Today is the last day of October and the annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I haven’t personally had to deal with this disease or any other cancer for that matter,but I have known enough friends and family who have. While I can’t take the spook out of their their diagnosis, I have learned ways to offer support to them on their road to recovery.
One person that I have been able to help as she has gone through her cancer treatments, has been my husband’s cousin, Carolyn W. I have shared her amazing miracle battle with gall bladder cancer previously on the blog.
Since her original diagnosis and subsequent remission, she has had two recurrences. In 2012, a mass was found in her colon that had to be removed and then earlier this year, the gall bladder cancer showed up again, this time in one of her lymph nodes, and had to be treated.
It was with this latest bout, that I was able to more actively participate in her care. Carolyn had to return to a regular regime of chemotherapy at the City of Hope in Duarte, California. Because her husband works, she needed to find rides to the hospital to receive her care. I was fortunate to be able to take her on one of her visits and see first hand her bravery as she went through her treatment routine.
First, she checked in at the nurse’s station. She had what looked like a credit card containing her personal information that was run through a scanner. The nurse gave her a hospital ID bracelet that she wore during her stay. Next, we went to get her blood work done. This was all done through a port in her chest. The same port was used later on when the chemotherapy was administered.
After the blood work, we went to a waiting area to wait for her doctor to see her. We sat with other cancer patients and their companions. They were of all ages and genders. Some wore masks to ward off germs in their frail state. Some wore scarves to cover their balding heads. It was quiet and solemn. Each patient trudging along their personal cancer journey.
After about 20 minutes, Carolyn’s name was called to meet with her doctor. Her vitals were checked again for the umpteenth time and she was weighed in. When the doctor entered, he looked over her chart and saw that her blood pressure had risen. He asked Carolyn about other symptoms she was having. She reported she had had headaches, back aches, and wasn’t sleeping well. Perhaps these symptoms were a result of her anxiety of knowing another chemo treatment was on its way. Her blood count came back within range so she was eligible to continue with her treatment that day.
We went to another area of the hospital where the chemo was given. Because the beds were full, Carolyn had to go to a two-patient room. She set up camp on her bed unloading books, movies, crafts — all kinds of activities to occupy her six hours of infusion. I observed, chatted and listened. She ate a healthy lunch while her treatment was going on and drank lots of fluids. When the treatment was over, the nurse unhooked the tubes from her port and Carolyn packed up her belongings. We walked out of the hospital and headed out to the car for the 45 minute return trip home.
The next 4 or 5 days are always a blur for Carolyn and anyone else who receives chemotherapy. She is required to drink 120 ounces of fluids for the first two days to flush out the poison, so she doesn’t go very far from a bathroom. She is nauseous, tired, achy. And then, after the five days, she begins to feel more like herself and begins to resume her normal life. That is, until the whole cycle repeats itself. she has to go through this every other week for six months until her treatment is complete.
Carolyn gets through this ordeal with the care and concern from family and friends. What does she appreciate most? Phone calls, text messages and notes of encouragement that come out of the blue. She also has a soft, fluffy purple pillow that a friend gave her, close by for added comfort. These are the things that lift her spirits and gives her the strength to carry on.
I hope I can be as brave should this diagnosis ever come my way. But for now, I can offer my best smile, consistent optimism, and a kind word to those in need. With my help and support, their cancer doesn’t have to be such a spooky affair.
Have you helped a loved one recover from a debilitating disease?