Thursday, March 20, 2014

So the Journey begins......

Before I go any further, I have to say thank you, thank you, thank you for all the sweet, kind, caring comments. You never know where your support will come from in times like these and we have wonderful family and friends who are there to lean on, but you, my bloggy friends, have touched my heart and made me cry and smile with your comments. For you who are dealing with or have dealt with the same or similar situations with your parents, please know that you are in my prayers. Friends mean so much, especially at times like these, and you all mean so very, very much to me.

So we begin...

Monday, March 17, Mom had an appointment in Nashville, TN, at Vanderbilt Hospital for 9 AM. She was scheduled to see an otolaryngologist (what a big word). Wikipedia describes this medical professional as an ENT-surgical doctor and states that it is the oldest medical speciality in the US. We were treated with such courtesy and compasssion while there but the most compassionate person cannot blunt the shock of what has to be done. Dr. Mannion did examine Mom and there was a screen where I could watch the camera scope as he took pictures and looked all around her nasal cavity. I have to admit, it was interesting and really didn't bother me as I thought it would. I was able to see the tumor but I couldn't tell where it was exactly other than it is in her nasal cavity. It was hard to tell where he was looking. After the examination, he talked with us about the options and about what she is facing. His recommendation for a cure, a cancer free life, was surgery to remove the tumor and adjoining area to make sure everything is taken and nothing is left to cause problems later. The tumor has broken through the narrow bone between the sinus cavity and the eye and has invaded the muscle there. I can't tell you how hard that announcement was. It is very hard to comfort someone when you, yourself, are falling apart. Dr. Mannion sat and waited and touched Mom gently and we got through it but oh, how hard it was.

After this visit, we were told that we had appointments with 2 other doctors which we didn't know when we went down. Apparently, his office had scheduled these and set them up so we could see everyone that day and save another trip down. Nashville is about 200 miles west of us and it takes around 3-1/2 to 4 hours driving time. Mom was still weak and having trouble walking so my sister, Mom and I went down on Sunday so we could have time to rest before the doctor appointment on Monday. It would have been much too hard on Mom to try to do it all in one day and after we found that we would be seeing 3 doctors in total, I was so glad we had made that decision.

The next appointment, at 10 AM, was with the radiation doctor, Dr. Cmelak. Luckily we were told we could call me Dr. C. Vanderbilt is a HUGE place. We had to walk across the street (luckily on a sky walk) and then down this long, long, long hall. Thank goodness we had borrowed a wheel chair for Mom. She would never have made it if she had had to walk all that way. As it was, we ended up at the wrong elevators and a super nice young lady, after finding out who we were trying to find, took us into his area through the back way and stayed with us to make sure that's where we were suppose to be before she left us. Like I said, super nice people. Dr. C's assisant came in and talked to us and explained about radiation and how it is done. She also explained the side effects and what we could expect if Mom chose that option for treatment. Dr. C, however, told Mom that he didn't feel radiation alone would get rid of the tumor and could do damage to other areas. He told her the best option was surgery and that they were going to get her to 99. She said she wanted to live to be 100 so she could get on the jelly jar. This perplexed Dr. C as neither of us could remember the name of the man who does the "Smuckers Jelly" 100 year old shout outs. He is Willard Scott, a long time weather person on NBC's Today show. Now, once a week, he annouces birthdays of people who have made it 100 years old. Radiation seems so harsh and the side effects are awful but, when if it's your only course of action to rid yourself of this beastly disease, I believe I would jump at the chance. So at this point, we had two opinions that surgery was the best option.

The next appointment, with Dr. Murphy in chemotherapy, was scheduled for 4 PM and we couldn't get in any sooner. So we decided to get away from the hospital for a while and have lunch. Thank goodness, my daughter Abby and sweet baby James had come to be with us for these appointments. She lives close to Nashville and knew a good place for lunch. We all went to Noshville, a deli type restaurant and the food was delicious. Bless James' heart, he was such a cut up and such a delight. He kept all of us smiling. When they brought our food out and set my plate down, he grabbed a french fry off it and grinned. He did eat the french fry so I put 2 or 3 on his little plate for him. He politely put them back on my plate and continued eating them from there. :)  This child makes my heart smile and he was just what we needed at that point. He is such a good baby and so happy most of the time. He really enjoyed flirting with the waitresses and getting pick at by everyone. Abby and James had been with us since the first appointment and now it was nearly 2:30 and he was getting tired and sleepy so she decided to go home and let him have a nap. She sent me a picture of him cuddled up in a blanket sleeping on her chest.

