I've spent the last couple of days trying to figure out how to write this post. And I'm not sure, even now if I know how to write this. I've been struggling with it for a couple of days and, somewhere deep inside my software, avoidance has been keeping me from thinking about or writing about it.
I mentioned last year that my mom had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and was undergoing treatment for it. I stayed with her for a couple of weeks to take care of her. Let's start there.
Content warnings: Cancer, medical science, stuff in that general sphere. If you don't want to read about it, close the tab and move on with your life. It's okay. No judgement.
Believe me, I wish that I could close the tab and banish this whole situation from the universe.
About two weeks ago as I write this (and I'm telling the backstory as best I can), my mom went with a couple of friends up north to their cabin to get away from everything for a while. Since the last time I wrote about my mom's cancer diagnosis, she's been through two different rounds of chemotherapy. The first, the most commonly used and perfected for all intents and purposes, stopped working some time late last year and those hot spots (the smaller colonies of neoplasm that survived the first salvo) started getting ambitious. Her oncologist started her on a different chemotheraputic protocol to kick them back down.
A couple of months ago, the second protocol stopped working. So the oncologist (who I'm going to continue to not name out of respect for his privacy; while my mom gave explicit permission to write about this, he did not) started a third round of chemo with a brand-new cocktail of drugs.
And, while at the cabin my mom suddenly stopped digesting things, and spent the entire time throwing up everything and anything. And continued to do so after they got back to Pittsburgh. Last Friday or therabouts (Cut me some slack, okay?), after just over a week of being able to eat or drink nothing at all without regurgitating, her friend who has been helping take care of her called 911, whereupon my mom was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. Various forms of medical imaging were employed.
(I'm summarizing here by eliding the hypotheses and leaving only what the professionals know for certain.)
Basically, my mom has what's called a twisted bowel. A couple of loops of small intestine got tangled up and pinched off like a kinked hose. Nothing is able to successfully get all the way through her small intestine so it backs up, intestinal microflora do their thing, and at a certain point up it comes. Unfortunately, this includes everything the gastrointestinal tract manufactures so it's not as simple as not eating for a few days. They inserted a nasogastric tube which, instead of for feeding is used to pump stuff out of her stomach and small intestine to relieve pressure on the obstruction.
I'm rambling. Which means I'm being avoidant again. Deep breath. Another paragraph or two.
The long and the short of it is that mom's cancer, thanks to those hotspots getting too big for their britches, has set up shop in her abdominal cavity and stuck to her intestines. Because cancer cells are sticky (local mirror), when those little nodules of rogue cells touched they adhered and seem to have grown together into a bigger mass, which (after some physical processes I won't pretend to understand) caused her intestines to get twisted up. It's now stage four cancer, which pretty much means that shit got real. Right now the game plan is pretty much to manage the symptoms until they figure out what to do. The rough draft of the plan is to get mom strong enough to start the third round of chemo, which hopefully will chop the hot spots back and allow her small intestine to untwist itself.
I asked her oncologist why radiation therapy hadn't been tried. As it turns out, when it comes to intestinal cancer, radiation eats holes in you. So, no.
The reason they don't want to do surgery unless everything else has failed is because cancer of the intestines (regardless of origin) is particularly nasty. Once they open up the abdomen to treat cancer, and it's metastasized... Well, I guess it's like using a Sawzall. The surgical team isn't sure that she's strong enough to make it through surgery to correct a twisted intestine. And you can't just splice intestines back together, I'm told. And, the way intestinal cancers tend to go when surgery is involved... well.. let's just say it's not the best option.
For reasons I don't feel comfortable getting into right now, I felt it best to drop everything last Sunday afternoon, get a flu shot, grab my go bag, and hop a red eye to Pittsburgh. En route I had a couple of parts of me call in a couple of favors to get a lift from PIT and used my house keys (The Doctor? Using keys? Shit has indeed gotten real.) to get into the homestead. And then, because I was jet lagged to hell, took a shower and got a couple of hours of sleep. When I woke up I got dressed and headed to the hospital to see how my mom was doing.
Let me just say: If you ever get to the point where you know exactly how to get to the correct hospital without thinking about it, I'm sorry.
To put not too fine a point on it, mom looked like a game of Uno in hell. She's lost a great deal of weight and her skin looked like parchment. They'd removed the nasogastric tube before I arrived (which I'm convinced was a mistake on their part) and she was throwing up blood every couple of minutes. I'd much rather never see that again, and I sincerely hope you never do. After I left that afternoon, they put the NG tube back in and started continually pumping the stuff out of her GI tract. I'm told by reliable sources that the process is extremely painful. When I saw her on Tuesday, the new tube was back in, she was on painkillers, and she was looking and sounding much better. Worlds better, in fact. She even got some sleep on Monday afternoon.
However, the battle is not yet over.
And, let me tell you, the stuff they're pumping out of her stomach? Holy cats, it smells nasty. The organic body is amazingly gross when you think about it.
When I saw her on Monday, after the second NG tube was put in, she looked and sounded a whole lot better. She even got some sleep while I was there.
As for what's next? Neither of us have any idea.
More as events develop.