Friday, November 26, 2010

The Road That Led Us Here

In 1974 my mom lived in Texas, celebrated her fourth wedding anniversary, turned 26, and was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  It started when she discovered a lump in her neck, which led to a series of tests, a painful exploratory surgery and then the official verdict-- cancer.  I'm not sure what she felt or what she and my dad discussed during those early stages because I was not born yet.  I'm not sure what the word "cancer" meant 36 years ago.  I do know that my mom was scared about the future, but determined to not go down without a fight.  She fought hard through two years of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She lost her hair.  She got really sick.  And the upper-mantel radiation she received five days a week for six weeks burned her throat and ruined her sense of taste.  I can't imagine going through something so horrible. 
But after two years of fighting, she won the battle and heard that wonderful word-- "remission".  And friends, thirty-six years later she is still in remission.  She kicked lymphoma's rear end to the curb and it has never returned. 

Fast forward to February of 1998.....I was a junior in college.  Mike and I were dating (and were soon to be engaged).  I had just returned from a fabulous trip to Spain when I got a phone call that I will never forget.  My mom had been rushed to the emergency room with shortness of breath and an irregular heartbeat.  I immediately came home, and after a week in the hospital it was determined that my mom had dilated cardio-myopahty.  Her valves were not functioning properly and would only get worse with time.  There was no way to reverse the damage to her valves.  She could take medication to help treat the symptoms, but eventually those valves would have to be replaced.  Why?  We all wanted to know the answer.  Was it genetic?  What would cause this?  The answer came in time....radiation.  It was the high doses of radiation that my mom received back in the early 70's that ruined those valves.  So the thing that we praised for ridding her body of cancer actually did more damage than we ever realized.  Radiation turned out to be a double-edged sword. 

Over the next twelve years many things happened:  Mike and I got married, we welcomed three wonderful children, my mom retired from her job as an elementary school librarian, Mike advanced his career, while after eight years I quit my teaching job to stay home with my kids.  Vacations were taken, holidays celebrated, and time marched on.  But this year, as my parents celebrated 40 years of marriage, it became clear that my mom was going to need that valve replacement surgery soon.  She was tiring out easily and having difficulty breathing.  Her cardiologist put it this way, "She is basically walking around in congestive heart failure all the time."  So after much thought, family discussion, and prayer, my mom elected to have the surgery now before things got any worse. 

One hopes that when a major life decision is made that it is the right decision.  We are on day 25 of my mom's hospital stay, but we still feel we made the right decision.  Her recovery has been harder than we ever dreamed it would be.  We didn't foresee pneumonia sneaking in and causing such problems.  But looking back over the road that led us here, we don't regret our decision to have the surgery done.  It needed to happen.  And when my mom kicks this pneumonia to the curb like she did with cancer over thirty years ago, we will look back on this difficult season and know that we are stronger as a family for having gone through it. 


Old Newsie said...

I hope your Mom will successfully kick away the latest challenge and will recover soon to go home wih you and be wih you anothr 30years. I will be praying for her and you all as well. Charlie

Angie said...

Man Emily, I had no idea the cancer in her early years was that difficult for her. My mom's new husband had that same cancer and went through the same type of treatment about 5 years ago (he's told me some pretty horrible stories about the radiation treatments). I'm forwarding this to them to read. Love you and praying for you guys.

Jenn said...

Beautiful story, my friend! And because He is the author, the ending will be beautiful as well! Prayers for her and all of you.

Vanessa said...

treating cancer is always a double edged sword. i can't tell you how many chemo consent forms i've had to sign that blatantly state that one of the risks of taking that drug, is that it might cause him to have a different kind of cancer in the future. it sucks. and we have 3 friends who, in the last 2 months, have been diagnosed with "chemo induced aml."

i'm praying, specificaly, that your mom is home in time for christmas.

love you.

Maria Rose said...

I continue to pray for your mother and your family every day!