Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Circle of Life.

Well, I have got to say, I am not too sorry to see 2011 go.

My poor family has been through quite a bit in the last several months. In the beginning of November (I'm pretty sure it was the 2nd), my Grandpa got so weak that he couldn't stay at home by himself anymore. It must have been so hard for him, but he called up my mom and finally took her up on the offer to come stay with her. So for a few weeks, she and my dad took care of him.

We hosted Thanksgiving at our house, in the basement, so Grandma and Grandpa could just come in the basement door in their wheel chairs and not have to get up the stairs somehow. It worked out pretty nicely. I am so glad we were all able to be together as a family for Thanksgiving. However, shortly after lunch, Grandpa didn't feel well and he slept in the guest room for the rest of the day. I liked him being there though. I just hope it wasn't too hard on him.

Pretty quickly, it was getting to the point that mom physically wasn't able to help him. One day Grandpa said to mom that he better go to the hospital, which is HUGE. Things would have to be really bad for him to suggest the hospital. So they went. He stayed there for about a week and then moved to the nursing home where he would be able to receive better care from people trained to help.

Meanwhile, the day before Thanksgiving, Mom found a lump in her breast. On December 1st, I accompanied her to Jennie Ed for an ultrasound to get it checked out. They thought that cyst looked fine. The other one, though, the one that she had checked out in February at Mercy and they said was totally fine and would never turn to cancer? Yeah that one... they thought that one looked suspicious. They were worried. They did a biopsy right then of the "cyst" that wasn't really a cyst and another biopsy of a lymph node. A whole agonizing day later, Dr. G called. She didn't have the official results yet, but they were worried and she was pretty sure it was cancer. This was a horrible weekend for all of us. Monday we got word: Moderately Differential Infiltrated Ductal Carcinoma. My mom has breast cancer.

In the nursing home, Grandpa continued to grow weaker. He quit eating, quit drinking. Mom was told by an aide that she'd be surprised if Grandpa made it to Sunday (Dec 11th), the same day that mom was scheduled to go out to Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Zion, Illinois(a suburb of Chicago). Why an aide thinks she is in ANY position to give information like that is beyond me. Very frustrating. After much, much, MUCH deliberating, and after a hospice nurse gave mom some very profound advice, she finally decided to go ahead and go to CTCA on the 11th. Saturday night, we all went to the nursing home and visited Grandpa. He was barely alert, but looked around at us when we talked and when I said "I love you, Grandpa," he said, "I love you, too." Then he said the same thing to mom when she told him she loves him. Those were the last words we ever heard him speak. Mom was sure this was her last goodbye with her dad.

During the week that mom and dad were in Illinois, I went to visit Grandpa almost every day. The aids said that he wasn't responding to anyone or anything anymore. Whatever. He totally responded to me. When I talked to him, he moved his arms around and reached his hand out. He acted like he wanted to say something but couldn't. Then Nate said something to him and got nothing. I talked to him again, and he moved his hand around again. I felt pretty special right then.

Once when I went in, I talked to him for a minute and didn't get a response. Then I started to give him some news from mom, and he responded a lot. Shifting his shoulders and moving his arms, reaching out his hand. Then he seemed to pull at his blanket. I asked, "Are you too hot?" obviously not expecting an answer. I swear, I SWEAR I saw him shake his head ever so slightly. I told Grandma about it, and she said that earlier that day, she asked him if he wanted his mouth wiped with the wet sponge, and she said she saw him nod. While I was thrilled that it seemed like he could understand and hear what we were saying, I was also a little heart broken that he could hear and understand, but couldn't say anything back. I hope he wasn't upset or frustrated about that.

The news I told Grandpa about Mom that seemed to excite him so much is this... Mom's cancer hasn't spread. She has Stage 2 cancer and it is in both the "cyst" that Mercy said was fine and also 2 lymph nodes. It hadn't spread anywhere else. Thank God. Thank GOD. Her doctor said she was curable. Not treatable, mind you. Curable! However, she does still have to go through 4 rounds of chemo, surgery, and then radiation. She was able to get through her first round of chemo on her birthday while out in Chicago (happy birthday to her!) before she came home.

I picked them up from the airport and we went straight to the nursing home. Grandpa held on for her. He hadn't had anything to eat or drink in a week or so. This was rough. Again, the aides said that Grandpa wasn't responding. When mom got in there and talked to him, he definitely knew she was there. He responded by moving his shoulders, his arms, his hands. She told him the news again and I know he heard her and was so happy.

I stayed with mom the next several nights to help her in any way I could. She had to get a shot the day after getting chemo to make her bones stay strong. Apparently this shot makes a person feel like they have a bad case of the flu for 3-4 days. Mom was so miserable. She felt horrible. We bunked out together downstairs and she pretty much slept for the first two days while I updated friends and family on what was going on. And I watched TV. A lot of TV. I didn't want to leave her side.

On December 18th, I rolled over on our makeshift bed on the floor, and mom told me that Grandpa had passed away. Dad had come down earlier after a phone call from the nursing home and told mom. Apparently I slept through it. Obviously, it wasn't a surprise. I wasn't shocked. It was actually a blessing that he lasted as long as he did. So why did it still feel like I was being punched in the gut? I cried, just a little. Dad went to the nursing home to be with Grandma and Grandpa. I asked mom what she wanted me to do, and she wanted me to stay there with her. I was a little relieved about that.

By this time, mom was feeling not great by any means, but better than before. She was able to get up and out of the house and make funeral plans, even if she did have to force herself. We went to the funeral home to make plans and Mom and I went to a meeting at Grandpa's church to talk to the pastor who would officiate at the funeral. He asked a lot of questions about Grandpa and what he was like growing up and throughout life. It was nice talking about him. Getting to tell someone what an amazing man my Grandpa was.

Mom looked gorgeous and healthy at the visitation and funeral, even though I'm sure she didn't feel it. The visitation was December 21st and the funeral... my grandpa's funeral was December 22nd. That is so hard to type out. The funeral was beautiful, if a funeral can be beautiful. The pastor did a great job of telling everybody how wonderful this man was. Like they didn't already know. Everyone loved him. They still love him.

One small blessing is that mom still had her own hair for the funeral. Several days after Christmas, mom's hair started shedding a little more than usual. Quickly, it started coming out by the handful. On December 31st, mom and I went for a spa day. She decided it was time to cut her hair off. I told her several times to try not to let it bother her. To think of it as, "Screw you, cancer, you can't get to me." Obviously, this is easier said than done. I could not even follow my own advice. Not even close. We both cried big ol' fat tears when she was sitting in the chair waiting for the stylist to come back with the right size clippers. I did still have plenty of "screw you, cancer" thoughts, though. Then we both got a pedicure and manicure. Not what most people have in mind for a girls day out, but we had fun.

Today mom and I went to the wig shop and picked up her new hair. She really likes her new bangs! Tomorrow I will drop mom and dad off at the airport so she can head to Chicago for her second round of chemo.

So 2011... I'm not all that sorry to say that I won't miss you. I hope and pray that 2012 will be a year of joy and hope and healing and recovery and LIFE.

Also? I'm pregnant. :) So come on 2012... let's see where you take us. Please be nice.

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