A year ago my mom was living by herself. Even though she lived far away, we spoke on the phone every day. One day she calls and tells me that she’s in the hospital, but to not worry, “they’re just doing some tests.” My mom has always been an avoider. I knew that if she was in the hospital something was terribly wrong. I hung up the phone, told my husband, and within 5 hours was flying out to see her.
When I got there I was shocked. She was so thin I almost didn’t even recognize her. She was skin and bones. She showed her belly. It was huge! She looked like she was 9 months pregnant. I was shocked, angry, scared, and all of those emotions raped into one. I asked her why she didn’t tell me what was happening and my mom being the person she is, said “I didn’t want to bother you”.
After a week in the hospital and several tests later, the doctor concluded she had ovarian cancer. According to my mom, the belly growth happened suddenly, within a month. The only other indicators were that she was frequently constipated, she had a swollen knee (which she blamed on her arthritis), and she was too tired to do the things she did normally. Later I found out that she had also been having some abdominal pain, but then she ignored it.
My mom never thought that she would get cancer. It rocked both of our worlds.
We had to act quickly. I told her she had to fly back with me, which of course she didn’t want to. After some persuasion, she gave up and realized that there was better treatment available where I lived and accepted that it was for the best.
Once in California, she spent 2 weeks in the hospital while they prepped her for surgery. The doctors decided that they would remove the tumor and then do chemo. Surgery was a 7 hour ordeal. She did make it through, they did however, have to put in a colostomy bag, because the cancer had destroyed a large part of both intestines. That was horrible news. One the hand, she’s alive and on the other she has the horrible thing she has to live with for ever. Once my mom woke up from the anesthesia, it was my job to tell her about the colostomy bag. I tried to be brave while I said it, but the tears just rolled out. I explained how her life would now be different and that we would both need to learn how to take care of the colostomy. She asked, “is it temporary?” Again, crying I said, no. She said, “well, at least I’m alive and I am grateful for that”.
After this she went to the hospital many times due to complications. In fact, we know most of the nurses that work on the F3 unit at Stanford because of this. It’s during this time that she had an MRI done and they discovered that she had brain cancer too. The tumor was inoperable because of it’s location. They decided that since they couldn’t do anything, to just monitor it.
Chemo treatment was next. She got 2 chemicals. Apparently, there are many chemical options available and the doctors choose the ones that they think will work best for your situation. She had to go to treatment once a week for 18 weeks. I drove her there and sat with her during the treatment. Each time it took from 4-6 hours. She eventually got a port so that it would be easier to get the chemicals into her instead of poking her each time.
Chemo was over and she was cancer free (in remission) for 4 months. I can read my mom pretty well. I could tell that she wasn’t feeling well, but she wasn’t telling me. She just had that look. The Cancer AG 125 is a test she had done every 4 weeks. It was an indicator of whether the cancer was back or not. Her score had to stay below 35. It had consistently stayed low, until it started going up by 1 point the first month, then 3 points the next, but it was still under 35.
My mom started complaining about having stomach aches and then one day, everything she ate she threw up. I took back to ER and she got admitted to the hospital. They did a bunch of tests again and again the doctor told us that the cancer had returned and this time it had spread to her liver and across her entire abdomen. In fact, the doctor said that it looked like Vahn Goh’s Starry Night.
They did another MRI and discovered that the brain tumor was still there, it was growing, and there was another one in another region of the brain. At this point the doctor told us that there was nothing more they could do.
We decided that hospice care would be the best choice. They would help make her comfortable for the remainder of her life. That’s where we are now. She no longer lives the house. She does walk, talk, and is stable at this point. I bring her books from the library and we watch Disney movies together. I’m doing what I can to make the time she has left a happy time.
A few things to learn from my mom’s situation:
- Early prevention is key. My mom waited too long to do something about her problem. Ovarian cancer tends to not be detected until it is a stage 3 or 4.
- Know the warning signs. Simple things like a swollen ankle or knee can be an early indicator. Feel tired is your body’s way of telling you there’s something wrong.
- If you have a family history of it, tell your doctor and get the Cancer AG 125 test done. It will serve as a starting point in case later it goes up, you have something to compare it to.
- Ovarian cancer can start at the ovaries, but spread to other parts of the body.