Hi out there! Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Valentine's Day! :)
I keep thinking that I'm not sure where to start concerning what has happened around here over the last two months, so I'm just going to start from the beginning and see how many posts I can fill.
The day after my last post, December 23, the bottom fell out of my family's world. My mom called me at 5:30 that morning to tell me that her cousin was in the hospital and it didn't look too good. Actually, I should back up just a little. My Cubub (I couldn't say Cousin Barb when I was little, so I called her Cubub and have ever since) is my mom's first cousin and the main reason why we moved to Colorado from California. Cubub and her husband Bill moved around a lot over the years, but when they settled in CO, they couldn't say enough positive things about it. My parents came out to visit them and decided then that they wanted to move here. Cubub's son Steven and his family lived here too, so they were the only people my parents knew when they moved. I think it's safe to say that my mom was closest to Cubub than any other relative of hers, even though she's about 6 years older than my mom. So about a week after Thanksgiving, we find out that Cubub has been admitted to the hospital due to weakness and blood coming from her rectum. They kept her about 3 or four days and ran a lot of tests, finally discharging her with a diagnosis of diverticulitis. Less than a week later, she received a call from her doctor that the results of the scans were in and they found spots on her liver and lungs that were suspicious. She went in to have one on her liver biopsied and the results from that confirmed that she had liver cancer that probably spread to her lungs. They went to the cancer center and learned that she had small cell cancer and that chemotherapy was usually pretty successful at putting the cancer in remission. It wouldn't cure her of it, but would buy her time. She was adamant that she wanted to start chemo as soon as possible, so on December 21, she had her first dose of chemo, followed by the second on the 22nd. She was supposed to have the third on the 23rd and then go back to be re-scanned to see how the cancer reacted. Unfortunately, that's not what happened.
Later in the day after her second dose, she started coughing and it got worse very fast. Her doctor took an xray and she had pneumonia, so he sent her to the hospital. As she was being admitted, she started gasping for air and within moments she lost consciousness and stopped breathing. They inserted a ventilator and sent her to the ICU, where they told her husband and daughter-in-law that with her bone marrow wiped out from the chemo, she was in very bad shape. Now you're mostly caught up, so after getting the call from my mom, I decided that work was not where I should be that day and went with my mom to the hospital. I became the information messenger for my sisters, cousin and aunt who all live out of state. The text messages and calls were constant and after arriving at the hospital around 7am, we didn't leave until after 4 that evening, except to force Bill out to Denny's so that he would eat something. My sister who is a nurse kept asking me questions about Cubub's heart rate and blood sugar (she was diabetic) and white blood count, which I couldn't figure out from the displays on the many machines they had her hooked up to. So I explained the situation to her nurse and that woman became my best friend. She answered every single question and even gave me more than I asked for, knowing that my sister would understand and could explain it to us. She was amazing. She was also honest and told me that Cubub was very sick and was helpless against any infection, because her WBC was practically nonexistent. My sister was not optimistic either.
For a week, we went to the hospital every day, supporting Bill and their only surviving son (their other son died 3 years ago at the age of 47 from a massive heart attack) and trying to understand not only what happened but also what might happen. She was sedated the majority of the time, but they did bring her out to try to get her to breathe off the ventilator, with no success. Her WBC didn't come back like they hoped and she kept spiking fevers, even though she was on a constant flow of antibiotics. Bill had decided from day one that she would be DNR, knowing that she wouldn't want to be kept alive by machines. Plus they said that in her condition, doing CPR would do damage that her body just wouldn't be able to handle. On New Year's Eve, we were told that there wasn't anything else they could do for her in ICU and that the next step would be to give her a trach and transfer her to a long-term care facility. Her nurse told us that in her opinion, Cubub would probably never get off the trach after that. She probably wouldn't have any quality of life. Until that point, we were going to see her every day thinking that maybe she could get better. She would sometimes nod or kind of smile while we talked to her, but her eyes never focused on anyone and she wasn't really coherent. Her nurse and then the oncologist who we talked to, confirmed that after this reaction, they wouldn't recommend more chemo and the kind that she had was very aggressive to boot. He thought she'd probably have about 6 months, at the most. We agreed with Bill that it made no sense to put her on a trach just to have to fight the effects of the cancer for the remaining months of her life. He told them that he didn't want her put on the trach and it was decided that they would remove the vent and see what happened. If she started breathing on her own, Bill wanted to take her home if possible and they'd do whatever was necessary to make her comfortable. If she didn't breathe once the vent was removed (which they suspected would happen), we'd let her go.
Cubub's parents and brother drove in from Utah, as well as family from Idaho. My grandma and uncle drove from California. We all assembled at the hospital on the evening of January 4 and the wonderful people in the ICU allowed us to break the "2 visitor" rule as we crowded 15 people in and near her room. Everyone would have a chance to see and be with her before the vent was removed. There were hugs among family who hadn't seen each other in a very long time, in some cases it had been 20 years. We cried as we went in and out of her room, letting everyone near her for spells of time. I was in her room more than not, usually occupying her left side and either holding her hand or touching her foot. I couldn't stand it when she wasn't being touched by someone, so I took it upon myself. There were many who talked to her and encouraged and/or pleaded with her to be strong and breathe when it was time to remove the vent. Just before it was time, as each person made their choice to either stay in the room or wait in the lounge, I kissed her forehead and whispered in her ear. I told her that it was okay if it was too hard. That we would take care of each other. That she was surrounded by love, not just in the hospital, but from all those who couldn't be there. And that I loved her to the moon and back. I was a sobbing mess, but I knew that I needed to tell her.
When they removed the vent, there were just 8 of us in the room, other than the nurses. She lasted less than 20 minutes, her body trying to do what was necessary, but what it just wasn't strong enough for. We all watched her heart rate slow and her breaths grow farther and farther apart, until her heart stopped. Her son and husband crumpled into each other; her grandson and daughter-in-law moaned and sobbed loudly and my mom held her 83 year old aunt (Cubub's mom) as they grieved together. I stood at the foot of the bed with my hand on my Cubub's foot as tears ran down my face. I was devastated, but that emotion was about my own sadness that she was not in my life anymore. I was not sad for her, I was actually so relieved that she was not in that condition any longer. Laying in a bed, on the ventilator, a central line for easy access and catheters for her waste was not how she would have wanted to live. And I was so thankful that Bill was strong enough to know that and to be her advocate and to love her enough to say when it was enough. And it was.
My Cubub died on January 4 and that evening I got a text message from a dear friend that her son was born that morning. It helped a great deal to be reminded that life does go on.