I’m going to go ahead and issue a cancer trigger warning up front, but if you bear with me, there is a positive message. Today’s post isn’t my usual fun, naughty read. I’m participating in the MFRW Books and Hooks Blog Hop, and Long and Short Reviews Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. I usually keep topics geared toward my books or characters and not my personal life, but Long and Short Review’s blog prompt for July 1st is “The last place I traveled to and why.” If you aren’t up from something serious, scroll down to the Book Hook Blog Hop links.
I’m sure the year-long list was put together long before Corvid-19 started dogging our steps here in the U.S. Unfortunately, a lot of us aren’t able to travel and don’t get out much these day. My family of five is stuck home more than most because my adult son, who lives with us, is receiving chemotherapy for gastric cancer. The last place I visited was the cancer center in the next town over. My son and I travel there every three-weeks for treatment. Afterward, we have a day or two of rest, and then we return for fluids and follow-up meds, knowing we will have a short break and be back three weeks later.
My son was diagnosed with stage IV adenocarcinoma last summer, and it’s been a tough road but one I will never stop pushing to keep following. Gastric cancer is sneaky, and no one expects to find it in a young adult. We still have no answers on how my son got it even after genetic testing. My kid was only a few weeks away from his twentieth birthday when the bottom fell out from under us, and I didn’t know if he’d see that birthday, much less the twenty-first birthday coming at us right now.
The first doctor we took him to gave him an endoscopy and told us he didn’t see anything. I was an hour away taking care of my dad after his knee-replacement surgery, but when my husband called to tell me the “great news,” I was thrilled. The doc prescribed medicine which my son took religiously. I finished up my week at dad’s and went home for a week while my sister took over. A week later, me and all my teenagers packed up to go look after their grandfather again, but I was far more worried about my son who barely got off the couch and still couldn’t eat much at all.
I called the doctor’s office and was told to give the medicine time. Something in the back of my mind said, nope! While I tended to dad, I made an appointment for my son to see his general practitioner — I insisted on a test for Celiac’s disease and was prepared to fight for it since I got the feeling they didn’t like going around his specialist to order tests he hadn’t. (Once the nurses saw the dark brown urine sample, we didn’t get any push back.) I’m very thankful the pediatrician’s office took us seriously. Mama Bear Lesson #1 (I learned the hard way): TRUST YOUR GUT.
Backtracking, let me explain. My son came home from college relatively healthy in May of last year. He had back pain we attributed to his car being rear-ended a few weeks earlier and some indigestion. At the time, he could still eat. Within a week, we could not tolerate some foods. I made the first available appointment with a GI specialist. By the time of the initial appointment, he’d lost a few pounds but no red flags were going up. He’d also had a regular check-up when he first returned home and started regularly seeing a chiropractor. Still, I wish I’d trusted my gut which brings me to Mama Bear Lesson #2:BE ASSERTIVE.
There are so many what-ifs. I wish I had insisted on blood and urine tests at my son’s initial specialist appointment. In the corner of my mind, I thought they should have done them, but frankly, they were telling me what I wanted to hear: “Bad case of Gerd…he’s going to be fine.” I was also focused on my dad’s upcoming surgery. I’m not sure what difference a diagnosis three weeks earlier would have done. His cancer has been described as “very aggressive” so who knows–maybe he would have had a different staging, but I sort of doubt it. I’m most angry that he spent that time in a lot of pain when he could have been medicated at the hospital.
The day after we saw my son’s general practitioner and they sent his samples to the lab, we got a call telling us to get scans sooner rather than later. We headed to the closest emergency room. My son received x-rays first, and while we (me, my son, and my oldest daughter) waited to be transferred to another hospital with better MRI capabilities, the ER doctor offered my son something for pain. My kid replied, “Like what?”
The doctor’s answer sent a shiver down my spine. “Whatever you want.” At that moment, I knew something far worse than we were being told was going on. I didn’t want to upset my kids so I kept my mouth shut while they chatted and took joking selfie pics of the hospital trip for their friends. My head was pounding like I was in the middle of a thunderstorm, and my stomach churned as we waited.
Hours later we were transferred to a larger hospital one city over–they put us in the oncology ward. No one had given us a diagnosis, and I asked, “Why are we here?” I was offered a comforting lie that they probably only had an open bed there. It was after midnight, so I accepted what I was told, scavenged a second recliner from the hallway for my daughter, and we slept.
