Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Hard Road

I have shared briefly in the past that I am a caretaker for my Dad who has pancreatic cancer.  For the past two years, I have been taking him to various chemo and radiation appointments, spending countless hours in the hospital with him, and just generally trying to be there for him at home and help with what he needs.

Three years ago my mom died very suddenly of a stroke.  On the one year anniversary of mom's death, we discovered Dad had pancreatic cancer.  He had been feeling sick, and having a few other wierd symptoms like dark urine and itching all over.  He went to see his family doctor, who sent him home with some antacids, and a wait and see attitude.  The next weekend when Dad came to eat dinner with us on a Saturday night, he was yellow!  I took him to the emergency room, and that is where the journey began.  Shortly after that he had a surgery to remove the somewhat small tumor that he had in his pancreas.  I'll never forget the surgeon coming out and telling us that it turned out this small tumor was wrapped around a main vein, and that he would not be able to remove it.  He gave Dad 3-6 months to live.  We took Dad to an oncologist as soon as possible, who said that with chemo and radiation, they may be able to shrink it off the vein, and then do the surgery again.  Months later, after a whole summer of chemo and radiation appointments, it turned out the cancer had been shrunk off of the vein.  Dad was then scheduled to go down to Indianapolis for another very long surgery.  This time they were successful in taking out all the tumor.  Following that, Dad continued to have about 6 months of "preventative chemo" which ended in a bad bout of pneumonia, which he got through.

We believed that Dad may very be one of those in the vast minority, who would beat this cancer.  The statistics for pancreatic cancer are pretty intimidating!  We were praising the Lord for Dad's recovery.

Just when we thought Dad may have this beat....he began to have shortness of breath back in October.  Rob's mom had had a stroke in August, and we were spending a lot of time at the hospital with her and the family.  She unfortunately passed away on October 14th, and Dad had a PET scan result appointment the next day.  It came out clear, showing a tiny bit of fluid around his right lung.  The doctor didn't make a big deal out of this at all, so we left feeling good about another "clear" appointment.  I was so grateful to God for not giving me bad news just one day after the death of my mother-in-law.  However, this good news wouldn't last long.  Dad's shortness of breath got worse, and he ended up in the ER again.  He was admitted with something called a pleural effusion, which would shortly be discovered to be the return of his cancer into the pleural space of his lung!

The oncologist described to us that these cancer cells had been there all along, resisting the chemo that he had post surgery, and just waiting to wreak havoc.  Dad was given 6 months to live without chemotherapy treatment, and maybe a year- possibly a year and a half, with chemo.  Dad has chosen to go the chemo route.   It's been five months of chemo so far, with one scan that showed the cancer has maintained, but not spread yet.

Since Dad started chemo, he has just been a mess of health issues.  He has been to the hospital numerous times for various issues (anemia, kidney stones, severe vertigo), and to have his lung drained.  He is having his lung drained now every 2-3 weeks, to keep him from being so short of breath.  He also complains of almost constant stomach pains, and pains in his side that he takes medications for, especially at night.

For the most part, I feel I have dealt with this new diagnosis pretty well.  I originally felt that Dad had already beaten the odds time wise, and I thought back to when he was first diagnosed and had been given 3-6 months, yet had been with us for 2 more years!  However, in recent weeks, as Dad seems to be declining in his health....I've begun to struggle more emotionally with the whole thing.

I trust God that His timing is right in all of this, but it is becoming very difficult for me to see my Dad go through all of this.  He is still  upbeat a little more than half the time, but he just looks old and sickly, and often struggles with the fact that the chemo is causing him so many more problems than it did in the past.  He is on oxygen at home now, and I think that just adds to my struggle with what he is going through.  It is really beginning to hit me that things will only get worse from here, not better.  I'm beginning to realize that he won't be around to see our children continue to grow.  It's really hitting me hard that before too long now, both my parents will be gone.  They will both be rejoicing in heaven with the savior, which is a wonderful thought on one hand.  But, selfishly....I will no longer have parents (or grandparents) alive on this Earth.  It's a lonely and sad thought!  I really struggle with the idea of selling the house that I grew up in.  The house that still has so much of my mom in it.  I  really struggle with the realization that I may not be able to facilitate Dad staying at home to die when that time comes.  I know this is what he wants, but I'm not sure we can logistically work that out for him.  I struggle with seeing him in pain, and seeing him suffer in the months to come (however many there will be).  I wish there was some way to fix it, and make things right again, but I know there is not. We still pray for God's healing, but we realize that this may be a complete healing, by him going home to be with Christ (and mom).

It's hard to see how the older kids still struggle so much with the loss of their grandmas, and now they will be facing the loss of their grandpa as well.  The little ones will never even remember him, as they won't remember Rob's mom or my mom.  They will have to rely on stories from their older brothers and sisters about what it was like when all their grandparents were alive and a very regular part of their lives.

If you are reading this today, and are a believer in the power of prayer.  Please pray for our family as we continue to deal emotionally and logistically with this horrible cancer, and face the seemingly inevitable loss of my Dad.  Pray that I will be able to find a way to keep him at home even when things get really rough. I will share on occassion what is happening with Dad, and will maybe sometimes vent about my feelings about what is happening.  If you are, or have had a sick parent that you have had to take care of, I would love to hear from you about what you went through, or are going through. I would love to pray for you as I'm sure you are dealing with many of the same things that our family is going through in this.

I take great comfort in knowing that my parents will be with the Lord, and we will see them again someday in glory, but today....I'm just feeling the load of emotions that goes with the loss of a parent.

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth, our family is praying for yours! Though we are far apart, I'll always be listening when you blog next to "vent" and sort out your thoughts! We will be taking this matter to the throne room for you until there is healing whether earthly or eternal! Hugs!


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