Another (Lost) Battle with Cancer (and more thoughts about Chemotherapy)

My aunt passed away late last night. Once more, cancer had taken another member of our family.

My aunt’s cancer this time around began in her uterus. How sad though that she thought of seeing a doctor only after 2 years of excessive bleeding. We’ve been through enough cases of cancer of the uterus in our family to immediately recognize the symptoms of its beginnings. Of all the cancers, cancer of the uterus is one of the easiest to treat. When all else fails, a hysterectomy would have been more than sufficient to prevent its spread to other organs.

Her surgery and chemotherapy were just sadly, too little too late. 

Her cancer though was not as advanced as dad’s was.

Which was why for all of us, her sudden death remains to be an alarming shocker.

She was rushed to the hospital late at night on Sunday since her blood pressure had plummeted. She had a case of UTI (urinary track infection) which on normal people would be nothing… but because her immune system had been compromised from her last chemotherapy session, her white blood cells and platelets were close to none.

Her condition stabilized a few hours later.

Tuesday morning, the doctors had already planned on sending her out of the Intensive Care Unit since she seemed to doing fine.

Until an hour or so later when her blood pressure plummeted again. By this time, the bacteria from her UTI had spread to infect her blood. Because of this, her kidney failed. Her lungs were struggling. It didn’t help that she was diabetic.

A few hours before midnight, her heart just stopped.

Complications from chemotherapy was the cause.

I wrote about chemotherapy sometime last year when we were contemplating treatment options for dad. I’m no doctor so don’t take my word for it. But if you’re reading this and are in a predicament where you have to deliberate on chemotherapy or no chemotherapy, this is my advice:

Research first. Study. Know what it is you or your loved one are getting into. Chemotherapy for most does more harm than good. While it is the “one in a hundred shot of a possible remission”, for most it just intensifies the pain they go through, and frequently hastens death. 

My aunt is the 3rd close family I’ve lost to cancer. My grandfather spent a year having chemotherapy. He died after one year. Before his death, he told my mother that he regrets having gone through it.

Chemotherapy is not for the weak, nor for the faint-hearted. The few I’ve known who survive chemotherapy whose lives are either saved or prolonged are those who have the spirit and will to keep fighting even it means bearing with all the agony treatment will put them through.

Advertisements

Our Battle with Cancer. The Final Chapter.

Written on my mobile phone September 4, 2010.


On August 29, 2010 at around 3 in the afternoon, dad took his last breath while surrounded by his family, and the song “How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place” playing softly in the background of the hospital room.

My uncle says that in his life, dad didn’t have many (if at all) valuable possessions. But in his dying bed, he was a rich man surrounded by those he loved best.

In the end, it was his cancer tonic and the consequent weight loss that got him. For because of the weight loss, he had to be put back on a high protein diet to help him regain his strength and the nutrition his body badly needed. Sadly, cancer cells thrive on protein. In a matter of a week and a half, his lung tumor size doubled, obstructing his major bronchial air tubes.

A few hours before he passed away, his lungs had already failed and oxygen was no longer being processed by his body anymore.

During his wake, many people had exclaimed that it all happened so fast.

That, it did.

We expected to have months with him yet.

But who knows the will of the universe?

I just hope and pray that wherever you are now, Dad, I hope you’re in a happier, more peaceful place than where we are. Please watch over us, and let us know in however way, that you’re okay…

Our Battle with Cancer. Chapter 7.

Here’s a brief lowdown of what’s been happening since my last post.

It doesn’t look good. Dad’s cancer is advancing too rapidly. The doctors showed me his x-ray results on the day he was confined (2 weeks ago), and the x-ray results from yesterday. The difference is staggering. As of yesterday, only a third of his left lung remained visible. The rest is filled with a growing tumor, and fluid that’s been accumulating as a combined result of his emphysema and his tumor.

Doctor told us yesterday that it’s unlikely that dad can go home anymore. He needs to be under constant medical supervision now.

So it’s really only a matter of time. The doctor’s guestimate — 3 months left.

A friend told me that there are stages, and there are signs when it’s time to prepare yourself for the worst.

The first is the doctor’s prognosis. And the same doctor discussing with us the need for one of us to sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form soon.

The second is dad asking mom yesterday to “let him go” because he’s already having such a difficult time. And mom breaking down throughout the day in front of us, for the first time since this all began.

The third… well, I guess if you choose not to ignore the facts and confront the possibility.. then a part of you also knows when it’s time to start letting go, and giving him permission to let go if he’s ready for it already.

