Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 14, 2014

Good from bad

This Valentine's Day will be a bit different for our family. Mom is due to arrive home after being gone about a month. But she wasn't on the kind of trip anyone would want to take.

On Jan. 15, she fell getting out of bed. Just to make sure everything was fine, she went to the local hospital. Except for a minor cut on her hand, all looked well. The doctors thought she might have a touch of pneumonia, yet the pneumonia culture came back negative. So a Computed Tomography (CT) scan was ordered. It revealed a spot on her left lung.

"Uh-oh," was my first thought. Mom had a mastectomy on her left side two years ago, and I thought maybe the cancer had spread. Of course, I still hoped it was nothing.

On Jan. 18, Mom was moved to a transitional facility at Meadowlark Hills, a local nursing home. The plan was to work a bit on her general strength and balance while further diagnostics were completed. Her companion Stan jokingly calls it a "half-way house" and that is pretty accurate. She would receive routine physical and occupational therapy. (Those terms have always made me smile as one sounds as if a person is training to be an athlete, while the other appears to be job related. But in reality, they roughly just refer to below the waist and above the waist, respectively.)

She would also receive good meals and, maybe the most important, socializing! Mom, at nearly 90, is what I call a "social butterfly." She likes to know what is going on around her and meeting people.

Things began unfolding according to that plan. When Jan. 23 arrived - a frigid day if there ever was one - it was time for the biopsy. She was not thrilled to get out in the cold at 6:45 a.m, but my main concern was the possibility of a collapsed lung - one of the risks of the procedure. That would necessitate another hospital stay to "pump" it back up.

But that didn't happen. Husband Art and I were in the recovery room area when it was over and Mom was quite perky. The nurse brought in a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, and coffee. The smell made me hungry!

"Where's my toast?" Mom asked.

Another sign she was doing pretty well!

But during the biopsy, they had discovered Mom had a rash on her back. Before the end of the day, it was confirmed - shingles!

I've known people who have been miserable with pain and itching with shingles and I didn't want Mom to have to put up with that along with everything else. I was pretty sure she had a shingles vaccination a few years back, but they're not 100 percent effective at preventing an outbreak. The doctor immediately prescribed anti-viral medication and a special lotion for her back. That seemed to do the trick.

Jan. 28, we received the biopsy report. The spot on her lung is cancer, specifically an adenocarcinoma. It's small - about 3/4 of an inch.

Because Mom can't hear well - and she especially has trouble hearing over the phone - I had asked the doctor to call me. But I didn't want to keep Mom in the dark for long. So Art and I went to Meadowlark to let her know. I didn't want to just "blurt it out" right away, so I waited. About 10 minutes after we arrived, I gave Art the sign that he should tell her. With his loud voice and science background, I figured she'd understand him better.

Or maybe I just didn't want to do it.

Just as he was about to begin, Mom said, "I haven't heard anything about the results yet." It was the perfect lead-in. Art gave her the news. He explained about the cancer and said she'd have to get back out in the cold for a PET scan later in the week. It is a test that introduces a tracer into the blood to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Mom's reaction was pretty matter-of-fact and accepting - just as it was two years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

On Feb. 5, our family doctor called and said he and the radiologist had met and determined that there weren't any conclusive signs that the cancer had spread. The day after, we spent nearly three hours with two oncologists to determine the course of action. Tests confirmed that this cancer was NOT related to her breast cancer. That was good news. If it had been the same, then there would be reason to believe the original carcinoma had not all been caught and other places may have been seeded as well.

Mom's first reaction was to "just cut it out." But all the doctors have told her that surgery at her age would probably kill her. Chemotherapy is not a good option for this type of cancer and would be hard on her. So radiation is the course Mom decided to take.

It was then we learned that Mom would be getting a tattoo! Actually, at least two of them. They will make a body mold to help hold her in position during the 15-minute treatments, but those tiny pin-head-size tattoos will be important guides so the radiation hits the same place every time. Because of the cancer's location, the only real side effect she should experience is some fatigue from the 8-week regimen of daily treatments.

So Valentine's Day will be a good day. She'll be back in her home and be able to bond with her black and white cat Oreo again.

And what we thought was a bad thing - her fall - has turned out to be a good thing. All of the medical folks have commented that only rarely do lung cancer victims have their disease found at such an early stage - and that is critical. Sometimes good things come from bad things.

Left: Mom pumping a little iron while giving me the don't-take-my-picture stare; right: her hair is undone, but she doesn't care because she was getting reacquainted with her cat Oreo during her home-evaluation visit this past Monday.

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