Tag Archives: colon cancer

An encore visit to the cat circus

acrocats

The Amazing Acro-Cats

This past weekend, The Amazing Acro-Cats returned to Atlanta for multiple “purrformances.” Of course, I had to go. It is such an entertaining, quirky show. It’s the only time you get to see “cat herding” in literal action. I highly recommend catching a show if they come to your town.

When I saw that the Acro-Cats were going to be in town this time around, my heart clenched a bit. If  you’ve read my book, The Reluctant Caregiver, there’s a darkly humorous account about the first time I attended an Acro-Cats show. The essay is titled, “That Time I Chose the Cat Circus Over My Dying Mother.”

I couldn’t help but remember seeing them in 2015, and how desperately I just wanted one evening free of caregiving duties (at that time, I was a long-distance caregiver, but in contact with Mom daily.) I arranged everything so carefully, got out of work early and called Mom before the performance to let her know I would be unavailable for a couple of hours. I had just settled into my seat in the theatre when my phone rang. It was Mom.

And here’s where the guilt pangs come in. I didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t wait to see if she left a voicemail. Instead, I turned my phone off. “I just want to see the cats,” I screamed inside my head. I was definitely in need of a break, but ignoring my mother’s call and turning my phone off is not my proudest moment as a caregiver.

Of course, throughout the performance, I kept thinking about Mom. Wonder if she had fallen? (She wore a LifeAlert pendant so she did have remote assistance.) Wonder if she was having shortness of breath?  Wonder if she needed to call 911 but couldn’t? Wonder if she was dying right at that moment and wanted to tell me one last time that she loved me? How could I be so selfish?

Immediately after the performance I turned back on my phone and with dread, listened to the voicemail. Mom was asking me to call her doctor in the morning to inquire about her pain medication. She was as “OK” as a dying person can be, and I was relieved my night out hadn’t ended in disaster.

This time, I could enjoy the cat circus without any interruptions, which was bittersweet. Mom would have enjoyed the cat’s antics. Check out a snippet of Oz’s stirring rendition of “Careless Whisper.”

In a sad coincidence, Samantha Martin, the Acro-Cats founder, is now battling stage III colon cancer, exactly what my mother had. She is raising money to offset the costs of not being able to tour while she is recovering from surgery. Martin has done so much to help needy cats, rescuing them and helping them get adopted. She’s also shown the world that cats can learn tricks through her clicker training method. I wish her the best in her recovery. The Acro-Cats will always hold a special place in my heart.

 

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Finding caregivers where you least expect it

I was dreading going to my dental cleaning appointment for multiple reasons. I always dread these appointments because I’m not fond of the forced chatter, especially when there are instruments in my mouth!

The main reason I was dreaded the visit was because the last time I was there, my mother was headed to the emergency room for the last time. I was already on my way to the dentist when I received my mom’s call, saying she couldn’t stand the pain anymore. I remember texting my mom’s personal caregiver from the dentist’s chair. I didn’t tell the staff about the caregiving crisis I was dealing with at the time because frankly, it was none of their business.

Photo: Freeimages.com/Olaf Knauer

Photo: Freeimages.com/Olaf Knauer

I remember sitting in that dentist’s chair over the next hour, my heart pounding, but not for fear of the tools buzzing in my mouth. After all of the ups and downs with my mom’s health over the last couple of years, was this finally it? The real beginning of the end?

In my heart, I knew it was, and it terrified me.

The very next day, I left for New Mexico to be with my mother.

I always have the same dental technician who does my cleaning. She asked the obligatory “how my summer was” question, and instead of just glossing over the question and telling a little white like like I would normally do, I told her the truth. My mother had died, and I had spent the summer dealing with post-death tasks.

She offered her condolences and asked what caused my mother’s death. When I told her colon cancer, she began telling me about her own caregiving experience that she is going through with her father-in-law.

Some of her experiences were similar to mine, in that her father-in-law’s tests came back fine, until he was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. (My mom was diagnosed with Stage III.) He actually collapsed in the emergency room, and that’s what finally forced doctors to figure out a diagnosis.

She said they chose to move him into their home, so they could help take care of him and so that her husband would get to spend extra time with his father. She talked about the guilt her husband felt for not being able to help his dad more, and sooner, something I can totally relate to from my caregiving experience.

The conversation made me think about how many people we come in contact with in our daily lives that are also in a caregiving situation. It’s probably more than we imagine. If I hadn’t opened up, I would never had known that my dental technician was also a caregiver.

Don’t hesitate to share your caregiving story with strangers, if the opportunity arises. You never know what tips or support you may be able to offer each other.

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A return to normal?

So some good news today, and boy did I need some! Mom and I went to see the oncologist, which I was dreading. I had read it was pretty standard for oncologists to order a round of chemotherapy to prevent a recurrence of cancer. I’ve also read the accounts of the wise, brave souls on The Colon Club forum and have a better understanding of how brutal chemo treatments can be, with side effects ranging from the expected (nausea, fatigue) to the bizarre (cold sensitivity so severe that you can’t open the refrigerator without wearing gloves!)

Of course chemo has saved lives, and if an individual chooses to fight their cancer with chemo or radiation, I offer my support and my admiration. I just didn’t feel like it would be the right course of treatment for my mother.

Mom and I at the nursing home on my birthday.

When the oncologist began to talk to us, she said the normal regimen was six months of chemo. My heart sank like a stone. But then she followed it up by saying that due to my mother’s age and the fact that she was beyond 8 weeks after her surgery (due to blood clot complications) that the chemo would not be a benefit to her, and could actually do her real harm. I was pleasantly surprised that the oncologist was honest about the side effects of chemo, especially on the elderly. She said if it were her own mother, she would also not recommend chemo, instead she would suggest a “wait and watch” approach.

