenge you to google pancreatic cancer survivors and see what you come up with.  Stats for living one year with this disease (directly from the American Cancer Society webpage)...

The American Cancer Society's most recent estimates for pancreatic cancer in the United States are for 2012:
  • About 43,920 people (22,090 men and 21,830 women) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
  • About 37,390 people (18,850 men and 18,540 women) will die of pancreatic cancer.

If I can do math correctly, that means that  85 freaking percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will be deceased in the FIRST YEAR.  

Pancreatic cancer is the tenth most common cancer in men and women, and the fourth leading cause of cancer death in men and women.

FOURTH leading cause of cancer deaths in all cancers, but second to last in funding for research to fight the disease.  Something's not right there.  

The five year survival rate is a staggering 6%.  Only 6 out of 100 patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will be around to see the five year anniversary of their diagnosis.  Another heartbreaking statistic.

So when I got that text early this morning that a friend of mine's father had passed away in the wee hours of the morning, I was at first SHOCKED and scared.  I felt a lump in my throat and could not think of the right words to text back.  I opened up my phone to respond to the message, and all that would come out of my head and through the tips of my fingers was AAAAAAAAAAAH Damn :(  Nothing else came to mind.  Nothing I could say now would make things any better or rosier or happier for the families involved.  I know what they have been through, but there again I have NO idea.  They have experienced one part that I have not.  The end of life process.  That's why I firmly believe I have nothing to offer them in the ways of condolences except to be that listening ear when they are ready to talk.  This person is not a close best friend of mine.  We had been 'introduced' on facebook initially because both of our parents have been struck down with the same horrifying disease.  We messaged back and forth, would give updates when needed, and maybe just send a message or two each other's way saying we are thinking and praying for them.  Neither one of us ever knew who's parent would lose the battle first, but we both knew we were in the same fight.  Fighting to make our parents feel loved, feel healthy, feel normal, feel blessed.  I honestly thought that her father would most definitely outlive my mother.  Morbid you say, that I compare the two?  What would YOU do if you were put in my situation?  I know the end outcome.  I have no choice or no chance to change that outcome.  I watched her father get different treatment options, and with my mother, they basically shut her off of all treatments as they would dramatically decrease her quality of life.  A sacrifice we were not willing to make.  So with my friends father getting the treatments, I felt he was at an advantage, hence the reason for believing he would survive longer.  But obviously God has other plans for him.  Big plans.  And although I know nothing about him as a loving grandfather, father, and friend, I am willing to bet he left some pretty damn big shoes to fill.  So I go to bed tonight thinking of Kim, thinking of what she could possibly be feeling at this very moment.  What struggles she will have,  does she have relief knowing the disease no longer has control over her father?  Is she heartbroken to the point that she questions what the medical profession did or did not do?  I am sure those answers will come in time.  For her and for me.  Caregivers have a common bond that no other person can even imagine exists.  I will always be there for spirit, soul, and heart.  Praying for peace for her and her family, hoping that they one day discover the reason why their father was stricken with cancer.  For now, my mother continues on with her  battle.  Right now she is winning.  <3  I am eternally grateful for every extra day I get to talk to her on the phone, visit, text, and hug.  Some people have that swept from them faster than they can blink.  I get that.....Praying <3  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Thank Goodness for photos...

I have always had a vested interest in taking photos.  I can even remember back in high school longing to have one of the elite cameras that I could never afford.  Back then there were no cell phones that took pics of every single moment of every day.  Just film cameras.  Heck I didn't even go completely digital until around 2004.  Photos for me are one of THE most important ways to save the memories.  Aside from memory of the events, I can't think of any better way to reminisce about events than to sit down and flip through a photo album, or browse my many cd's full of photographs.  It's a true passion of mine to take photos, and one day 'when I grow up', I would love to become a professional photographer for the St. Louis Cardinals or the Iowa Hawkeyes.  I dream big...won't lie there.  But my dreams are for another blog post.  I am speaking of photos on this post because I received a picture message from my Mom's hubby, as I do almost every weekend.  He is constantly sending me photos of Mom doing her everyday tasks including taking care of her wacko puppy.  I love this part of my weekend.  Seeing the pic messages makes me smile, and helps to ease any concerns I may be having on that day.  Today was like any other weekend.  He had sent me one photo that immediately caught my attention, and for a good reason at first.  Here's the's relatively small in size, but speaks volumes to me...

