A sunny warm day surrounded us as we entered the ER at the request of the Primary Doctor. The hope was to diagnose and remedy Merle's constant back pain.
Night comes quickly in the fading autumn days. In the dark of the night the "CANCER" word appeared, flowing from the mouth of the ER Doc. A litany of words liver tumors, chemo, oncology, radiation. "Words" so familiar in todays world and yet so heart chilling.
Later I had him repeat them to be sure we heard right. “ How could this be”? He had been to the Doctor so many times that year. To go from Rotator Cuff to Shingles to CANCER!
By this time he was totally exhausted from the tests, the pain, nausea, and the pain easing meds. We were told to go home [it was not a sprint but a marathon]. “In my heart of hearts” wish we had not gone. But left we did, minds in a muddle, bodies on auto pilot.
As I walked into the house, I felt the cold, the uncertainty and knew from the bottom of my soul there were many more speed bumps to challenge.
Family gathered, chatted moving the day along keeping the tears and fears silently at bay.
That afternoon another “C” diagnosis “lung cancer”. For him the days that followed were consumed with pain, more tests, liver and lung biopsy's. A most disconcerting collapsed lung with accompanied chest tube.
We talked with so many Doctors, Hospitalists, Oncologists, Surgeons, Radiologists, who knows what they all were!? “Of course I wrote it down.”
In the midst of all this and surrounded by family we celebrated his 80th birthday. His chest tube had just been removed, yet somehow he smiled and his sense of humor surfaced.
We all smiled, sang, ate cake, kept our tears inside. It was a bitter-sweet day. For all who know: the family “also” receives the “C” diagnosis!
Merle came home with a plan for radiation later to have chemo. Scripts for meds including pain. That of course is whole other story but, we got all he needed. Hospital bed tucked in a corner [convenient to the thermostat]. Yet another story!
“His” first project while I was off dealing with the pharmacy was to order expanded cable, what fun! And yet another story!
A MRI showed among other things a fractured vertebrae [part of the reason for severe pain]. It was decided to do a kyphoplasty [to stabilize the vertebrae].
A subsequent nuclear [pet scan] revealed multiple lesions on the dome of the liver, left lung, right and left hilar nodes, adrenals, spine and pelvis. Therefore the word “Metastasis” came into play. “That” certainly “explained” pain!
Family walked the journey with him. Some in person, some in thought, some in deed, always in prayer.
The back surgery and planned regimen of radiation were completed, easing his pain “somewhat”.
At this point he decided a break was needed before starting oral chemo.
The weeks to come were filled with courage, nights of meltdowns. Always voicing his love of family and grateful to God for “all” of them, concern “had he done enough”. Yet as he walked thru “the valley” drew comfort in “all was well with his soul”. In one of his “many” lengthy nightly chats, he told me “God knows I am coming” and I have questions for St. Peter. Although he was famous for his lists I never found the one with questions for St. Peter, nor the list he had when he met with Pastor Konrad, both would have been a classics!
Christmas was celebrated, so grateful for the gift of time. Precious family memories stored in the archives of our minds. Tender moments reaching across the miles in special phone time with dear loved ones.
New years was ushered in, another special family time. Optimism for the coming days and joyful anticipation of the coming grand baby.
He began the oral chemo [with hope and prayers]. It was a “slippery slope”. At that point I think his body was saying “I've had enough” but he was determined!
On a stormy night he was admitted to the hospital. There were a couple of days feeling better [better meds] and then: The beginning of the end. With a heavy heart the DNR order was signed. Probably the most soul searching decision in life. With family support met with Oncology staff and wheels were put in motion for Hospice. Barely here he was settled into that final earthly shelter.
Family gathered together with him “one last time”. What a “blessing”!
His Hospice stay was a scarce 15 hours. Dawn broke early that day as he entered Heavens Gates. Glad his pain had ended our hearts broke as we stood together and watched his earthly body leave our sight.
God gave us the gift of three months. Time to share time to say one last time “I love you”. Words not everyone has the opportunity to say. This was “His Journey, His Pain, His Courage”. I am “forever grateful” for the loved ones that walked that journey with him as “the days dwindled down”. “Grateful” for the words of tribute and love both voiced and silent.
As the hauntingly beautiful notes from Makayla”s flute echoed “Sleep In Heavenly Peace” I knew he was resting in God’s arms. “Chances Are” he would not rest long he would get up and check it out!
There are other stories tucked within “the nooks and crannies” of these three months and his life. Better told another time or better yet shared in voice together “remembering”. He was a true “Scorpio” funny, blunt, loyal, generous, honest, friendly, loved sports and remotes! Never gave up the quest to learn. Possessions to him were not important, but people were as he so showed in his love for “all of us”.
For me writing this was a catharsis putting to rest the grievers guilt of woulda, shoulda, coulda. And to feel in my heart I had “done enough”. And to let those who cherish him also know “He had indeed done enough”. My gratitude for God allowing me to share life with him and blessing me with the privilege and strength to care and share: That final time “and the days dwindled down”.