PART 2 of 3
April 17th was Dad’s Oncologist appointment, and the day we found out his full diagnosis and prognosis. It wasn’t good. Dad sat in a wheel-chair in the corner of the Oncologist’s office with his head down, and eyes closed. When the doctor walked in to show us his scan results, Dad lifted his head just enough to see him. Still with sunglasses on. He sat with a blank stare as the doctor started to speak. The Oncologist’s words were, “Nick, your PET Scan is impressive”. It sounded like he was surprised Dad was even alive at this point. What was at one time Gastric Cancer, had turned into Stage 4 inoperable Metastatic Gastric Cancer by this appointment. Meaning the cancer started in his stomach, but over time had spread to majority of Dad’s vital organs and bones. All cancers have their own way of staging. Dad’s Stage 4 Metastatic Gastric cancer was “treatable”, but would never be “curable”. Meaning if Dad chose to start Chemotherapy, he would be on chemo and radiation for the rest of his life. Chemo would be keeping him alive. I would also like to mention that Chemotherapy isn’t bullet-proof. It would be a trial and error process in the beginning stages. If Dad chose not to go the Chemo route, we would take him home to start hospice. HOSPICE? Already? Yes. We were already at the hospice stage of this disgusting disease. Hospice is a service that comes in during the last days, or weeks of one’s life to keep the patient comfortable and pain free. We were told that if he declined Chemo, he would have, “less than months”. Unbenounced to us at this time, reality was that he actually had days to live. After discussing his options with the Oncologist, Dad was 100% dead set on starting Chemo to fight his cancer. As weak and in pain as he was, he was still ready to fight this invasion head on. But, that wasn’t the case 8 weeks prior when Dad first found out about his cancer.
His mother died of multiple cancers that she did fight with Chemo, but much like Dad’s diagnosis, hers was also not curable, only treatable. When Dad originally found out about his cancer, he immediately thought of his mom and her cancer fight. Looking back on her last years of life, he didn’t want to live like that and voiced to us that he would not do Chemo if it came down to that. Mind you, this was all very new to us. There was still no stage at this point, there really wasn’t anything to go off beside him having a bleeding cancerous mass in his stomach. I of course wanted to see him live so I would mention Chemo here and there in conversation. Explained that his mom’s cancer fight was over 25 years ago. Medicine is so much more advanced than it was in the early 90’s. I remember a random phone call we had. I told him that I will support whatever decision he made, but also explained that he still had a lot of life to live for. I said that if he had the chance to beat this cancer with Chemo, then I would love to see him try. If it is too much for him, then don’t do it. Just try it. I didn’t think much of that conversation, but Dad called me back like 10 minutes after we hung up. He said that something I said really had him thinking and he can’t stop thinking of it. I immediately was like, uh oh! What did I say? Turns out, that insignificant to me conversation, was Dad’s turning point. It was the point that he realized he did in fact have a lot to live for. His life wasn’t over yet. That day he told me he would start Chemo if it came down to it. I’ll get more into my actual thoughts and feelings during this entire time of my life in my next blog post. So hold onto all of this info I’m shoving in your head right now. I’ll come back to this.
Dad had some blood work taken in the office that day. He was pretty much giving blood like it was his day job by now. But this day, it took multiple nurses to find a good vein on him. I want to say 4 nurses tried, and only one succeeded. His body was just beat, inside and out. We left the office that day still processing, but at least knowing what we were going to be up against. The appointment was both a relief because we knew the full scope of Dad’s disease, but also one of the worst days of this journey.
We got him home, gave his dose of pain medication, and let him rest in bed. It was around 9:00pm that I felt comfortable enough to leave for home. My sister was staying the night with Dad, or else I would have likely stayed. No more than 5 minutes after I left, Dad text me to come back. I turned around and was back to the house in no time. You know how people say everything happens for a reason? That is a legit statement! I sat on the edge of Dad’s bed talking, hanging out, and laughing with him. This was the first time in weeks that he had this much energy so i was happy as a clam to be there with him even though it was late. Then my phone rang. A number that I didn’t know and this late at night. I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. It was Dad’s Oncologist. He wanted me to get Dad to the ER right away because his blood-work came back and his Potassium levels were dangerously high. His heart could have stopped at any second. Dad was pissed. All he wanted was to sleep in his own bed. He was so sick of hospital beds and Emergency Room waits. But my sister and I got him loaded up and off we went to the hospital. Again, not knowing it would be our last hospital visit.