I immediately grinned upon opening the picture message.  My Momma and her puppy sitting outside enjoying the splendid weather.  Just 'hanging out' and enjoying her day.  Then I looked a little closer at the photo.  My heart hurt a little.  Then a lot.  If you notice what I noticed, she is dropping weight like there's no tomorrow.  Her arms are soo small.  She looks soo frail.  Is this what everyone else sees too, and I have just been hiding  this truth from myself?  I know I have mentioned a couple times that I thought she seemed to be losing pounds, but this picture solidified what I did not really want to know or accept.  It's all part of the disease.  The nature of this nasty beast called pancreatic cancer.  I know this is what happens.  Doesn't mean I have to like it, but I need to face it and face it head on.  There is nothing I can do to control her weight or how thin she will ultimately get.  Acceptance of this fact is key for me.  I have real issues with seeing the strongest woman I have EVER met become so frail looking and thin.  It's something I need to immediately come to terms with.  I know that right now she is still that amazingly resilient woman that has taken pancreatic cancer head on and never tried to duck and dodge and hide.  She is still that woman that when I call her, even though she is having pain and miserable, will ask to make sure I had gone to the doctor for my leg and to make sure I am taking care of myself.  She is still my rock.  My world.  My go-to gal when I need advice.  She is still my shoulder to cry on, I am her shoulder to lean on.  I will listen to her rant and rave about how pissed off she is some days that she has been afflicted with this disease, and then the next day, turn around and fight off the pain and nausea like she has been doing it all her life.  Even though she is quickly losing weight, I need to remind myself that she is still STRONG.  No matter what the exterior says.  That's a daunting task for me.  I feel like I need to coddle her, protect her, love her, chastise her for what she is and is not eating.  I want to make sure she doesn't lose any more weight.  I know that's not my choice, nor is it an option.  So acceptance is key....thin or not, she is still as fiesty as ever.  She will always be my Mom.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Breakthrough Pain and Smart Phones...

That was our conversation for the evening between my Mom and I.  Oooh what a combo it is.  I honestly do love how we can switch gears so quickly and talk about the lighthearted life stuff, and then go on talking about her having to take another extra dose of pain medication because she is having the breakthrough pain. The medical definition of breakthrough pain is a pain that comes on suddenly for short periods of time that is not alleviated by the patient's normal pain management medicine.  It is common in cancer patients who often have a background level of pain controlled by medications, but whose pain periodically "breaks through" the medication.  Her breakthrough pain used to happen about once maybe every two weeks.  They then upped her normal daily dosage of medications.  But now the breakthrough pain is making its' presence known more frequently.  Maybe three to four times a week.  Sad.  Very heartbreaking and not so fun.  It used to be that when she first experienced this breakthrough pain, she sort of panicked.  Unsure of what it was, if it needed to be reported to Hospice, and what she should do.  Now she seems incredibly nonchalant in bringing it up in conversation.  It has become a part of the plan.  A part of her life.  A normal.  I think she is definitely coming to terms with what her body is trying to tell her.  Peace with what is happening, maybe?  Not quite sure if I can put my finger on it, but the worry and the panic and the heartache is not there anymore when breakthrough pain comes on.  She knows what to do, what meds to take to make it better, and exactly when to do it.  She has become a professional at this point of managing her own 'hell'.  I'm pretty certain I would never be able to go on like she is going on with life.  I don't think that I would want to end my own life, but I would not be able to do what she does and say what she says with the dignity and grace that she has.  That in itself has blessed me with a wish that I had made not too long ago.  I want my Mother to be able to handle this demon with grace and dignity.  She has achieved that.  Hands down.  I can't begin to fathom what is growing inside of her abdomen, as now she can feel the cancer tumors just by poking around at her stomach.  The cancer is doing one of two things, growing at an exponential rate, or she's just losing so much weight that the tumors are now easier to detect.  Either good can come out of it.  Ugh...I have no words.  I want her to have her good days back.  I want desperately for her to go 10 days straight feeling grand and ready to take on the world.  Instead those good days are being plagued more frequently with pain.  Pain from the demon inside.  It's the nature of the beast.  We all know the cancer is growing.  It's a given fact.  Can't ignore it no matter how much you want to.  It's the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about, but by looking at her, the elephant is snorting and stomping and making it known that it's here to stay.

