Saturday, February 22, 2014

Some Things Are Hard To Talk About

The word for this week was cancer and while several people have tried to go the lighter route and talk about the sign of the zodiac, I'm in the majority for whom the word just immediately brings up sad subjects, valiant efforts, loved ones gone too soon and under it all, the fear that somewhere right this minute some rogue cell is going mutant inside my body and the battle is about to begin.

I haven't had it, knock wood. My Mother passed away after a very long and arduous time with breast cancer, years of battling it.  One of the major lessons I took from her was that when you've reached the point where you're done taking the poisons and the radiation, hospice care is a direct gift from God and hospice workers are angels. My brother and I could not have managed her care for the last few months as beautifully as the hospice did. They took care of us too, indirectly. My Mother had a few final months of feeling really good after her informed decision not to continue chemo, using the palliative medications for pain and symptoms, versus the harsh chemotherapy. She accomplished some things she wanted to do, and then left us peacefully, which was a blessing for her and for us, made the grief a bit more bearable knowing she had felt in control of her death.

The other thing I learned from her was a bit more sad, which is if you find a lump (or any other classic sign of cancer or just something that you know isn't "right" within your body, don't ignore it for months. Because she did. And I can't deal with that thought even now. Here's a good list for women from WebMD and a more general list from the American Cancer Society.

On the positive side, medicine and treatments are always evolving. Two co-workers lost their wives to breast cancer in the years before tamoxifen. One even flew his dying wife to the site of an early tamoxifen trial, begging for her to be admitted to the study, but she was far too ill. A few years later, my mother's life was extended for several years by the now-commonly prescribed tamoxifen, which delayed the re-occurrence of her cancer. So hopeful things do happen.

Ironically since I write about ancient Egypt, the world's oldest documented case of breast cancer comes from a papyrus dated to circa 1500 BCE, which discussed eight tumors, the palliative care given (with a "fire drill," so you can imagine) and the fact that ultimately "there is no treatment." VAST improvements since the days of the Pharaohs. Hopefully someday in the not to distant future, our descendants will look at our medical records and shake their heads and say, "If only they'd had what we have in our medical kits..."

Best wishes to you and your loved ones...


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  2. "[It] made the grief a bit more bearable knowing she had felt in control of her death."


    As you say, there is comfort in being able to choose when one is ready to end the fight and depart this life. I'm so sorry for your family's pain during the long battle.

  3. Thanks for the comment KA...we struggled with her decision at first of course, wanting her to keep "fighting", but she was quite at peace with the choice, which is all that matters. Hugs!