I have been following the story of my recently widowed 87-year old father and his children’s struggle to get him back home to Ontario. Meanwhile, my wife has been dealing with her own 88-year old widowed father’s recent diagnosis of esophageal cancer. I’ll let her pick up the story:
My Dad got his cancer diagnosis on December 1, after a gastroscopy revealed a tumor at the base of his esophagus – where it meets the stomach. He had been having problems for months – feeling full after eating only small amounts, not being able to get chunkier foods like meat or vegetables down – and losing weight – lots of weight – as a result. My sister and I waited for the results of the test with sinking hearts – we just knew it couldn’t be good. And it wasn’t. As my dad said, blinking at the terms “mass” and “blockage” – this “wasn’t the best news.”
A CT scan followed the next week – and then a visit to Dad’s thoracic surgeon, who cheerfully showed us the results of the scan on his computer screen (I couldn’t look). The mass indicated Adenocarcinoma – named for its location, lower down on the esophageal tube. It appeared to be localized – which meant that, in theory, Dad was a candidate for surgery to remove it, but at his age, that wasn’t a great option – the aftercare from such a brutal operation could kill him. Chemotherapy was also out – my Dad has a mild form of leukemia, and at 88, who in their right mind would opt for the horrors of chemo? There remained one option – radiation, but if the cancer HAD spread, that would merely be palliative, a word that I loathed. A PET scan was ordered – to verify that the cancer had, indeed, not spread, and we were all sent home.
Then the holidays happened – and everything was put on hold. We struggled through Christmas, where my Dad, trying to be cheerful, could barely spoon down turkey broth, as we ate, without relish, the usual holiday fare. After my sister and her kids had left, Dad admitted that he didn’t want to consider surgery, didn’t want tubes and machines, and would prefer to just ‘slip away’. My husband manfully agreed; I spent the next 24 hours wrapped in a red wool blanket, pretending to read, and secretly crying in a way that I never cried before.
The PET scan was finally ordered for January 8 – and my Dad drove himself into Princess Margaret from Mississauga in the freezing dark – he insisted – to meet me in the lobby at 7:30am. We shared a coffee, he got the test done, he drove himself home, and we waited again.
In the meantime, he had a stent put it, which pushed the mass to one side, and allowed him to start eating a bit better, but there was still the niggling question of what the PET scan would reveal.
At last, on January 26, almost two months after the initial diagnosis, we sat with the surgeon again – to get the results. Dad had continued to lose weight and there was a stillness about him that I had never seen before. My sister and I were sure the news would be bad – after 6 months of symptoms, and 8 weeks of twiddling our thumbs – how could the cancer NOT have spread? But the PET scan corroborated what the CT had suggested – the cancer was entirely localized – there was no sign of it anywhere else. Which meant that Dad was an excellent candidate for high dosage targeted radiation. We were just silent. Good news can be as overwhelming as bad. Then Dad said, “You mean, this thing might actually be curable?” The surgeon shrugged. “It could be.” At any rate, he was confident that the radiation would shrink it – keep it at bay, indefinitely. My Dad smiled, his whole body seemed lighter. “Well I’m 88, you know, if I could make it to 90, that would suit me.”
There were five chairs in the surgeon’s office – four people in the room. And in the fifth chair, finally, there was hope.
Read Past Episodes of the Caregiver’s Diary:
Part 1: “A Good End”
Part 2: “Seamless Care”
Part 3: “Dealing with Dad”
Part 4: “No Grieving Please”
Part 5: “Aftermath”
Part 6: “Driven To Distraction”
Part 7: “A Grand Affair”
Part 8: Plans Change
Part 9: “A New Home”
Part 10: “A New Year”
Part 11: Caregiver’s Diary: Plans Change…Again
Keywords: caregivers, diary