And all that time talking to her about the breakthrough pain, she stops the conversation and wants to know how my son is doing.  Making sure he recovered from his latest bout of illness.  Checking in to see how the kids are doing at school, what they are wearing for homecoming week, and coaxing me feverishly to go and see the doctor about my leg injury and offering to pay for it.  Talking about smart phones and how she will be getting a smart phone before anyone in my family.  I HAD TO give her a rash of crap about that one ;)  Told her I will send over Brayden and Averee so that they could teach her how to use it.  And in one swift second, she mentioned to me that she told her husband not to sign a two year contract with the cell company because she will not be around to see the term through.  Ouch.  That one stung.  I mean I am NOT stupid or naive or lame to the fact that she will one day indeed be defeated by the demon cancer.  I just would rather not hear it from her.  I hear defeat in the tone of her voice when she speaks of the future and what she will miss and what she won't forget.  It's a defeat and a sadness all rolled into one.  Her heart is hurting mostly because she will not see her grandkids graduate from high school, go to prom, or see them drive cars for the first time.  She will miss the opportunity to give them advice when the time comes that a boy or a girl will break their hearts.  There's so much that she will miss.  BUT there is so much we can give her right now to take with her before she leaves.  Love, support, hugs, giggles, memories, photos, visits, stories, compassion. Family.  That's all we really have to give her.  She knows this.  Family is forever no matter where you end up in life.

And so her week was not so stellar.  And my week and my month has not been so stellar.  We are looking forward to September 29th.  That will be a day that will remain in our hearts and our minds forever. I can't think of a better way to end a sh*tty month.  The renewing of the vows.  I will graciously take as many photos as I can to remember this day and to help her remember as well.  It will be amazing.  It will be sad.  It will be priceless.  It will be WORTH IT to cry every tear I will cry that day.  Worth.every.second.  Because we do not know how long God will let us be with her.  Mom does not know how long she will be with us. None of us know.  For now, living life and loving her.  That's all we can do.  Outstretching my hand and my unwaivering support each and every day.  For her.  For us.  God, I ask you to bless us with more time.  If you feel that Mom has done her duties here on earth, we will all try and understand.  But for now I am asking You for more time.

Monday, September 17, 2012

It's time for another memory maker...

...and I can NOT wait.  Tomorrow is the first junior high football game at home against Belle Plaine.  My son's in 8th grade this year and loving each and every second of football season.  He is a true athlete and plays the game with more passion than anyone I know.  Some days too much intensity, almost to a fault.  He loves the game.  And this first game of his last year of junior high will be incredibly special, but he has no idea why yet.  The reason for the game being soo important?  My mom is coming.  Yes, true.  I am picking her up after work, driving her to Marengo so that she may watch her only grandson kick some tail on the field.  I am not sure who is more excited for the game, my son or my Mom.  She is beyond happy to be able to go.  Was almost uncertain if she was going to be able to come.  She's incredibly tired, weak, some days wobbly, pain is coming on more and more, and she is thin.  So very very thin to me.  There are days where her eyes are shining with happy.  There are other days that her eyes are glassed over and you can tell it's not a stellar feeling.  But for now, we will relish in the fact that she still agreed to go.  And the best part is, it's all a surprise to Bdogg.  He has no clue that she's coming.  I am sure seeing her in the stands and having her give the largest smile possible and waving is going to stop him in his tracks.  Right where he's at.  I will have a 'ring side' seat for the event.  These are the kind of moments I live for.  Memories being made that are most certainly some of the last memories we will remember.  Seeing my Mom's eyes light up as my son runs to the sidelines after warm ups and spots her in the bleachers.  Can't wait.

