The Cancer Tilt-O-Whirl

My mind is staggering between hope and despair, teetering and tottering and reeling about like a child spun on a mad maniacal tilt-o-whirl. So much has happened in the last two weeks that I feel the need for a brief recap to get my head around it.

Tuesday, October 13: I bring Susan to the Emergency Room with suspected intestinal blockage. Blockage confirmed. That’s a problem. A fatal flaw.
Friday, 16: Unrelated to the blockage, a urologist attempts, and fails, to change the tubes that drain her kidneys. A doctor tells me that the plan is to sedate her and let her die. Another doctor manages to tap the kidney, and that particular disaster is averted.
Tuesday, 20: Visiting Susan I find her so weak that she can barely speak. Her doctor tells me that they will make Susan comfortable, but unless the blockage clears she will be dead within days. That night I sit the boys down and tell them that tomorrow they will go to the hospital to say goodbye to their mother.
Wednesday, 21: In the morning the three of us visit Susan, and she is extremely weak and disoriented. On the way out, G calls out cheerily to his mother, “Bye Mommy, see you soon!” and a large chunk of my heart is torn to shreds. In the afternoon I pick up Susan’s parents and sister from the airport and take them straight to the hospital. Susan seems considerably stronger than she had been in the morning.
Thursday, 22: Susan is able to take a lap around her hospital ward, but is still extremely weak. Her speech is slurred and she is easily confused. I consult her doctor, who explains that with no nutrition going in Susan will continue to slowly decline and ultimately die. For long, harrowing days her condition doesn’t improve, but nor does it significantly deteriorate.
Monday, 26: Susan’s sister and I sit down for a visit. At some point Susan casually says, “They’re going to start giving me solid food.” Her sister and I exchange a glance. This is inconceivably momentous news, and Susan delivers it cavalierly, as though she’s telling us that they’re going to change her hosptial gown. I think we both suspect it’s the morphine talking. Uhhmmm, WHAT????

Jorge, her oncologist, had visited her and said, “Susan, don’t you want to go home?” As though she’d been idly lying about in a hospital bed out of her own apathy and inertia. As though she were the last lingering guest at a late-night cocktail party.

Turns out she’d had some output from her intestines, and they were indeed going to slowly start giving her soft food. That night she downed a bottle of apple juice. Some more juice the next morning, and pureed carrots for dinner. This morning when we went in she was served water and some kind of chocolatey pudding/porridge gunk. It wasn’t all that appetizing, but it was, after all, solid food.

While Susan’s sister and I were there Jorge visited Susan once again, and his mere presence, along with his willingness and openness to answering questions – even outlandishly stupid ones – were comforting beyond belief. We joked. We laughed. Susan was present, she was alert, she was alive.

We have no idea how her body will react to the food it is now receiving. But so far so good. They will definitely keep her in the hospital over the weekend, but if all goes well they could release her so she could come home early next week. She could come home.

This is by no means over, and, ultimately, there is only one way this all ends. But when I spoke with the doctor who advocated letting her die ten days ago she said that trying again to drain her kidneys would give her maybe a few more days but they’d be ‘dias malos’ – bad days. She was wrong. These days have allowed Susan to spend time with her parents and her sister. They have allowed the boys to spend time with their mother, laughing and sharing stories. They have opened the possibility that she could come home, if only for a short time.

In a previous post I have likened this journey to a rollercoaster. A painfully obvious metaphor. I wrote that we’re at the very top, about to take the plunge. For now it seems that we’re gratefully cruising the safe middle space, climbing slowly so as to enjoy the view. Click, click, click. It’s possible that we might all arrive safely at the bottom. Together.



6 Comments

  1. I am praying for Susan and your family, I’m glad she is slowly gaining strength. I am hoping and praying she will be home with the family soon. πŸ™πŸ½πŸ™πŸ½πŸ™πŸ½

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  2. This is wonderful news, Matthew. I am glad that you are able to spend more and more happy moments together. Susan is truly an amazing, positive being and does not let the illness dampen her spirit. I wish you guys hopefully a Happy Halloween and lots of pumpkin carving. xxx

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  3. Matt, I am certain you being great joy and comfort to Susan and your boys. I hope they have a little bit of the spunk that you had as a child and I’m very much hoping that you all have time together at home soon.

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  4. You as a family are so wonderful and seem like such a strong and loving unit. You are all in my thoughts. Keep going and enjoying each other’s precious company.
    With love. Liza

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