My Mother’s Cancer Journey: The End
In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how to start this post. I’ve stared at the screen, typed and deleted many sentences, closed the laptop, wished I had a shot of tequila in my hand and so on. But I just need to say it: my mother lost her battle with Pancreatic Cancer on March 12, 2015. I’ve waited so long to do this post because I’ve been in denial but I know my mother would want me to finish her story.
When I last posted, it was November, 2014. My mother was in good spirits and we were doing a photo shoot of her rocking her Pancreatic Cancer Awareness sweater which she had received from a close friend of hers. In mid-December, mom got really sick. An ambulance was called and mom was rushed off to the hospital. We all thought this was it. But my mom was a hell of a fighter and by Christmas Day she was well enough that my husband and I signed her out of the hospital for the day and she was able to come to our home for Christmas Dinner. Unfortunately, our dinner was cut short due to mom’s pain pump IV coming loose, but to be able to spend what I knew would be my last Christmas with my mom is something I will never forget and I will cherish that memory forever.
By early January, mom was released from the hospital, only to have to return about a month later. Mom’s memory was starting to go and her confusion meant that sometimes she wouldn’t eat or forget to take her meds. She started to drink the Ensure meal replacement drinks, but those can only do so much and weren’t meant to replace every meal. When she was released in January we had arranged for her to have a PSW attend at her apartment twice a day and a nurse in daily, to ensure she was eating and taking her proper medications, and to give her the help she desperately needed around the apartment.
When my mom was taken to the hospital in February the doctor told my husband and I that “this is it” and to start notifying family. I couldn’t, didn’t want to believe them and as soon as the Doctor left, I broke down. I did what the Doctor said and started to notify immediate family. Eventually mom was moved to the palliative care unit, which started to feel like my mom’s second home. For the second time in less than two months, my mom was fighting back, and winning. After a shorter stay than the first, the Doctor was wrong and mom was released home.
This time was harder though. She needed more support, more checking. I spent as much time as I could with her, seeing her nearly every day. On Saturday, March 7, 2015 my husband and I went to see mom. She told me she had needed to talk to me about something important. Thinking nothing could possibly be worse than being told she had cancer, and then eventually being told there were no treatment options for her, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but she was obviously worried about something. The news she had was that she was going to have to find a new place to live. She had been living with my brother and his girlfriend and they had given their notice to the landlords so my mother would have had to find a new place by May 1st. I told her it wasn’t a problem and we would figure something out. She said her social worker may already have a lead on a place for her, so she was hopeful about that prospect.
When we were in her room we knew something was wrong and not in the sense that we were worried about finding her a place to live, but in how she was acting. She seemed drowsy, and confused. She had a hard time remembering what she wanted to tell us or what she had already told us. I checked her blister pack and she had missed a whole day of pills and hadn’t taken her Saturday morning pills. I reminded her and watched her take them when I was there. We stayed a little longer then left as she was tired and was going to rest.
On Monday, March 9, 2015 I was advised by my brother that he had to call an ambulance for mom and she was being taken to the hospital. When I called the hospital from work that morning, they said I would need to meet with the Doctor. It was later that day that my husband and I met with mom’s Doctor. We were in mom’s room when we met with her. And while my mom was laying in the hospital bed right in front of me, she told me I had to make a decision. Do they treat her, or just keep her comfortable? I felt numb, how do you make a decision like that for your own mother? But this was it, and I was about to make the hardest decision of my life. I told the Doctor I needed a night to think and we agreed that the next day I would meet with the Doctor and give her my decision.
That night I decided that my mother would not be treated, it was time to let her go. My immediate family supported my decision. The hospital could treat her, but she would never be able to go home again. If they treated her all they would be doing was prolonging her suffering. So on Tuesday, March 10 I met with the Doctor and told her my decision. Having to go back to work after seeing my mom and telling the Doctor not to treat my mother was hell. I don’t know how I made it through the day. That night, one of my other brother’s and his girlfriend came up to visit with mom. By this time, she was awake and asking for water, which we sponged into her mouth, and asking for food. Between my brother and I we fed her two apple sauces. I couldn’t believe it. I started doubting my decision. In the end, I knew it was the right one, she was not well. When she told the nurse she was hungry the nurse reminded her that my brother and I had fed her. She couldn’t remember at all.
The next day, on Wednesday, I received a call at work. Mom had taken a turn for the worse and they told me to get down there as soon as I could. I arrived around 2:00 p.m. and they were right. Mom was in bed and there was no more communication. My sister, her mother and my niece arrived shortly after I did as they had planned on coming down anyways. The amount of people that came to visit with mom and sit with her was amazing. I am so happy to be able to say that she was never alone and was surrounded with love and even lots of laughter as people shared stories about my mom. I spent Wednesday night at the hospital (side note – don’t ever ask your husband to pack you an overnight bag. He’ll pack you inappropriate clothing and forget your toothbrush).
Thursday, March 12 was probably the longest day of my life. By 6:00 p.m. myself, my husband, my brother (whom she lived with) and his Fiancee were all seated around her bed. We tried to chat and keep the mood light, all while we were watching to make sure she was still breathing. It was shortly after 8:00 p.m. when we called the nurse in and she confirmed. Mom was gone.
My mom was the strongest woman I know and never gave up. She had been put through hell most of her life and deserved better. She was my biggest supporter and my best friend. She was always there when you needed to talk and loved her family very much, even when they didn’t always show love back to her. She loved her Bingo, her online gaming, fishing, the Toronto Maple Leafs, her smokes and her coffee. She even joked that she would have a cigarette in her hand when she died. She may be gone from this world, but as they say, she will always have a place in our hearts.
I will end by giving you the same advice she always gave me: