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Archive for February, 2011

Mom was to see the rectal doctor two weeks after completion of the radiation and chemo.  She still was not completely healed, but things were beginning to get better.  Mentally, mom still wasn’t mom.  She still saw people, waving merrily for them to enter the house.  Dad and I just acted like we didn’t notice and eventually she realized that no one was there.   While sitting in the waiting room of the doctor’s office waiting our turn, dad suddenly asked me to take mom to the restroom.  After she came out I noticed that there was a large wet spot on the back of her pants.  She had wet herself in the waiting room and never really noticed.  Three months ago my mother would have been humiliated and would have insisted on going home.  Now, mom didn’t seem bothered in the least.

We were assigned a room and waited.  When the doctor finally came in, he told us in his very no-nonsense, blunt way that surgery would be necessary and that mom’s rectum would have to be removed.  The tumor, although smaller, was too close to the anus to simply be removed.  Dad and I were stunned.  Perhaps we should have realized that this would be the results.  Perhaps we were just in denial.  Nevertheless, to actually hear the words was shocking.  The doctor knew all along that he would end up removing mom’s rectum.  I still don’t really understand why it was necessary to put this elderly woman through the pain and suffering of radiation and chemotherapy when the results were going to be the same either way.  But I have to trust that the doctors were doing what was best for mom so I am working at letting that go.  The only two questions mom asked was, “Will I have a bag?” and “Can it be reversed?”  The answer – yes and no.  My mother’s mother, many years ago had colon cancer and ended up with a colostomy, but hers was reversible.  My mother’s is not.  The surgery was scheduled for the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.  She was to arrive early Monday morning, would be prepped the entire day and surgery would take place on the Tuesday.  It was four weeks away.  A long time to wait and ponder the enormous change in one’s life.

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The colon and rectal doctor treating mom was known to be the best in the area.  Of course, he was the only doctor specializing in that field.  (Who wants to look at that all day?!)  Although he was good, the man had absolutely no bedside manner.  Besides the way that he broke the news to us that mom really did have cancer, when it was time to examine her he told her to “loosen up your ass”.  Really??  You’re telling this to my 77-year-old mother?   He was just lucky that I was in such shock finding out about the cancer otherwise I would have let him have it.  By this time I had had enough of really inconsiderate, arrogant doctors.  Mom, in her mind, kept thinking that she could “pass” the tumor.   She had told me several times prior to this appointment that she was hoping to just “pass it”  and now here she was asking this doctor about it.  He just looked at her like she was from Mars and said no, not going to happen.  After examining mom he told us that the tumor was very low – at the opening of the anus and quite large.  She would have to have radiation and chemotherapy to shrink it before any surgery could be done.  Since I’ve never dealt with cancer before I had no idea this involved two separate doctors.  I thought an oncologist was an oncologist and did both.  Nope, that is not the case.  The radiation and chemotherapy involved two more doctors.  I specifically requested one oncologist that I had met a couple of times through tennis.  He had a good reputation for being not only an exceptional doctor, but also very compassionate.  I found out that he deals with chemotherapy.  The rectal doctor recommended a doctor to do the radiation.  As it turns out, this man was also an excellent, compassionate doctor.  We had gotten lucky in that regard.  Before leaving mom asked the rectal doctor if the tumor would be gone after the radiation and chemo.  No, was his answer.  What happens after?  He only said, “We’ll see”.

We saw the radiation doctor first.  He was very soft-spoken and kind and explained exactly what he was going to do.  She was going to have radiation therapy five days a week for five and a half weeks.  The chemotherapy would occur at the same time and be used to enhance the radiation.  He scheduled mom for a MRI to see if the cancer had spread to other areas.  Mom’s next appointment was with the chemo doctor.  He had spoken to me over the phone before the appointment and I had explained what was going on mentally with mom.  I had asked him if the cancer could be the cause of her mental issues.  His answer was probably not – not unless it had metastasized in her brain.  At mom’s first appointment with him we had not yet received the results of the MRI, but he was able to pull the scan up on his computer and take a look.  From what he saw the cancer had not spread.  What a relief!  He explained that the chemotherapy would be given in the form of pills.  She would take them only on the days she had radiation.  It would not make her sick, nor would she lose her hair.  Another relief.  He told us that she could possibly get what is commonly called hand and foot which causes the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet to become very red and sore, and she could also have some diarrhea.  Okay, we can handle that.  Mom began the radiation the next day.

The first couple of weeks were not so bad.  She was very tired after the treatment but nothing she couldn’t deal with.  One of her grandchildren was getting married (the first grandchild to get married) and the wedding was planned two weeks into the radiation/chemotherapy treatments.  My sister was worried that mom would be too tired to make the ceremony and suggested that she postpone starting the treatments until after the wedding.  Mom disagreed with this and so did I.  Mom was a trooper.  She dressed up in this lovely green dress, had her make up and hair done and hung in there for the entire wedding and a good part of the reception.  No matter how tired she was I knew she wouldn’t miss it!

Then it got bad.  This radiation stuff is brutal.  I had no idea how brutal!  It eats away at everything in its path.  The area affected becomes red and raw and mom was in severe pain.  She had trouble sitting and dad had to put a special cream on the area.  For some reason she began having a lot of gas, (not sure if that was a side effect of the radiation/chemo) and it was excruciating.  When she had a bowel movement she would moan or scream out in pain.  It was horrible and there was nothing I could do to help.  Finally it was over, at least that part.

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