The fact that I can write this post without feeling a lump in my throat is something I’m grateful for.

There’s nothing on earth that can prepare anyone for news like this. It’s nothing short of a massive emotional roller coaster ride.

In the midst of all of this, I am supremely grateful for the brief moments in time when I actually feel a sense of normalness.

Spending time with people who are not part of the family crisis to talk about more bite-sized problems are a blessing.

Immersing in a specific goal-oriented task which has an end in mind reminds me that life goes on, and that when everything blows over, there’s something to fall back on that resembles more of the life I used to know.

I suppose I’ve taken the term “walking in a daze” for granted too many times in the past. For now, I seem to find myself doing just that more often than ever. I often feel like a machine that’s just programmed to keep doing things, one after another. It’s like being in auto-pilot. And guess what — walking in a daze as if on auto-pilot is a blessed relief and a wonderful reprieve from the emotional onslaught that comes with going back to reality.

My blog has become my best friend, for in here, I can rant and write anything I want, say what I want to say without fearing anyone being too taken aback; or feeling awkward for lack of something comforting to say. There’s no guilt for causing someone else to have a miserable day. No need to edit and filter the real emotions that courses through my body.

Although I have never really been close to my dad, he’s still my dad. In spite of all the problems we had growing up; and all the problems we had to face as adults because of my dad — at the end of it all, he’s still my dad. I will always love him, and will always want him to be a part of my life in whatever way.

I suppose now that the inevitable is closer than it’s been — unwanted thoughts creep into my mind every now and then.

I was holding a lighter in my hands the other day that reminded me of dad’s persistence in lighting a cigarette even while he was already in the hospital – and it brought a lump to my throat.

All our family get togethers on birthdays and special occasions… well, a day will come when we’ll be one family member less. In the family, dad has always been the grumpy one. Whenever we’d all yap away for hours talking about everything and nothing, he would be the only one sitting on the table with us without really listening and participating. We’d always tease him about it… but I guess we never really minded that he was the way he was. I knew that even if he wasn’t really being very cooperative, he would nonetheless sometimes spend time just gazing at his family all together for that one moment, and feeling that everything is right in the world.

I was writing out a check last night to pay for some bills… and even that hideous check book that was the cause of many fights we’ve had… now brings a tug in my heart.

I can imagine life without dad. But it would admittedly be a life that doesn’t quite feel right anymore.

If it’s already breaking my heart, I can’t imagine how torn and crushed my mom’s heart with all of this. I’ve never known a couple who were and are as close as they are. For the 40 or so years they’ve been married, they’ve always been together. Done everything together. Gone everywhere together. Slept together night after night.

They fought like cats and dogs every single day. And yet their lives are only ever complete when they’re together.

Times like these, “think positive” is just not possible. Thinking positive gives you nothing but false hopes… which helps no one. More than anything, our role now as his family is to make sure that when he goes, he is ready, he has no baggage left that will keep him tied to this life, and that he has peace in his heart.

I believe in everlasting life. And so I will do whatever I can to make sure he gets there.

It hurts letting him go, but it hurts even more seeing him suffer so.

If there’s anything else I’m grateful for… it’s that God is giving us this time to reconcile, to put things to rest as a family, and to just be together at this one time where we all need to stand strong for dad.

Our Battle with Cancer. Chapter 6.

It’s just been a few days and dad has already taken a turn for the worse.

First, it seems that these past few weeks, he’s been sneaking in cigarettes whenever my mom’s not around. Hence, from a mild case of emphysema a month ago, he’s now progressed to moderate emphysema. He needs to be hooked to an oxygen tank now all the time.

Second, his stay in the hospital hasn’t helped him recover his strength. He still can’t sleep at night, still doesn’t eat. His muscles have started atrophying due to immobility. So he still can’t move around without any active assistance from anyone.

Third, in his quest to try to get discharged already, he asked the doctor for oral antibiotics instead of an intravenous one. The oral antibiotics seem to not be working in curing his pneumonia, so now he’s running a fever.

It’s heartbreaking.

One of the hardest things to deal with when an immediate family member is seriously ill is the effect it has on the family members. Inevitably, it also takes a toll on family relationships. You’ll never see eye to eye on how to handle the situation. Things like these bring out either the best, or the worst in people.

I don’t quite know how it happened… but mom has started treating me like the eldest child in the family. She calls only me when news comes in about dad’s condition. And she makes me be the bearer of bad news to my older brother, and the rest of our relatives. She expects me to handle arrangements about finances with everyone else, and to be the one to make decisions in her behalf.