As for her overall health, things were doing rather well lately.  The last two weeks have been pretty good for her.  The pain is starting to creep down from her middle back to her lower back, and the pain is more intense and is waking her up at night.  This crushes me to my soul.  No need for the pain.  I don't like it one bit and I will never understand the reason God chooses to do this to certain individuals.  It's painful enough to know before hand that in a short time span, she will be gone.  She ultimately will be another statistic to mark down, another story of someone losing their valiant battle to pancreatic cancer.  So yeah, the pain....NOT a big fan of it.  According to Hospice they do still have a bit of wiggle room with her pain meds, so they were once again upped.  For that I am happy.  As happy as I possibly can be.  Just want her to be at peace with her body and not have to fight to feel normal.  Is that so wrong?  I don't think it's too much to ask.  but there again that is EXACTLY why we have Hospice involved.  The girls have done such an amazing job keeping her pain under control, coming to the house at 10pm on a Friday night with their emergency pain medication back pack on hand if need be, and making sure to check up on me as well.  They do their best to make sure I am ok and on track and not burying myself under sorrow and worry.  I have a difficult time swallowing and accepting that attention.  Not used to people being worried about me and how I am handling day to day life in general.  Honestly, I don't know how we would do this journey without the love and compassion and caring of Hospice.  I swear those girls are blessed with a gift that I would never be able to handle.  Dealing with dying patients and their families...could.not.handle.  No way.  Never.  And for that reason alone I have the utmost respect.

So tomorrow the game, smiling, eating some concession stand popcorn, my girls arguing over who is going to sit next to Maga Moon.  The day will be perfect.  Can't wait <3

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Don't be scared of who you are....

Take the sparks from your heart
Let 'em burn like a star, in the sky
For everyone to see
Don't be scared of who you are
Let it out of the jar...

New song I found on youtube tonight.  I search youtube often, too often somedays.  Music inspires me.  Music moves me to tears and it makes my jaw drop open when I finally find the ONE song that I was looking for that says what I want to say, but can't.  Like tonight...this song...Couple More Sleeves by Andy Grammer.  WoW.  I read the lyrics twice and have already listened to the song like five times.  Love.  

So I am contemplating wearing MY heart on my sleeve.  Not for everyone to rip off of my arm, throw it on the ground and stomp on it as they are leaving me in their dust.  Not for someone to consistently use my heart to get what they want and what they need.  Not for any negative reasons whatsoever.  I want to wear my heart on my sleeve for two reasons...1.  I have never been an over emotionally affectionate person.  With my kids, that's a different story.  I could kiss and hug them all day long and show them just how much their momma really does love them, but I am quite confident my oldest would tire of the hugging and kissing immediately.  I want to be able to walk up to someone I have not seen in maybe a month or two, and just maybe give them a hug.  Say some overly kind words.  Make them feel better about themselves if they are stumbling through troubling times.  Help them up if they have fallen down or lay down with them if they are unable to get back up.  Being more sympathetic to the nature of other people's troubles and making a grand effort to leave my mark in the world and in the lives of the ones I love.  I want to be able to walk away from loved ones and know that there is NO doubt in their minds that I love them endlessly and would go to the ends of the earth for each and every one of them.  This is a goal that I CAN achieve, and I will

