And Then

So Saturday, Sunday and Monday were fairly eventful for our immediate family.  There was also some incredibly sad news that we were informed of.  On Sunday morning one of my husband’s buddies called to inform us about a good friend and former co-worker of my husband, an incredible man named Tom.  Unfortunately Tom had died of a massive heart attack on Saturday night (Feb 28th).  In order to ensure that the first meeting with the grandchild was not marred by sad news, I decided I’d take my husband over for his visit with “Chip” before he found out about Tom.  This turned out to be a good decision.  When we got back home from the hospital and had settled back his friend came by and told him about Tom.  It was remarkably sad and since he was already low it sent him even lower.

This news likely contributed to the weakness and undermined his already challenged health resulting in our visit to Emergency on Monday.  We live in a small city and most people are well informed about what’s happening and to whom.  It was no surprise when our GP called to say she was stopping by to do a check in on my husband.  She’d heard about Tom and knew he was a good friend and wanted to get a sense of how my husband was handling the news.  She also knew that another of my husband’s friends, Pat, had no more than a week prior to Tom’s death, ended up with a triple bypass as a result of a heart attack.  So the GP arrived on Wednesday morning to do her assessment.  Out of her visit my husband was scheduled to be  fitted with oxygen for the home as well as a blood transfusion.  The GP also spoke with us about consulting further with the oncologist about whether or not to proceed with this week’s chemo.  She provided us with some questions to ask our oncologist to make an informed decision about future treatments.

The visiting nurse, a respiratory technician and a visit to the Blood Transfusion Clinic rounded off our week.  Four out of the five days (we only missed Tuesday) were spent in the delightful company of a medical professional of some sort.  It was a week not to repeat, I hope.

To date, the antibiotics seem to be working on clearing my husband’s lungs, the oxygen definitely helps and we are waiting for the blood transfusion to make a difference in his energy levels.   We have two more appointments to set up in the immediate future, one with a respiratory therapist and one with a physiotherapist.  Hopefully we can get these arranged in the near future.

My husband’s sister continues to come by every day, without fail.  She’s managed to get us all addicted to the Young and Restless soap opera.  To the point where visitors are not welcome when the program is on, and if someone does stop by the program has to be pvr’d.   My sister-in-law is still suffering some of the results from the chemotherapy that she had.  It’s hard for most people to understand that the results of the chemo linger on for a considerable time after treatments have ended.  She’s still very fatigued, her hair continues to thin and she still is experiencing “hand and foot” side effects.  She also in the near future has a decision to make with respect to her ileostomy and this is another issue that is weighing on her mind.  Regardless, my husband’s sister is here every day doing exercises during the commercials for the Y & R, and bringing him little treats to have with coffee while the show is on.  It’s a nice routine and one that he looks forward to immensely.

Out of the events of last week I was reminded how important it is to remember that the patient or the patient’s caregiver are the primary advocates for patient health.  Chemotherapy can assist in the battle against cancer, but if a patient is too weak, it can also be a contributing factor in patient death.  I doubted my husband’s ability to bounce back from his chemotherapy treatment this week.  We will give it another week or two before we meet with the Oncologist to ask him our two primary questions:

Is he responding to this chemotherapy treatment?

Does this chemotherapy treatment pose any risk to his already vulnerable lungs?

Radiation Update

We continue to battle the effects of the radiation treatment.  The most challenging piece is, as always, the pain management.  This time round, although we were more informed, we ended up not being more prepared.  With my husband’s first round of radiation he was not on chemotherapy;  with this round of radiation he was.  The difference was that he went into the radiation already weakened and with a low hemoglobin which the radiation effectively wiped right out.  So this past week has been rather exhausting from trying to manage the fall out.

On Saturday the 28th of February our daughter had her baby – a healthy baby boy that weighed in at 9 lbs 5 oz.  It was considered a high risk delivery since a routine ultrasound the day before (Friday) determined that my daughter had no amniotic fluid.  This meant that the baby would need to be delivered within the next 24 to 48 hours.  Despite the lack of fluid, all of the baby’s vitals and my daughter’s were fine and consequently the decision was made to induce her and work towards a normal vaginal delivery.  This was not to be.  Unfortunately after 90 minutes of serious pushing the baby had not budged.  It appeared that his head was tilted upwards and his position was slightly off preventing his progress into the world.  A caesarian was required and at just after 8 pm he made his entrance.  Nerve-wracking for me, as I was in the labour room with my daughter watching it all go down, but absolutely devastating for her father who was already an emotional wreck and receiving sporadic and edited updates from me.

Sunday it became apparent that the stress of the day before had created some additional health concerns for my husband, and for his sister who had joined him in waiting for baby’s arrival.  They were both spent physically.  My husband was having difficulty breathing, his colour was off, and his fatigue was overwhelming.  Despite feeling lousy, he still was determined to make a brief visit to the hospital to see mommy and baby and then that was it for the day.  By the next day (Monday) his symptoms had worsened and I made the decision to send him to the hospital by ambulance.  Although he was incredibly annoyed it turned out to be the right decision.  His oxygen level was low at 89, his hemoglobin low at 84 and his chest, after x-ray, appeared to be congested presenting as either pneumonia or spread of the cancer.  The attending respiratory doctor also wanted to talk to us about the implications of continuing on with the chemotherapy treatments advising how any one of these complications could be fatal.  It was exhausting and frustrating and frightening and at the same time our reality.