I will not print the hospital’s name, but I was not happy with the care my son received there. I didn’t like the doctors, but the nursing staff was beyond excellent. They treated my son like family. As soon as the doctor’s determined they couldn’t perform surgery on my son’s liver due to the location of the tumor, the doctors seemed to write him off. We were told he would be transferred to Duke Hospital where there was a doctor capable of performing a biopsy, but we had to wait for a bed.
After day two of “we can’t help you here, but we’re waiting on a bed,” I started to question why my son was being left with aggressive cancer and no treatment. By this time, my son’s skin was yellow as were the whites of his eyes. I had to corner a doctor in the hallway to get her to talk to me, and she spoke of statistics and prognosis–my impression, my kid was as good as dead in her eyes. I’m not stupid. I have worked as a disability examiner–I know any cancer in the digestive area is bad news, but to just give up on the boy I raised for twenty years? Hell no! Mama Bear Lesson ##: NEVER GIVE UP.
I prayed, asked friends to pray, put messages on my Facebook page asking for prayers. When people called and asked how they could help, I asked for prayers. Lots of my loved ones had my son added to their church’s prayer list. I also wrote off the doctors at that hospital as they had written of my son. My sister-in-law had tipped me off that the nurse navigator was the one who gets shit done, and she was right. I contacted her, and what a wonderful woman she was! She got on the phone, contacted surgeons directly, and got a bed reserved for my kid. We were transferred later that day.
I won’t say things got sparkly and shiny from that point on. We still had a lot of bad news coming our way. More scans found the origin of cancer in my son’s stomach. Surgery to remove the tumor was taken off the table–there was just too much. He had to undergo more procedures, lots of needle pricks, shots, blood drawn, but the doctors were caring, compassionate, and on top of their games.
It was hard not to crumble, but my kids needed me. I held back my tears for when I was alone. I didn’t want any of them to see me crying. I kept praying because honestly, there was nothing else I could do.
My sister sent me a video of a sermon from 2 Kings 20. The passage talks about a prophet telling a king he is dying and will not recover and how the king prayed for salvation. The preacher explained the passage further by saying the King said, “God, not now and not like this.” Now those aren’t the original words in the Bible, but the phrase struck a chord with me, and along with “By his stripes, you will be healed,” I added the phrase to my prayers. I have to admit, the words felt powerful.
The doctors and nursing staff continued to provide excellent care for my son. He was in less pain and discomfort and his jaundice became less pronounced. I had to stop looking at the Internet studies. They were discouraging, and even the ones with a positive spin told of how a certain treatment had allowed a patient a few more months. They were talking in months… My kid had just turned twenty–we wanted years. We were there for about twelve days before they released my son, and nothing was sugar-coated about the severity of what we were facing. However, they intended to provide the most aggressive treatment possible administered by a top-rate oncologist.
The first few rounds of chemo helped, but weren’t aggressive enough. Scans showed smaller existing tumors, but also a new tumor. My son began a new regimen with a much more aggressive (but also more toxic) medicine. His long, brown, rock-star-like hair began to fall out in clumps. He and his sister shaved his head. His eyebrows and eyelashes fell out too, but he was gaining weight!
My kid had been so skinny, my husband had to add extra holes to my son’s belt so he could wear his jeans, but slowly but surely, he was moving those notches back. I began to thank God in prayers for how far my son had come. Fast forward to now, my son’s last scans showed no visible stomach tumors and the liver tumors are shrinking. Praise the Lord! My son no longer needs any narcotic pain killers (He had a nerve blocker for his back about nine months ago.). He takes some nausea meds as needed around chemo treatments. He’s back to his pre-diagnosis weight, and his hair is growing back. The jaundice is gone.
I’m sure there are some people who would judge me for writing steamy romance and find it odd that I pray, but if hearing my story gives someone hope or helps anyone going through a similar situation, I have to be willing to face criticism and share. I don’t know what the future holds. I continue to pray for total healing, but I’m thankful for the time I have with my son now, and I’m grateful he’s not suffering.
If you are so inclined, please keep us in your prayers, and please think about people like us and mask-up when you are out and about during the Pandemic. It’s not ideal, but it protects caregivers like me and my husband, who have to go out to buy groceries and meds, for those who can’t. Frankly, I think showing such kindness and compassion is damn sexy.
I’m not going to share a hook from one of my stories today, but you can find info on all of my books on my HOT READS page. I wrote a stallion-shifter/alpha male + curvy girl series. I’m also very proud of my LGBT-leaning poly triad series, Triple Passion Play.
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