I’m not complaining.

But admittedly it’s also starting to take a toll on me. It becomes even more difficult when I get calls in the middle of a busy, hectic work day. Of course, family always comes first before work. So there’s no issue there.

I guess it’s just not doing much good for my emotional state of mind. I need these uninterrupted retreats into my work for hours at a time to retain some sense of equilibrium. If I’m not whole, how can I be there for the rest of my family and be the strength they need me to be?

I’ve always heard stories from families suffering through a family member battling a terminal illness and heard how difficult it is for family members. But what I thought…. is nowhere close to how it really is.

*Sigh*

Our Battle with Cancer. Chapter 5.

On Friday night, dad was rushed to the hospital.

Since he began his treatment two months ago, the tonic he takes is such that his body is self-cleansing and self-detoxifying. Which means that especially at night, he keeps coughing and expelling phlegm; and pees a lot through the night. Which means too that in the last 2 months, he hasn’t been getting the quality sleep that he needs.

Before he got sick too, dad was already a picky eater. When he got sick and went on a diet with no meat, he hasn’t been eating properly too.

Since then, he’s lost 20 pounds. He’s not a big man to begin with. Before he got sick, he only weighed 130+ pounds. So now he’s reduced to skin and bones.

All these things combined, he started losing control over his basic motor functions on Friday. He couldn’t walk a few steps without falling and stumbling. He had no more bladder control. When I saw him that night, he couldn’t even talk anymore. He was slurring his words and couldn’t maintain eye contact anymore.

This is his third day in the hospital, and so far he’s doing fine. He isn’t in critical condition, and his stay in the hospital now is intended mainly to help him recover his strength. I can’t say for sure if it has done much good in terms of getting him to regain the weight he’s lost, but at least he has recovered some of his basic motor skills. Still weak for the most part though.

Seeing him in that condition last Friday night was very alarming. There was this heavy thing on my chest that wouldn’t go away. I couldn’t speak, and I was simply just numb and scared at the same time.

I finally told some of my colleagues in the office about dad’s condition last Friday. I had to — cause I had to abruptly leave the office that evening.

To my pleasant surprise, revealing one of the heaviest burdens in my heart was a relief, for doing so found me some friends who understood what I was going through for they had gone through it themselves.

It’s very different talking to people who’ve been through it. You’d know right away – the words they use, the things they say, the emotion by which they tell you things… For once, I had people who were articulating the things I couldn’t even articulate to myself.

They understand instinctively – the need to continue working and keep yourself busy even if all these things are going on – because still allotting time to work and do what I have to do makes me feel that there’s still a part of my life that goes on. That not everything is lost because our family is going through this.

They understand too how situations like these can cause even the closest of families to fall apart. This weekend I went through a lot of disappointments with my immediate family members. A brother who thinks first and foremost about money rather than the overall well-being of everyone in the family… another brother who continues to act as if nothing is wrong and doesn’t manifest any changes in anything he does or says… and parents who continue to argue, fight, bicker and put each other down in the midst of all this… and a patient (my father) who can’t yet accept with peace what he’s going through.

They understand too when I say how much I long for normalcy to be restored… though they tell me it will never get back to normal. But that in time, it will be okay.

And they understand that the hardest part about all this is seeing him go through so much pain…. so much so that there’s a part of me that just hopes that if he’s not getting well anyway, then the sooner his pain can end, the better.

It’s comforting to know that others have been through this, and have survived.

Because everyday is a struggle. Every minute that my mind drifts casts a stab of pain in my chest. Every time I think about the hospital bill and the things that my brother and I now fight about on a daily basis, I get ambushed with anxiety and panic. Nowadays whenever my phone rings, there’s a momentary flash of alarm.

Not to mention the fact that I’ve all but given up any time I have left for myself. Times like this, the first to go is time to recharge and recover. As it is, I never had much free time to begin with. With work, my husband, my household chores – the only time I had left for myself were all the times I spent taking a bath and going to sleep. Now, even sleep takes a backseat on most days.

While I continue everyday to try retaining some sense of normal in my day to day activities, the thought of all that we face just nonetheless continues to lurk in the shadows.

I wait for the day when we’ll start being okay again.

Our Battle with Cancer, Chapter 4

I realize it’s been awhile since I’ve written about dad.

It’s been close to two months since he was diagnosed with Stage 3 Lung Cancer and Emphysema.