#2  Wearing my heart on my sleeve will teach me some good lessons in life.  You can only keep learning as you grow older.  Even if someone does happen to come by and stomp my heart into the ground, I will learn from it.  Taking away what kind of person I do NOT want to be, how I will never make someone feel, and how not to make friends.  Wearing my heart on my sleeve will allow me to lead a more passionate, meaningful life.  I plan on working on making people smile and feel loved.  I want my eyes to light up when they enter the room and I want them to NOTICE my eyes lighting up because they are in my presence.  Working on this whole 'wearing my heart on my sleeve' thing will take time.  It will require me to become a more open, forthcoming person.  If you know me, I am eager to keep my mouth closed during group conversations for fear of saying something stupid, or speaking the wrong opinions, or just staying mute because I am overly shy.  I can do this.  I will do this.  It might take more time than I think I am willing to give, but I know I am worth it.  I know I can do this.  I know I have a lot to give, a lot to say, and a lot of people to love.  I will valiantly wear my heart on my sleeve when the time is right <3

This whole blog conversation stems from my firm belief in life that you should NEVER ever leave anything left unsaid.  If it's worth saying, well you better just go ahead and say it, because tomorrow is promised to NO ONE.  Ever.  End of story.  I will not live with regret for the things I should have or could have said.  They will be said with enthusiasm, concern, worry, fear, and with love.  Try it...Say what you need to say....ALWAYS.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dearly Beloved...

Update update's been a few days and aside from one of those days, pretty uneventful.  I LIKE IT THAT WAY.  Just sayin ;)  Only one day was she sick and feeling any pain, and the rest of the days, I can hear her smiling through the phone during our conversations.  She is feeling good, soaking it in, living her life as only she knows how.  Smiling, loving, nurturing, scolding, and checking up on me.  That's what Mommy's do.  They make sure everyone else around them is doing what they should, feeling up to par, and worrying about them.  Because I will tell you right now, my last seven days have been less than fantastic.  I would lean more towards ugly, depressing, miserable.  Yeah.  Last Wednesday during our friendly weekly sand volleyball game, I dove for the ball, completely unaware that the 20 something male next to me was also diving for said ball.  Lets just say....he walked away, I did NOT.  Major injury to the leg, nothing broken, but oooooh soo sore and will be sore for some time to come.  Bruising is looking very colorful after 6 days.  Then move on to the weekend...I was sneak attacked by a head cold of mass proportions.  I could literally feel it coming on.  My eyeballs hurt, I sneezed, and 20 minutes later, my nose and head were soo congested.  Called it....yep, sick.  The head cold decided to move south and settle in my lungs.  Fun stuff.  (Not so much)  Work has been hard to stand all day.  Moving around has been difficult.  Hell, breathing has been difficult.  I want this week over and I want it over NOW.  But as I am snuggled into bed tonight writing this blog post, an a-ha moment has hit.  What could I possibly be soo miserable about?  In the grande scheme of things...nothing.  Not a thing.  A sniffle and a cough will go away.  A serious contusion will heal in time.  Reality check for me for sure.  Not that I wasn't already aware that what I was going through is NOT that big of a deal.  But it seems to all rain in on me at once.  Wasn't prepared.  ....sigh....  I do realize that I am blessed to really be healthy, happy (most days ;) and wise.  My next goal is to get my leg healed up enough for boot camp.  Can't wait.  But enough about me, what about that blog post title, eh???  Catch your attention?