It was three absolutely exhausting days but the week didn’t let up – nope not at all. I have learned to never ever utter the words “what else could possibly happen” because invariably something else does.

Getting the News

It’s been months since we first received the news that my husband had cancer.  Up until now it was just too hard to relive those initial days but for the benefit of those who don’t know how it happened – here is our story.

It was Wednesday, June 25, 2014 when I took my husband to Emergency.  He’d been complaining of a sore back since the May long weekend.  He’d dug up my garden that weekend, using the good old fashioned shovel instead of borrowing his buddy’s rototiller.  He thought at the time that he may have pulled a muscle and by the beginning of June he had visited the family doctor who prescribed rest as the answer.  Through this time he continued to ride his bicycle to work, play tennis with his buddies and do all the normal things one does. However, on the evening of the 25th of June he was in significant pain, not only with his back, but he had started to experience a pain in his chest.  Although he didn’t want to go to Emergency, he knew something was wrong and allowed me to take him over.

Due to the fact that he was experiencing some pain in his chest we were processed through quite quickly.  They did some blood work and hooked him up to an ECG to monitor him.  After a couple of hours the ECG was removed and his numbers appeared to be okay.  The Emergency Room doctor was not satisfied with any of the results that had come back, he felt that there was definitely something at play here and asked my husband to stay overnight so he could arrange for a CT scan for first thing in the morning.  That settled, I left for the evening advising my husband that I would go to work in the morning and then swing by to pick him up around noon – if he needed me sooner to call me at work.

When I arrived at Emergency at noon on Thursday the Triage Nurse took me right back to my husband and asked me to wait for the doctor.  A little odd, but okay.  I asked my husband if he knew what was up and he stated he had no idea.  The doctor came in, this was a different doctor from the one who had admitted and dealt with my husband the night before.  He started off by telling us he had some difficult news for us.  He had the results of the CT scan and it showed that my husband’s pain in his back was attributed to his T10 and T11 which were deteriorating as a result of bone cancer.  There was also a lesion at T6, as well as some deterioration to his sternum.  After he told us this, the doctor paused.  In that brief lapse of time I remember my husband just looking at me.  We were shocked beyond words.  Finally he said to the doctor, “Well I didn’t see that coming.” A brief and flat statement.  However, that was not the end of the doctor patient conversation.

The doctor stated that unfortunately the CT scan also showed widespread lung cancer, both lungs.  The main tumour appeared to be located adjacent to my husband’s heart.  He stated that his observations were very preliminary that we needed to speak to our family doctor as well as an Oncologist.  The doctor stated that it appeared to be at least Stage 3 cancer.  Although the ER physician chatted through a few other things at this time we were no longer listening.  We were together but apart, both of us lost in our own thoughts.  When we left the hospital we went home and sat outside on the deck.  There were a few people to call, but first we had to do some strategizing.  We needed to figure out how much we could share with our family and friendsWe needed to see our family doctor to talk this thing throughWe needed to find out how cancer could get to stage 3 (although it turned out to be stage 4) without any real indicators.  We needed to find out what happens next.

This was our world from June 25 – 27, 2014.  Everything turned upside down and we weren’t ready for it.

A Visit to Emergency

Unfortunately things have not gone as planned for my sister in law.  She came through her surgery well but had some swelling and discomfort while recuperating in the hospital.  Still in all they discharged her on Thursday and she went home where her two sons were staying to provide her support and assistance while she mends.

On Friday I went over and did check in and decided that perhaps us women should stick together and brought her home to my place.  Her sons were okay with it and she agreed so we packed her up and brought her home.  That night her discomfort increased although the pain didn’t.   Her legs were still quite swollen as was her belly.  She had no appetite and no desire to drink or even move.  We tried to keep her moving but it winded her, absolutely took her breath away.

On Friday, she had a restless night and the painkillers caused her hallucinations. It was difficult to get her up on Saturday morning.  Her breathing was very labored.  Apparently she has used puffers in the past and asked me to go pick them up from her house.  The prescriptions were quite old but she used them anyway and seemed to get some relief.  Still she seemed over the course of a couple of hours to get worse not better.  Around dinner time we made the decision to take her to the hospital.  She went by ambulance which was the right choice – she was seen immediately and needed to be.  She had developed a complication that required immediate  surgery.

Gas from her intestine had leaked into her abdomen and was pushing up her diaphragm.   No wonder she was feeling short of breath!  It was quite remarkable that she wasn’t in pain – she was struggling to breathe yet was not really experiencing pain.  The doctors at the hospital moved quite quickly to get her diagnosed – she was in and back for a CT scan in record time.  So it’s 1 o’clock in the morning and here I sit, along with her son, waiting to get the all clear from the surgeon.

Cancer is the darnedest thing.   It’s like that tumor was still trying to wreak havoc on her even after it was gone – one last kick at trying to make her life miserable.  The surgeon said it would be a couple of hours in the OR. It’s likely we will get the update by 2 a.m.