After several days and weeks of frantic paranoia, frenetic activity and manic emotional roller coaster rides, the hubbub has finally died down a bit.  We are little by little, settling in. In simple terms, if there’s anything close to resembling the stage of acceptance and normalcy in this kind of situation, I guess this is where we are at right now.

His treatment began around 5 weeks ago, and is now a normal part of his daily routine. The treatment is composed of a tonic formulated to massively boost his immune system. His eating habits have long since changed – he’s now dairy products-free, and red meat-free. No synthetic chemicals are allowed. Everything is organic and natural.

I don’t know for sure if his treatment is doing any good. What’s certain is that since he began his treatment, he spends a couple of hours every night with prolonged coughing fits where he expels a lot of phlegm. According to our Scientist-Doctor, this is a sign that his body has begun purging itself of toxins in the lungs and elsewhere. Hopefully, this means the toxin is doing its job in helping dad.

He is in constant pain, however… especially when  he coughs. He’s also starting to experience constant difficulty in briefing on account of his emphysema.

On the night ‘Tyhoon Basyang’ ravaged Metro Manila and a lengthened blackout hit, dad had a major panic attack. As soon as the airconditioning went out, he immediately ran downstairs to the living room, frantically opened the doors and windows to let in some air. He was eventually able to sleep that night, except he had to get wet from the rain pounding inside the house.

The following day, electricity in their home had not returned. The problem is, an airconditioning unit was an absolute necessity for dad to be able to rest properly. Thankfully, hubby and I were able to find and book a hotel where he and mom could stay in for the night. The following morning, the power was finally restored, so they were able to go home.

Apart from this night, it’s remarkable how things have seemingly returned to normal. On the surface at least.

We (my siblings and I) have returned to normal programming. Back to work full-time, back to our same old normal activities that define our respective family lives. Of course apart from me making a conscious effort to visit dad and mom at least once a week (this is a lot. In the past, seeing them once a month was already a big deal!), I would also call them every now and then to check up on them.

Doesn’t sound like much.

What I’ve come to realize though in the past week while restoring some normalcy in my own home, is that once something like this happens, things will never ever go back to how they used to be. Not anymore.

I read in a blog written by a father whose son passed away as a little boy that when tragedy strikes a family, you start defining events in your life relative only to when the tragedy occurred. Everything – all events, all get-togethers, all chats, all milestones — either happened before “it” happened, or after “it” happened. That’s it.

Dad is still alive. Tragedy hasn’t really struck yet, and hopefully he has many years yet to live and be with us.

But already, subtle changes here and there have come to be, and have become the new “normal”.

A phone call or text message from mom and dad is no longer just something I can choose to respond to at a later time when I’m free. When my phone rings and it’s one of them, I pick up right away, even if I’m in the middle of something important.

Every peso saved is no longer a peso I can set aside to buy a new outfit, a new book or a new DVD. Nowdays, every peso saved stays saved, for the possibility and likelihood that we will need it for dad’s treatments and medical bills at some point in time.

When a typhoon, earthquake or some other natural phenomenon strikes, it’s no longer about the repercussions on me or my hubby. It’s now – are my parents okay?

When mom spends hours chatting me up on the phone and telling me about all her woes, her problems, her disappointments with everything in general, I can’t shut her out anymore cause I know she needs this time to vent and rant — otherwise she’d go crazy and/or sick (she IS the one with dad and all his mood swings and general depression, 24/7).

When bills come in every month and mom and dad run short on paying the bills, it’s no longer an option of “I have no money this month, sorry”. There has to be a way to get that money and make sure all bills are paid. Even if it means their electricity bill is triple what it used to be.

They’re small things. Nothing earth-shattering. But they’re changes nonetheless.

Thing is, I believe that everything – even bad things that happen to people you love – happen for a reason. For everyone it affects. While this may just be the beginning of an epic journey for us as a family, I think this ordeal is forcing me to become a better daughter and sister.

Beneath all the small, almost imperceptible changes that we’re going through, I think this is teaching me to be more patient and loving. To be more understanding and accepting of my parents and all their frailties. To sacrifice lovingly and willingly, without expecting anything in return. To grow up, and give back for the best-laid plans they always had for me.

Dad turns 60 years old in two days. It used to be just another date in the calendar. Now, it’s a celebration of another day he’s alive.

Our Battle with Cancer. Chapter 3. (and some thoughts on Chemotherapy)

After a month since we found out about dad’s condition, we collectively decided as a family to forego chemotherapy in favor of alternative medication.