That was music to my ears. It was exactly what I was hoping for. So yes, Mom’s cancer may come back at some point. Six months, six years, no one can predict that. But at least Mom can enjoy a better quality of life in the here and now. She’s actually feeling quite well after recovering from her colectomy, and her appetite is great. I don’t want to take all that she’s worked hard to regain from her.

And yes, on a more selfish note, I hope to return home to Atlanta after setting up some kind of additional companion care for Mom.

Just like when we finally had to embrace the fact that Dad had dementia, our lives will not be the old normal again. But at this point, the new normal sounds pretty darn good.

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Handling the curveballs of life

After a three-day respite back home in Atlanta, I’ve returned to Roswell to be with my mom, who is still in rehab at the nursing home. I had a “small world” moment while talking to the cab driver that picked me up from the hotel. It turns out that his wife’s father had dementia and her mom had colon cancer, just like my parents.

I figured it was a good moment to get some feedback on the cancer treatment options in the area from a local. His mother-in-law was diagnosed in the latter stages, but survived two years. She did the chemo treatment, and had good days and bad days. All pretty typical.

What wasn’t so typical is how the wife’s life changed when she moved from the family home in Texas to be with her mom in New Mexico. No doubt it was a hardship and a struggle for the family, but when her mom eventually went into hospice care, the hospice staff were so impressed with the wife’s abilities that they offered her a job! She now runs her own private caregiving agency.

Now, I don’t expect that kind of ending for myself. As I’ve said before, I’m not comfortable in that kind of role. However, could my dad’s dementia and death and now my mom’s illness be creating a new path in life for me? Perhaps. It’s at least worth an exploration. I may end up with no choice but to be a caregiver for my mom. But the attitude and perspective I have in that new role? That is all up to me.

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The diagnosis

So Mom has colon cancer. It wasn’t unexpected news, but hearing it from the doctor makes it very real. The good news is that they were able to surgically remove the tumor, and it had only spread to one lymph node. And right now, Mom has a major surgery recovery to focus on. The cancer will do what it must until Mom is strong enough to fight it.

Mom is tougher than she looks!

As one gets older, it seems that life often comes down to one diagnosis or another. I remember worrying so much about Dad when he had to be whisked away in the ambulance with stomach issues not so different from my mom’s. His turned out to be a fairly benign gallstone. But there was no surgery or cure for the disease robbing him of his mind. Over the course of the last year of his life, he was diagnosed with a medley of infections, and taken on numerous ER visits for falls. Like many elderly, it was the pneumonia that put him closest to death’s door. His body, weakened by the infection, eventually shut down.

The doctors are keeping a close eye on Mom and are trying to help her avoid pneumonia at all costs. Of course I see her weakened, frail body and can’t help but be reminded of Dad. But Mom still has her spirit, and her sense of humor, which sadly Dad lost due to his dementia. I hope this means Mom will have a better chance at getting and staying on the road to recovery.

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Life is full of irony

So it will be awhile before I learn of Mom’s official diagnosis. I predict colon cancer. I hope I’m wrong about that.

But if it does turn out to be cancer, there will be such irony.

For years, before Dad got dementia, I worried about every time his cough worsened, or he had some vague pain somewhere. A smoker since he was 16, I was certain cancer would get him in the end. He was diagnosed with COPD and emphysema, a result of that smoking habit. But somehow, he dodged the cancer bullet. Of course, one could argue that dementia is the worse fate.

Yet my mom, who’s practically a vegetarian, who doesn’t drink and who smoked rarely for only a very brief period when it was trendy for women to do so, she may be the one who cancer nabs. Life truly is a crapshoot. I still believe that it’s better to play the odds and try to live a reasonably healthy lifestyle, but there are no guarantees that clean living will spare you from terrible diseases.

And if my Mom is diagnosed with a benign condition that can be corrected, it’s still a good wake-up call. Make good use of the time you have. We’re all borrowers when it comes to time left on this earth.

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Six months since Dad died

Today is the longest day of the year, in more ways than one for me. On a positive note, while I did not actively participate, I fully support all of those who took part in The Longest Day event sponsored by The Alzheimer’s Association. The stories are so inspiring.

On a sadder note, today is the six month anniversary of my father’s death. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed already. I still think about him often, and not just when I’m writing on this blog. There are still regrets and pangs of guilt to work through.

My parents long ago, before disease caught up to them.

But now, the bad news. My mom has been very ill for over a week now. Symptoms include vomiting (with brown flecks), shortness of breath, bloating and distended stomach, shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of appetite and extreme heartburn. My mom has been in very good health (other than depression and grief over Dad) so I’ve been very concerned. Finally she had some tests done, and per my mom, the doctor said there was a problem with her colon. Since the tests were just xrays, I guess the C-word couldn’t be used until Mom gets a colonoscopy, but of course, my mind is racing to the likely conclusion that she has colon cancer. I hope it turns out to be something more treatable, but it looks like surgery may be in her future.

What’s most troubling is that she couldn’t get an appointment to see a specialist until July 12th. Mom hasn’t been able to keep any food down for over a week. She says her regular doctor is supposed to follow up with her regarding nutrition. I hope so!

(I tried calling her doctor but Mom hasn’t filled out the form that allows me to get information so I’m barred per HIPAA from knowing anything. I’m all for privacy rights but at the moment it’s frustrating.)

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