Monday, October 13, 2008

Pancreatic Cancer - How to Cope?

On Friday, our lives changed in a way that will be hard for me to accept and to accommodate.We found our that my beloved mother-in-law, Eleanor, has pancreatic cancer. It will most likely be nasty and quick. She and Don were going to go to Breckenridge with us the previous weekend but opted not to because she did not feel well. She said that it felt like someone was drilling into her stomach and that they had also filled her intestines with air, like a balloon. Last Monday she still felt bad so she went in for a test. On Thursday they got the bad news. They had expected something along the lines of a pendacidius. They were understandably in shock. Friday, after we sent the kids to cyclocross camp we got an urgent call that we needed to go over right away so we did. I felt sick with fear as I drove over. Eleanor is being brave. Me, not so much. She seems to be at peace with where her life is headed. She says she has lived a long and wonderful life. I asked if there were things she wished she had done or places she wanted to visit, but all she wants is to drive one more time up Look Out Mountain (a local road) one more time. She says she is relieved that she will not have a long and lingering death, like her mother. We offered them emotional support while they called Rex and Doug.It is an awful feeling that I can't do anything that is helpful or that could ease the situation.

My husband and I spent Saturday trying to digest the news. I kept hoping it was all just a bad dream, that I would wake up and it would all be alright. But it is not. I am wide awake and it is still real.

We had dinner together on Sunday. The kids were chatty and exhausted from camp. Through dinner they did not sense anything unusual. I thought we would have "the discussion" but in the end the grandparents decided to put it off another week. However, there were discussions about "5 Wishes," doctors and hospice. My kids know what that means so they were worried. When we got home they questioned me intensely. At this point they have figured out that she is very ill and that she will not be at home for much longer. I don't think they have figured out that she is dying. I am not sure how they will take it. How do you help your children through that? How do you help them come to peace with a beloved grandparent's death?

Since I know that my help will be needed, I told my students. They needed to understand why I look so sad and why I might have a bunch of days where a substitute teacher is in my class. They have been very supportive, just as I had expected and hoped. When my grandmother died my students were very comforting. Too many of my students know the grief of loss and they will be gracious.

As a means of marking the value she has in my life, and as a present for them I spent Saturday making photoalbum pages from the family. I got 17 pages done. Shutterfly has a special deal on 8X8 books that expires on 10/15. I am hoping to take advantage of that. I simply made it a book of our family, Rex with his family, Doug and Laura, as well as Don and Eleanor. It was really very healing to work on it.

One colleague whose father died of the same kind of cancer suggested that I take days off now to be with her while she is still her, while her pain has not taken her away from us. I may do it. I may take a day where Ellie, Eleanor and I can do something, like one Scrabble game after another. Perhaps I will do the same for Ethan, though he is thinking he might have his own day with her, alone.

1 comment:

caregiver said...

I am so sorry to hear of your cancer diagnosis - but don't accept it. My husband was diagnosed May 8th with pancreatic stage 4 & is doing good. We have researched everything that feeds tumors & avoid them. There are so many things we have discovered & his tumor markers have shrunk by 1/4 the 1st mo. & 1/3 the 2nd mo. & his tumors have shrunk by 1/4th. We travel every week 400 mi. There is a trial @ for axitinib which is an angiogenesis blocker for advanced pancreatic cancer. If you have not started any treatment you would be eligible. Hope is a great tool that God gives us. There are people with same diagnosis that are still living 15 yrs later. Our doctors are amazed at my husbands health - they had given him 6 wks. There is a great protein shake(Jay Robb)with Stevia for sweetener that my husband loves & is easy on stomach. He has put on weight instead of losing, which is typical. Don't give up - only the devil wants that - God is the only one who can determine your days. Good luck & blessings to you. Determined Wife