Before dad got sick, I was one among many (I believe) who thought that chemotherapy was the best treatment for cancer. Whether the intention is a cure, prevention of progression or prolonging a life…  TV shows we watch, the news we read and conventional medical doctors all tell us that chemotherapy is the best, and perhaps the only treatment that has better chances of working.

But over the past few weeks, I did my research. I spoke with friends whose family members have had cancer. I read forums composed of lay people like myself. Read a bit too on what chemotherapy is, what cancer is, and all that jazz.

Of course everyone will have their own opinion about the matter…. and I’d like to categorically state that everyone’s opinion matters, and everyone’s opinion is valid (provided of course it’s supported by facts). This is my opinion based on what I’ve seen, heard and read.

Chemotherapy for people with early stages of cancer, who are young and strong — is a great idea.

But for people who are not as strong – physically, mentally or emotionally – chemotherapy may actually contribute to making an already sick patient… even more sick.

Here are some facts about Chemotherapy:

Chemotherapy kills any cell that is growing (dividing) fast, whether it’s a cancer cell or not. So, some of the normal, healthy cells in the body that grow quickly can be damaged. Specifically:

  • Cells in the bone marrow–this makes a patient feel tired, bruised and makes a patient bleed easily. It also puts the patient at a higher risk of infection
  • Cells that grow hair–this causes hair loss throughout the body
  • Cells of the skin and mouth–this causes dry skin, dry mouth and can even cause mouth sores
  • Cells in the stomach and intestines–this causes major nausea, vomiting, or even diarrhea

Of course many would say that the horrible side effects of chemotherapy are nothing if you take it in context of being able to save a patient’s life.

But here’s some bit of news I found online, which was also republished by a renowned journalist (Jaime Licauco) who writes for the #1 nationwide broadsheet in the Philippines.

“According to an important paper published in the Australian journal Clinical Oncology in 2005, the survival rate over a five-year period of Australian adults treated with chemotherapy is only 2.3 percent, and even lower for Americans at 2.1 percent.”

So all these side effects, and no healthy and comfortable statistics to even assure the patient about its success rate.

Conventional medicine would junk my post and criticize my post for saying all these things about the one treatment where many put their faith on… but then, I’m only copying bits and pieces of information that I’ve found in other more renowned, more established news sources. You can check my sources below and see for yourself.

Cold hard facts aside, I’ve also spoken with friends who’ve had relatives with cancer. About 9 out of 10 of them have all told me that Chemotherapy is not a good idea. That their relatives who were treated with chemo regretted it, and eventually just decided to stop it. That chemotherapy made them feel even more morbidly sick and depressed than they already were. That it made their bodies deteriorate faster, compromised their immune system even more.

And the hard part about starting Chemo and then stopping it midway is that it makes the disease progress even faster.

It’s ironic how before we found out about dad’s condition, I, like many conventional medicine believers, used to think that only an idiot would choose to not undergo chemotherapy even if there is the slightest chance that it could cure the disease, arrest the disease, or at least prolong a human life. You’d think if you were already talking about saving the life of a loved one, you’d choose what conventionally seems like the more logical choice.

And yet, I look at my father these days and just think to myself that whatever the outcome of anything we do in the next couple of months and years, what is most important is that we do whatever it takes to make his remaining time on earth as comfortable, as pain-free and as happy as possible. I don’t want him to spend all his time in hospitals talking to doctors upon doctors.

And so, after much deliberation, we decided to try the treatment prescribed by this Korean-Japanese Immunologist whose premise (like most alternative medicine doctors’ principles) is that instead of giving dad medication to kill his cancer cells; this treatment will boost the body’s immune system to enable it to fight the disease on its own.

The premise seems logical — in fact, if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Human bodies are equipped with antibodies, hormones, lipids and other organisms that can protect and heal itself. This is a scientific fact we all know. If you think about it, this premise makes it possible to even think that it can treat not just cancer… but other diseases as well.

Of course we conducted our research. This immunologist has a fairly good track record in curing not just cancer, but even gangrene and asthma.

I don’t think this is the best treatment option possible…. because I don’t know all the other treatment options available out there. I’m sure there are thousands. Thousands of well-meaning conventional medical doctors; thousands of well-meaning alternative doctors; thousands of faith healers and other kinds of healers… and chances are, there are other treatments out there that sound just as good as this one we chose… or perhaps even better.

But we’re running out of time. Dad chose him, so I will just have to believe that this will work.

Sources:

American Cancer Society

How Effective is Chemotherapy?