At our last appointment with Dr. Murphy, we were told a lot of what the reports said. She took her time and explained a lot of what was being said. We had been told by the Morristown ENT that the pathology showed that the tumor was melanoma. However, Dr. Murphy said it was carcinoma, which is confusing but I trust the Vanderbilt doctors since this is what they deal with everyday. They were going to order copies of the CT scans and the slides of the biopsy to help make a better determination of exactly what kind of cancer it is. I asked about the stage because I have always heard that the stage determines the treatment. Dr. Mannion said at this point the stage wasn't important, it was just a number. He said if he had to stage it, he would say stage 4. The most important thing is that it is an agressvive form of cancer and hopefully, it was caught early and hasn't spread anywhere. There is no indication that it has spread except a suspect lymph node in Mom's neck which they will remove and examine at surgery. It bothered me that I wasn't told to get the CT scans along with the MRI and PET scans to take down. All I had was the MRI and PET scan but we were told they would get them.

There will be a cancer team meeting this coming Monday, 3/24, and these 3 doctors will get together and discuss further about the options. Then they will let us know when Mom's next appointment will be. One of the good things is that Mom has been healthy for much of her life. She only takes a BP pill and other than some back pain and arthritis, she is very healthy for 82.

As she and I were waiting for my sister to get the car and pick us up after the last appointment, she told me she had decided to have the surgery. She said she had had all day to think about it and about the options and she felt that having the surgery was the best way to defeat the cancer. I had told her I would stick by whatever her decision would be because it really is her life and she is lucid and aware and can very well make her own decisions regarding this.

I saw Mom yesterday and spent the afternoon with her and she seemed more her old self than she has in a long while. She had been dealing with this blockage which was thought to be a sinus infection since before Christmas and now dealing with the prospects of surgery, I wasn't sure how she would be, but Mom is a positive person and tries to always look on the brighter side of things. She has been my rock so many times and has kept me looking toward the bright side. I know that frame of mind will help her deal with all this. That is not to say that there won't be meltdowns. There will be and it is expected, but as Dr. Murphy said, "Allow yourself the meltdown and eat chocolate"! Sounds like good advice to me.

I will close now. Again thank you for all your kind, caring comments. I love you all, my bloggy friends. I'm sorry if this seems rambling, but my mind is still trying to wrap itself around all this.

Thought I would leave you with the photo that has been putting a smile on my face this week.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014


This is going to be a very hard post to write. As I reported in my last post, my Mom had surgery last Thursday on her sinuses. She has been having trouble with infection and nose polyps for 2 months. Thank you for the good wishes. I truly appreciate them.

She came through the surgery fine. The ENT did a biopsy on the polyps and cleared the infection and other gunk out and she woke up happy. She could breathe again and didn't have any thing blocking her nose. However, when the doctor came out to talk to me, he told me he found cancer in her sinus cavity. I was not expecting anything like that. I knew she was blocked and her face was swollen, but I thought once he had cleared all the infection that things would be fine. I hadn't even realized that he would be doing a biopsy. This totally wrecked me for a few moments. My sister had to leave before the end of surgery to go back to Knoxville for a meeting and the only one there with me was my Mom's best friend. I had been trying to get her to go home because she's not in great health herself but she wouldn't leave me. I am so very, very glad she was there. I don't think I could have gotten it together before seeing Mom if she hadn't been there to hug me.

I didn't know how much Mom knew about what had been found but decided I would follow her lead. She was drinking Sprite and eating a popsicle which I saw her in recovery and was ready to come home. She had some bleeding from her nose when she got dressed but we were told that was normal and would happen a few times, especially when she leaned forward. She knew about the biopsy but nothing else.

I kept this to myself all weekend. I had told my sister and my husband and of course, Mom's best friend knew but I didn't tell anyone else. Mom didn't give me any indication that she might have any ideas about anything so I waited.

Today, I took her for her post-op appointment. The doctor told her that he found the cancer and that, more than likely, it was malignant. The tests have not come back conclusively yet, but the only thing that hasn't been determined is the stage. He told her she would need an MRI, PET and would need to go to Vanderbilt Cancer Center in Nashville, TN, to see an ENT oncologist. She said she stopped listening after Vanderbilt. She has been extremely weak and using a walker to get around so after he finished talking to her and doing a rinse out of her nose, I took her to the waiting room and went back to make her appointments. There was a delay in getting through to Vanderbilt so the girl trying to make the appointments told me she would call me with the information later.

After I got Mom home and settled, I told her I had known since Thursday and apologized that I hadn't said anything but she told me she was glad I had kept it to myself. She didn't have to think about it over the weekend.

My Mom has always been healthy and has seldom even had to visit the doctor. Of course, as she has aged, she has had more visits but at 82, she is still very healthy. There are no indications as to where this cancer comes from but is usually seen in workers who have worked around certain chemicals and woodworkers. However, there is no known cause. It is a rare cancer with only about 2,000 cases diagnosed in the US each year. The average age is 64. As you can tell, I've been doing a lot of Googling and trying to find out as much as I can.

So now, we start the process of testing and planning a treatment program. Please remember Mom. She is a strong woman and has always been able to comfort me no matter what has happened to me but now the tables are turned and we (my sister and I) are the ones who need to do the comforting and the care. She has always been my role model for being a mother. There are going to be some rough times ahead. I hope I can be strong for her and help her face this.