Our previous post was entitled “Before the Storm”. This post is about the storm. Not easy to write about, but our blog is designed to keep friends and family informed about the events of our life, and the events described herein have definitely impacted our life.
Those readers who normally check in to mostly read about “living the dream” in the Caribbean, such readers may want to skip this post.
To set the scene, remember that we are in Bismarck, staying at the home of sister Zona and 97 year old mother Evelyn.
Mom wakes up with a sore back. We all think she had “slept wrong”. We had planned on going to Lake Isabel (Zona’s cabin, west of Bismarck and just a little south of the tiny town of Dawson), and ask Mom if she feels up to the trip. She says she wouldn’t hurt any more in the car and at the lake than at home, and so we should go.
Cathy (Zona’s daughter) and her husband Jon and their kids Cole and Katie are already at the lake when we arrive. Mom settles into a recliner at the cabin, and the rest of us lounge around and later go out on the boat.
Mom’s back is worse. We take her to the office of her primary physician. She is unable to see Dr. Stein, but an X-ray is ordered. Mom sees Stein’s Physician Assistant, who decides the problem is muscular and prescribes a muscle relaxant and schedules an appointment with a physical therapist. The p.t. meets with Mom, tells us the X-ray revealed a compression fracture at T-9 and gives us xerox copies of mild exercises designed to help Mom to strengthen and straighten her back. A CT scan and bone scan are ordered for Friday (6/24). Mom has a very uncomfortable night.
Mom is in agony. We still cannot get her in to see Dr. Stein, and so decide to take her to the Emergency Room at Sanford Medical Center. There, the two scans are done immediately, instead of waiting until Friday. She is admitted to the hospital.
We meet Dr. Lwu, who tells us that there appears to be a tumor at the site of the fracture. She recommends a procedure called Kyphoplasty, which involves inserting needles through the back from the side of the backbone and inflating the collapsed cavity to its former position and then cementing it in place. This should reduce the pain in and of itself, but will also offer a chance of collecting enough material from the presumed tumor to be able to effect a diagnosis. The Kyphoplasty is scheduled for Thursday (6/23). Mom’s kidney function appears compromised, and so a larger CT scan with contrast (to look for other possible tumors) is rejected.
Dr. Keys is assigned to Mom to deal with her weakened kidneys. Tests are ordered. The Kyphoplasty is performed and Dr. Lwu reports that all went well. She predicts a lessening of pain but reports that preliminary indication from the sample is plasmacytoma.
Mom is visited by my Bergh cousins and their spouses and by Zona’s daughter Cathy and her husband Jon and their children Katie and Cole.
Plasmacytoma is confirmed. Dr. DuFan from Bismarck Cancer Center recommends radiation treatments to lesson pain and shrink the tumor.
Mom visits the Bismarck Cancer Center to be measured and marked for the radiation treatments, and is then discharged from the hospital.
On 6/30 Zona’s son Erik and his wife Cindy and their children arrive. Mom has her first radiation treatment. On 7/1 Mom has trouble breathing, so we take her back to ER. Her kidney function is now normal, so she gets a CT scan with contrast, where it is discovered that she has a blood clot in her lung. She is readmitted to the hospital, since heparin and later coumadin must be administered until her blood is sufficiently thin to prevent additional clots. These drugs mean that she cannot undergo a bone marrow biopsy, an option necessary to determine whether the cancer is also in her bone marrow (making it multiple myeloma). She had pretty much already decided not to undergo chemo- or immuno-therapies anyway, so the determination is largely irrelevant.
Although most of our attention was focused on Mom and her health, there were other experiences during this period. On 7/3, Mike & Roberta stop in for a few days, on their way out west in their new-to-them camper. 7/4 Barb’s son Jeff arrives and spends the weekend. 7/5 Mom has her first radiation treatment, with very little change in her pain. July 8, the Tadewalds and the Pruddens arrive from Minneapolis to see us all, but especially Grandma Shipley.
7/9 – 7/19
July 9, Mom is released again from the hospital, her blood having finally gotten thin enough to minimize the chances of another clot. She must continue with coumadin and be taken in to the lab for blood test, but she is home! She has about a week in which she suffers occasional bouts of extreme pain, usually after having been on her feet for a bit. The only thing that seems to help is to get into just the right position in a bed with a raised head or in a recliner with a lowered back. And then one day, after about 9 or 10 radiation treatments, the pain is largely gone. From that point on, she slowly begins to regain her balance and her strength, thanks to the assistance of three different home care specialists that each visit several times a week. From that point on, we celebrate Mom’s freedom from pain by playing Progressive Rummy multiple nights a week.
Mom is not out of the woods yet, since there may be cancer lurking elsewhere and since she is still much weaker than before all of this started. But she had three weeks of radiation, and on the last day of treatment we learned that it generally takes two weeks of recuperation for every week of treatment before the fatigue is totally gone. Meanwhile, her spirits are high and she is exercising with dedication and she is largely pain free. We are so glad.