High potassium levels can be caused by many different things. In Dad’s case, his kidneys were starting to shut down. He was going into renal failure and we had no idea. All the signs and symptoms were right there in front of me. But I didn’t know what to look for since we just found out about his stage a few hours prior. Of course looking back, I saw every sign but didn’t bat an eye.
Going back to the beginning, not only did he have stomach cancer, he had a kidney stone that wouldn’t pass on it’s own because of where it was positioned. He went into septic shock the first day he was in the hospital in February. It wasn’t until after they got him stable enough to do an MRI and CT Scan that they found the cancerous mass in his stomach that was slowly bleeding. He couldn’t get the PET Scan (imaging test that allows doctors to view disease in the body) done until the kidney stone was removed safely. But we ran into soooo many more issues that needed to be addressed. He had an abnormal heart rhythm that the doctors were concerned about, and watching carefully. Once he got Cardio clearance, he finally got the kidney stone removed. That wasn’t until April 4th. Shortly following the kidney stone removal surgery, he had the PET Scan, and April 17th was the Oncology appointment. Many weeks had passed, many hurdles we had to jump, but here we were. In the hospital again, but this time Dad had a team of doctors on his case. Oncology, General, Intensivist, Urology, Cardiology, and Infectious disease. All working together to treat him. I actually felt okay about his hospital stay in the beginning. It wasn’t until I knew of his kidneys failing and listening to all the specialists talk that I knew this was going to be his last visit.
My sister point blank asked the specialists, “Is my Dad going to make it home from this visit?”. His Oncologist looked at us, knowing us well enough by now to know that we could handle the truth. I could tell by the look on his face that the next words out of his mouth were not going to be good. He shook his head while saying something along the lines of, we could lose him during this visit. I’m not quoting that because I think my brain has blocked it out. I can remember his facial expressions and body mannerisms while talking to us at that very moment, but I can’t remember what exactly he said for the life of me.
When all the specialists left the room, Dad started to cry. He knew what was coming. He knew the end was near. It all became a sick reality yet again. Myself, with my brother and sister all held him. We each held any portion of his body we could latch on to. We prayed together for the first time. Not only did we pray, Dad asked GOD for forgiveness.
After 22 hours of being in the Emergency Room, Dad finally got a room on the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) Step-Down floor. He needed to be monitored closer than what he would get on the main inpatient hospital floor, but not enough to be put on the ICU floor. Now remember, we came to the hospital on Wednesday night. Spent 22hrs in the ER. By this time, it was late Thursday night that we got settled into his new room. By Saturday, I started setting up Hospice facilities to meet with us. We were officially getting ready to lose Dad. We all went through the motions but it still felt surreal. It hadn’t sunk in until I was at the hospice facility with him. Saturday evening Dad started to get restless, and more agitated. He had started “seeing” things while in the ER Wednesday through Thursday night. Horses in the corner, rats in the hallway, people looking at him. But he wasn’t restless, and he was still eating and drinking. Not much, but was still taking in soft solids and liquid. When he started getting restless and agitated Saturday night, we made the decision to treat him with IV medication to relax him and keep him comfortable. He had been on high doses of pain medication since Wednesday so this was the first time we had to add in anything additionally. That was the last night Dad spoke to us.
Easter Sunday was spent at his bedside, meeting with hospice, and transporting to hospice. We chose a facility that I had known from my Aunt living out her last days at. He was moved via ambulance that day with my brother at his side so he wasn’t alone. He didn’t move, didn’t make a sound. Dad was at peace during the transport. Which was a relief for us. We spent a little over 24hrs at the hospice facility before he passed.
Now that I’ve given you all the details regarding Dad’s diagnosis, prognosis, and journey through his cancer. Part 3 of this series I will give you more insight into my thoughts during it all. What I was thinking, the emotions that I ran through, my personal heartache, pain, healing, grieving, my Numero’s grieving process, Nick’s pain, all of it. Even Dad’s final thoughts that he had expressed to me. His wishes. The pain he was going through not only physically but emotionally. The weight my brother has had to bear. Again, all of it. Keep your eyes peeled for PART 3.