When It Got Really Personal
I feel fortunate to be a member of the committee that started our Foothills Relay For Life in 2001. Fifteen years later my reason for Relaying has shifted dramatically.
My dad fought prostate cancer in 2001 and thankfully he has been clean of any ill effects since. I Relayed for him and I Relayed to raise money to find a cure. Then I Relayed in honor of and eventually in memory of friends like Wade, Laura and John. Later I relayed in memory of my aunts Erika and Norma. I felt thankful that my immediate family was healthy and we all Relayed together.
In December of 2013 that artificial wall of protection crashed down on our family. My mom was not feeling well and after two trips to the ER she received the shocking news via a phone call, “You have stage 4 ovarian cancer.” In a split second we went from our normal family life we had enjoyed into a full-blown battle for survival.
I stepped into the primary caregiver role and instantly enrolled in “learn as you go medical school.” As my mom struggled with pain and the corresponding pain meds, then with septic shock which landed her in ICU with acute pulmonary and kidney failure, we listened to every word from the nurses and doctors. We asked the hard questions and we thought she’d never even get a chance to fight the cancer that caused these life threatening side effects.
Miraculously, she fought through sepsis and, after a week where she had to point to an alphabet to explain her thoughts due to the oxygen tube in her lungs, she was rolled back into a regular room at the hospital. Kaiser Sunset was our home for a full 30 days. Thanks to help from my wife, my sister, my aunt and one or two friends, we were able to make sure that my mom had someone with her in the room the entire time she was in the hospital.
The prognosis was a tough road of three chemo treatments, surgery to remove the cancer and then three more chemo treatments. My mom decided she was up for the initial chemo treatment while still in the hospital and she received that IV drip while she slept. It was very hard on her, but after a few days she felt better.
Things were still tough, but in the first few days of February we brought my mom to her house for her to get stronger and reach the second chemo treatment. At this point, she hadn’t been out of the bed for more than a few minutes in a month and her muscles had atrophied to a point where she could barely sit up.
During the wait for the second round of chemo, the whole family prayed for a miracle and my mom met with social workers and palliative care nurses.
I’ll always remember the meeting with the social worker when my mom said she didn’t want to continue treatment. The pain was overwhelming and only the strongest pain meds could take the edge off.
As her son, and now as her caregiver, this was devastating news that caused us to cry together for three straight days. The whole family rallied to support her decision and the conversations with her grandkids were the most heart-wrenching talks I have ever experienced. We spent the last few weeks of her life listening to music together (Cat Stevens, Elvis, Elton John, etc.), looking through old photos, coordinating her arrangements and bringing in her closest friends and clients for what would be their final visits.
March 15, 2014 was her final day and the whole family was holding hands and holding her as she departed. It was both excruciatingly painful and amazingly freeing. My reason to Relay had just gotten really personal. Cancer took my mom, our mom, our kids’ grandmother, an amazing woman, a valuable friend – and it wasn’t fair, it isn’t fair, it will never be fair.
As they say, time heals all wounds, but the pain is bubbling right below the surface and the loss is felt every single day. Relay For Life was a place my mom and I volunteered together for 13 years. It was a place we focused on others’ fights, on others’ losses. We still Relay for others, but now my mom is at the top of our list of Reasons to Relay.
Form a team, join a team or just come out for 24 hours you’ll never forget. Cancer never sleeps and, with your help, we can help fund the search for the cure and the other services provided by the American Cancer Society.
See you on April 11th at Clark Magnet High School. I’ll be in the Team Clean Sweep booth.
Foothills Relay for Life is still looking for teams to join the fight. To join, go to www.relayforlife.org, enter the 91214 zip code, click on Relay for Life of Foothills and start a team or join a team.
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.