My mother called me about a week ago and started a sentence by saying...."We have planned something and I sure hope that you can come."  I could hear the wheels in my head start to turn wondering what she had up her sleeve.  She informed me that she was feeling well enough that she wanted to renew her vows with her hubby.  Awwwww  (instant tears inserted here)  How sweet!  So there is a wedding to be planned and prepared for...and its in TWO WEEKS.  Their first vows were done through a lawyer with only myself and Brayden (my son) present for the ceremony.  This wedding will be a little different.  One thing will remain son will be there to hold his Maga's hand and walk her down the aisle and give her away to her husband.  When she asked me if Brayden would be available to do that, I swear to you here and now, my heart skipped a beat.  I know how very very important this is to her.  She could not deliver the question to me without bursting into tears.  Of course I followed along with her.  The last time he walked her 'down the aisle' per say, he was only two years old, wearing a long sleeve white shirt, jeans, and a cowboy hat of all things.  This time will be very different.  He is almost a man now.  He looks like a man now.  And I will willingly say that my mother has given him an abundance of tools to use to make sure he grows up to be a respectable, smart, and polite young man.  My mother worships my son and the ground that he walks on.  Even during the deepest parts of her cancer, she has sat through 100 degree weather to watch one of his baseball games.  She would part the seas for this kid.  This is incredibly important to her.  We will NOT let her down.  <3  I am eternally grateful that she is well enough to want to plan this event for her and her husband.  It's a blessing and I thank God each and every day for the gifts he keeps giving to her.  I cannot wait to give her a day she will never forget.  Granted I will be watching the entire ceremony through a camera lens, but what an amazing view it will be.

So the big question is....what do you buy someone fighting for their life each and every hour of each and every day as a gift for vow renewal??  I have not a clue and not a lot of money to spend.  Be creative and shoot me some ideas.  I will be giving her the gift of photographs which will be almost as important as the vow renewals themselves.  To me, that's not enough.  I need to give her more.  Not monetary, just more.  I know that she knows how much I look up to her, love her, cry endlessly for her, and pray for her daily.  I know that she knows I will be at her side within minutes if anything ever goes wrong.  I know she knows that I love her more than I could ever love anyone aside from my kids and Jason.  I want to give her the earth, moon, star, I want to give her everything.  The one thing I wish that I could give her, I cannot...a cure.  A cure for this disease.  I need to give her something that she will forever remember.  I will keep brainstorming and see if I can find that 'perfect fit' gift...

Monday, September 3, 2012

The 10 day Winning Streak has been broken...

That is the quote from my mom...she is baffled, confused, frustrated, exhausted, and just plain tired.  She had 10 magnificent days, 10 STRAIGHT DAYS without taking any anti nausea meds, without feeling like she was going to lose her lunch, only one day with any breakthrough pain, more energy to get her household chores done.  10 days.  That all changed last night.  Cancer reared its' ugly head again and put her back down for the count.  There's no other way to describe this....I HATE IT.  Won't beat around the bush here...just not a big fan of the ole ways and means of the cancer.  Nope.  And neither is she.  Bouts of vomiting, extreme fatigue, nausea, not being able to get out of bed at all until 2pm.  And a fever of 103.3 to top it all off.  The fever lasted  They got it to gradually come down, and by the time I got ready to leave her house around 5:30pm, it was 99.5.  Better...not perfect but better.  It was NOT a good day for my Momma.  Not one teeny bit.

So of course I went to visit and let her hubby go run some errands while I kept Mom company.  I asked her the 'elephant in the room' question.  "So, what do YOU think about all this?  What are YOUR feelings on what is happening?"  She looked at me through bloodshot, fatigued eyes and said, "You know, Michelle, I am not soo sure.  I am thinking this is going a lot faster than I thought it would.  I have no definite thoughts on when the end is.  Today I am scared.  Last night I was scared.  Today and last night was not fun.  I am soo tired."  .......ouch........  I sunk back in her recliner and soaked in every word she had to say, even if the sentences were interrupted by her uncontrollable yawning.  I heard every syllable she uttered.  I am scared as well.  We are both scared. On one hand I am incredibly grateful that we are able to have an open and honest conversation together about the 'elephant in the room', but on the other hand I am mad as HE%$  that I have to be having this conversation.  Hearing her on the phone the last ten days was soo positive.  Soo happy.  Today she was defeated again.  Not down and out forever, but beaten for the day.  Probably the next couple of days, too.  Always takes two to three days for her to fully recover from these ailments.  One day she will come to a point where she will not recover.  I am hoping this is not that time.

So to all that pray, please do so...pray for strength, and for healing, for her to know she is loved, and for peace.  Pray for dignity, confidence, painless days, and sleepy filled nights.  <3