Oct 13, 2016

Dying With Dignity

I have started to consider vlogging. But until I can figure out how to make my videos work....
I am not dying, but my father is.
September 2014
Through treatment of a kidney stone, my father found out he had kidney cancer. An easy fix with a simple surgery.
January 2015
During a full body scan, necessary because of the kidney cancer, a second form of cancer was found in his lungs. Non-small cell lung cancer. This was not a mutated form of the kidney cancer, but a separate cancer entirely. When we found out, we joked with him that maybe he should go to Vegas and play the lottery since his chances were phenomenal.
Surgery was scheduled for removal of the kidney cancer and the spot of lung cancer.
2015 - 2016
Though my father was somewhat tired, he responded remarkably well to surgery and the chemo and radiation that followed. Chemo and radiation were needed because the lung cancer reacted to the air and spots appeared all over his lungs. His breathing was more labored, but otherwise he was a picture of health.
April 2016
The lung cancer was back and treatments of pills began. Again, though tired, he was up and moving and in otherwise good health. The doctors predicted he had a few years left.
August 2016
He was going home from work one day and stopped at Wal-Mart to pick up some prescriptions, which likely saved his life. He collapsed in the store and awoke to a stranger cradling his head. Had he driven home, he might have ended up in a car accident. An MRI revealed too many lesions in his head to count.
After much discussion, my parents decided to move forward with radiation to the head. This treatment was to continue for two weeks.
Around this time my father's appetite and desire to consume any food at all dropped off. He ate only because and when my mother insisted. Which was a sign of approaching death. The body knows it is dying and it shuts down the less important life systems. At the end of his radiation treatment, my husband and I came to visit. My father was deeply depressed and in a very dark place. He had contemplated suicide as far as knowing how he would go, but knew that would be unfair for my mother. It was heartbreaking to see him so despondent. But no one could fault him, was it due to the concoction of chemicals being pumped through his system? Was it the many lesions pressing on who knows what part of the brain? Was it just the knowledge of what he was going through? It was hard to tell. That was three weeks ago.
September 26, 2016
At night, after my father knelt in prayer, he could not stand up and my mother could not get him up. After 45 minutes of trying, she called a friend to help her.
September 27, 2016
She called her doctors and was told to bring him into the ER, because it wasn't the radiation that had weakened him so much. Though I can't deny that doctors do much for us, I also find my biases mainly against them, for reasons like the following.
Once in the hospital the medical staff honed in on the fact that my father was depressed and they told my mother that they would like to put him in a psych hospital in Vegas or Tucson. How foolish! My mother was furious and abjectly refused. The social worker told her that after watching her interact with him he knew that wasn't the problem. They continued to look for solutions.
September 29, 2016
Someone on the ER staff decided to release my father back into my mother's care. She was irritated with the lack of care as he had become incontinent and was lying in his own urine for who knows how long. She again had to call on the help of a friend to get my father from the car into the house.
September 30, 2016
My mother was able to get my father cleaned and showered. He told her that he had to use the toilet. After standing in front of it for quite a while, he started to wobble. Then he fell, smacking his head on the closet behind him and sliding to the floor with his legs straddling the toilet. My mom lost control at that point and had to go to another room to sob uncontrollably, knowing that she would not be able to get him up without help. After she had regained control, she called her fireman friend to assist her once more.
They returned to the ER, refused the mandatory tests on admittance, and met with the doctor who had admitted them previously. The doctor informed her that he was surprised to find my parents had left. He did not believe my father would leave the hospital at all.
That evening my parents were told that it was likely over, there must be cancer cells in the spine, and they would be released to hospice care. A total and enveloping peace surrounded them. They knew this was right.
A later MRI showed there were no cancer cells in the spine. My parent were told my father might yet live another year or two. Confusion and pain settled on my parents. A series of tests jerked my parents back and forth as each day they were told something different. When they were told it was over, peace settled on them. When they were told it wasn't, confusion and turmoil enveloped them.
October 5, 2016
Their radiology oncologist returned from his 10 day vacation and ordered an MRI of the lumbar region of the spine. It revealed the spine wrapped in a mass of tumors. No wonder my father couldn't always stand. No wonder he was weak. My mother was taken aside and told they could no longer do anything for Dad, only to him. She felt peace once more enshroud her.
October 6, 2016
My father was released home to hospice in the care of my mother. Myself and two of my brothers traveled home, they for the weekend, and I until my mother no longer needed me. Hospice means that you are sent home to allow nature to take its course. No more pick lines, saline drips or hospital machines keeping you alive. There are medications to ease your pain and your passing.
And now
As I write, my father is on the last stage of his life. He hasn't eaten in 10 days, he hasn't had any liquids since Monday, his breathing is ragged, and he no longer responds to touch. He may last minutes, or hours, or, quite possibly, days. We just don't know his timing.
This experience of helping my mother care for him has been sacred and beautiful. To care for someone who has cared for me my entire life is truly humbling. I have never felt more love for my parents than I do at this moment.  Our nurse asked me Tuesday if my father is still teaching me, if he is teaching me to die with dignity?
Yes. He has been so calm through this whole process. He does everything he can to assist my mother and myself in caring for him. It isn't much, but it's all he has. He is dying with dignity, just as he lived with dignity. We did not always get along, but as I grew older I learned to appreciate all that my father has given me, all he has taught me. And in this time, so many are coming to visit or calling my mother to tell her how much they love my father.
That man truly lived and truly loved.