It is unusual for a person to develop three different cancers. Mom's third cancer developed in the left lung. Various factors make the mass inoperable. Surgical removal of the upper half of her lung could cure her of this cancer. However, her age and having Congestive Pulmonary Obstructive Disease (COPD) makes surgery a much riskier proposition. In addition, the mass is close to her aortic artery and the esophagus. The proximity of the mass to the artery increases the risk of surgery even more.
Other treatments include chemotherapy and radiation. As previously mentioned, the location of the mass to esophagus presents problems with radiation treatments that could damage the esophagus and the other lung. The drawback to chemotherapy is that it causes nausea and weakness and is disruptive to one’s daily life. It also compromises the immune system leaving her vulnerable to infections and pneumonia. Moreover, chemotherapy might add, at most, three months to her life.
The outcomes for the previous options are bleak. Aside from the side effects of chemotherapy she could bleed to death on the operating table. If she survived an operation, surgery could make her a pulmonary cripple. More than likely, as a pulmonary cripple, she would no longer be ambulatory. She would require assistance to move from the bed to a bedside commode or be bedridden all together. This does not include frequent doctors visits and hospital stays that inevitably lead to more testing and probing needles.
The most that we, her children, can hope for is that she will eventually sleep more and as the tumor grows eventually fall into a comatose state, as suggested by a cancer specialist who works at the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, in Columbia, Missouri. We hope mom will not have to suffer continuous pain. Pending the time we can no longer converse and laugh with, mom, we will take every opportunity to spend time with her. With each precious moment, we try to glean memories from her past (before we came into being) and share stories that intertwine with our own lives.
At this time, science and research cannot offer cancer patients in mom’s position medical treatments that are not detrimental to the quality of life. Until better treatment and therapy exists, discussing quality of life issues should always go into the decision-making process. If you would like to learn more about cancer read, How Does Cancer Form, by Elisa Coffman, retired nurse and paramedic (and my sister).
Hospice helped us and our mom when she became bedridden. Thankfully, mom was active until about two weeks before her death. She did as the doctor hoped would happen at the end of her life. She grew sleepy more often until she fell into a coma. Because of Hospice the family was able to give mom most of her care. Her doctor notified Hospice when the time came for "end of life" care. They made sure we had everything we needed to care for mom. At our request, they did not intervene unless we asked them to.
Thankfully, our sister, Lisa, is a retired nurse and paramedic. We were lucky to have her knowledge to fall back on. She guided us through mom's transition from life to death. Even when Lisa's heart was breaking, her professionalism did not fail her. All of us are grateful that she was there. She kept her promise to mom that she would make sure she did not suffer. Mom was always afraid of pain, which surprised us kids. We witnessed a woman who had a high pain tolerance.
I remember with awe, how courageously mom took the news of her demise. After she knew her options, mom opted for quality of life. She became an example to her children and loved ones. She showed us that dying need not be suffering and fear. She died bravely without complaint. She felt her strength waning and her breath became more labored upon exertion. But she did not stop living. She never stopped worrying about her kids and she was more than glad to advise us when we needed her support. Mom tolerated our human frailties as do most mothers. She never stopped loving us and we haven’t stopped loving her. She loved her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren because they were the children of her kids. We all are a continuation of mom.