Tag Archive | cancer treatment

Thanksgiving…. for now…..

Thanksgiving, in our county, is this coming Thursday.

Thanksgiving, in our family, came today.
Actually, today’s Thanksgiving is just one of the many Thanksgiving celebrations we will have.

You see, today, my brother returned to grade school, so to speak.
Today, he received a certificate of accomplishment. A major accomplishment.
He got to ring the bell — the big gold bell…. a well deserved reward.

Today, my brother had his LAST radiation treatment. Quite something to celebrate.

Since early October, he has endured being secured to a table – under a mask, contoured to his  face, neck and upper body, to keep him still and in the same position to receive radiation beams every day, five days a week. He as also sat quietly while chemotherapy drugs coursed through his veins on one of those days each week. All to try to arrest the metastatic papillary thyroid cancer that had become more aggressive…. now, an angry cancer with a mean streak.

While the mask has not been the most comfortable thing, he and the mask have been through a lot and the mask helped to keep him still and in the same position so the radiation beams could be targeted to bombard the cancer, to knock it back.

The initial discomfort of the mask now pales in comparison to the current radiation burns on his neck and chest, his ravaged and raw throat complete with thick mucus that he has to cough up or choke on, the awful metallic taste in his mouth and the nausea and vomiting he battles. Then, there is the fatigue…. only rest and sleep… and more sleep can help that.

There are new medicines to take: painkillers; anti-nausea; cream to sooth his radiation-burned skin; a liquid to swallow to cool and coat his throat and esophagus.

Nutrition now is high calorie ‘shakes’ several times a day, when he can keep them down. Intravenous fluids when he can’t – that really helps him to feel better.

All these radiation treatments and chemotherapy infusions are a direct result of a visit with doctors/specialists in Seattle late last September….when he was to have life-saving surgery. He (and the rest of our family) was mentally prepared for the surgery when everything came to a crashing halt. The cancer had changed, spread, became more aggressive. Instead of surgery, more testing. More waiting and uncertainty. More agony. More sleepless hours for my brother. The testing done, he, along with his wife and middle daughter went into consult with the team of specialists while Dad and I stayed in the waiting room. I felt Mom sitting right there with us… and I was hoping that my brother felt her presence too…. he needed her there… we all did. I know she was. Mom was there to bolster us all as we learned that the life-saving surgery was cancelled. (How can that be? What does that mean? Are they giving up?) The cancer dictated what would take place in his life now. Cancer was much worse than expected. It had spread a lot. Surgery would mean removing his voice box, possibly his trachea and maybe a carotid, maybe more, totally devastating his quality of life and without guarantee it would be all gone. He was sent home, back across the state of Washington to get set up with radiation and chemotherapy at a cancer center in Tri-Cities. The new plan was to try to arrest the cancer, slow it down, anything else was to be considered a bonus. Stunned, does not really describe how we all felt.

He’s endured much, since he was first diagnosed over a year ago. The other day, at his latest appointment his radiation specialist told him that as bad as he feels now, he will surely feel even worse in about two weeks….. then the long, long road back to feeling better. Feeling better will come more slowly than feeling this bad did.

Thanksgiving for the seemingly little, yet GIGANTIC accomplishments like receiving a certificate of accomplishment and the privilege of ringing a big gold bell are worth every blessed moment of celebration.

And… Thanksgiving always reminds me of Mom.
Mom always loved celebrations, any reason to celebrate was reason enough.
Mom always loved celebrating Thanksgiving.
Mom always loved celebrating her family.

Thanksgiving for now will be giving thanks that my brother is still here… still fighting on.
Thanksgiving for now will be giving thanks that my brother has endured his radiation and chemo treatments.
Thanksgiving for now will be our traditional family dinner… yet my brother won’t be able to enjoy the food, just the company of his loving family, the energy of his beautiful granddaughters.

Thanksgiving later…. when he feels better and can eat food again… will be a feast…. a GRAND CELEBRATION. A truly thankful Thanksgiving celebration.

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In Between

Last week my brother and sister-in-law celebrated their 32-wedding anniversary in Rochester, Minnesota.

They weren’t truly celebrating in Rochester by their own choice. They had traveled to Minnesota so that my brother could be examined by specialists. His local endocrinologist had sent him there for highly specialized care.

My brother and his doctor are battling stage 4c papillary thyroid cancer. He’s endured having his thyroid removed, two sessions of radioactive iodine and countless examinations. He’s endured being told that ‘this is the best kind of cancer to have’……. whatever that statement means. He’s endured two surgeries and recovery periods. He’s endured nerve pain and dealing with the scarring due to those surgeries. He’s endured bouts of sleeplessness and swelling that hampers his swallowing. He’s endured the balance of getting enough rest and trying to get back to work. He’s endured his own concern for his family and the high cost of treatment.

Last Friday, my brother called me to let me know of the results of all this testing which included a painful biopsy of tissues in his neck. (I was wrong in thinking that what I read online the day before was correct, that the biopsy would not be all that painful. I know that my brother has a high pain tolerance, so I know that it really hurt.) He told me that he met with a team of specialists.

The surgeon and endocrinologist told him that at this point, surgery was no longer an option, it is a MUST. Beam radiation treatments won’t get all the cancer cells.

The two previous treatments of radioactive iodine had not done their intended job. Now, the small amount of cancer cells that had hidden during the thyroidectomy have grown in number and have become aggressive.

The surgeon gave my brother detailed information regarding the surgery. He also gave him the golf analogy “a hard lie” to express the difficulty of the surgery. Even though my brother does not play golf, he understood the stark reference.

Now he was caught in between a difficult surgery, a known painful recovery and an unknown quality of life … or …. worse, if no treatment, way worse.

A tentative surgery date was schedule.

That’s a lot to digest and deal with.  Calls to family had to be made. Results had to be relayed.

And… as if ALL this was not enough, my brother called me the next day to tell me that the insurance company was balking at coverage. They stated the Mayo Clinic is ‘out of network’ and if that did not change and he went ahead with the surgical treatment there he would be financially responsible for half the cost. I did my best to assure him he’d have help paying for the treatment if he were to go ahead with it. I’d help to pay every month for as long as it took. I’d enlist other family to help him too. He said that they’d have to jump through hoops to get the insurance company to authorize the treatment whether in his home state at a facility approved by the company or after looking over the exam records possibly allowing treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

My brother is caught. Caught in between.

In between the specialists who know how difficult and yet how necessary this surgical treatment is and the insurance company not prepared to cover the cost at a facility ‘out of network.’

In between the necessary treatment and great concern for being so far in debt that he’d never get out.

A tough place to be, yes, ‘a hard lie.’

And, in between the team of specialists and the insurance company.

My brother’s quality of life.

In between

My brother’s life.