The Final Steps of the Journey

Those of you who know me know that I'm a glass-is-half-full person.  I always look for the positive in situations; the silver lining in the clouds.  I can usually see humor...sometimes in the strangest places.  And, I live by the credo:  Just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward, no matter what.

Today, I'm struggling.  I'm in shock.  And, I'm finding it awfully hard to find anything positive to say.

First, some background.  Most of you know that my mother (AKA:  Nana/Momma/Edith or N/M/E) lives with us...has lived with us since my Daddy died nearly 21 years ago.  I know, I know...that arrangement doesn't work for everyone, and we've certainly had our share of rough spots along the way.  Three generations under one roof for many of those years.  Fortunately, we've made it this far, and we're all still speaking to one another.

Mom's had more than her fair share of health concerns in her lifetime.  She's endured so many surgeries that we typically need two pages to list them all when we fill out forms in doctors' offices. And, while she's had the usual appendectomy, hysterectomy, and gall bladder surgery, she's also had some other interesting medical procedures. 

Ever heard of Mohs Micrographic surgery?  That was for skin cancers on her nose, neck, and ears.  How about a Level 5 Lumbar fusion with 10 pedicle screws and a TLIF (transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion) cage?  Hoo-boy, she lights up an xray screen...and you wouldn't want to get behind her in the Airport Security line.  That was her second back surgery, by the way.  Then there was the Morton's neuroma surgery on both feet.  Oh, and breaking her ankle while recovering from cataract surgery (both eyes).  Rotator cuff surgery, twice on the right shoulder...and it still didn't work. Knee replacement, right knee?  Piece of cake, comparatively.  And when she had lobectomy surgery in 1998 to remove a Stage 1 lung cancer and lower left lobe, a pulmonary something-or-other was nicked accidentally, causing fluid to leak...and the subsequent surgery to repair the damage from the first surgery was preceded by mandatory consumption of a half-gallon of Haagen Daz ice cream at 4:00 a.m.  Oh yes, that one was written up in the medical journals.

Even with all of that, we weren't prepared for the news we got this week.  We'd spent much of Monday at the doctor's office, seeking help for the source of Mom's latest issue:  diagnosis of a sharp, stabbing pain under her rib cage, left side.  No, she hasn't fallen...well, at least not in the last 3 months or so.  (The last fall tore the left rotator cuff and left her with extremely limited mobility in both arms.) 

After examining her, Doctor K...dear, sweet man that he is...seemed to think she had a "spontaneous rib fracture."  Well, why didn't I think of that?  Could it be because I'd never heard of such a thing!  He ordered a chest xray, and we headed down to the first floor radiology center.  No need for us to hang around for the results, he said; he'd call us at home tomorrow with the report.

By the next morning, I had 4 voice messages from his nurse on my cell phone (which I'd left in the car overnight).  He wanted to see us as soon as possible; could we please come into the office when we got the message(s)?

There really is no easy way to tell someone that he/she has lung cancer.  Still, Dr. K did a superb job of presenting the news with kindness and concern and caring.  Since his own mother is about the same age as Mom, and experiencing multiple health problems of her own, his level of compassion is considerably higher than most doctors you encounter.  He told us what the radiologist had found and what Mom's options were.  Most importantly, he gave Mom the permission she needed to choose palliative care instead of curative treatment, and assured her that he's on board for hospice care, when that time comes.

Speaking of time...who knows?  Could be weeks, months, or even a year or more.  I'm sure I'll want more than what we'll have.

When Mom's niece and my first cousin died, Mom wondered out loud:  why am I still here, when I'm so much older than she was?  I hazarded a guess that it was because we (our generation of cousins) needed her (the last surviving member of her generation on two branches of her family tree) to teach us how to be the surviving members of a generation.  She would be our guide.

After Wednesday, my answer has changed somewhat.  We still need her as our guide, only now it's to teach us how to finish the journey we started.


Jeanne said…
Wow - I just read this after finding my way to your blog tonight - how beautifully written - how loving - and how loving you have been to your mother all these years. We can all learn from you all.
Praying for you all, Jeanne

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