Our mom, Joyce June Evensen, is 86 years old and lives on her own in a home in Big Lake, Minnesota. All five daughters live in Minnesota and most live nearby. She has 9 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren that she sees and does things with frequently. There are 39 of us in all and we all help her to maintain her active life style. She is a very active person and loves to work in her many flower gardens and spend time with her family.
In the middle of 2015 she started losing weight while not trying to. She kept busy with her flowers, ceramics and ignored the weight loss. Many of us noticed the weight loss after a while and started to recommend for her to go in and see what was up. She didn’t want to, she said she felt fine she was just losing weight. She went from a size 12 to 4 in about a year and a half. She stayed at this low weight for a while before she decided on her own to go in to see a doctor. One reason she changed her mind was she was out raking leaves and she got winded and that had never happened before.
On October 13, 2016 she went in to see a general practitioner. Due to the amount of her weight loss blood tests and a chest x-ray were taken. They found a round 6.6 cm mass in her lower right lung. They said it was highly concerning for malignancy. It was going to be a while for her to get in to see a Pulmonologist close to home so we called the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Mom’s first appointment at the Mayo was on October 17, 2016 to see a pulmonary physician’s assistant, William Holland, PA-C. Our first visit was pretty dismal. Her diagnosis was squamous cell carcinoma right lower lobe of the lung. There was a lot of talk about mom’s age and how large the tumor was. Mr. Holland was not very hopeful that mom could tolerate the rigorous treatments to beat this cancer and began to recommend “palliative care”. Once we understood what this meant, we talked more and explored more options, Mr. Holland decided to schedule more tests to see if mom was healthy enough for treatments. Within a week mom had an echocardiogram, PET MRI, lung function test and an EKG. All showed surprisingly positive results. Mr. Holland had not thought mom was in such good overall health. After he read these results the atmosphere changed. In our next visit on November 1, 2016, he said there were no signs that the tumor had spread. Now he wanted mom to talk to a surgeon and possibly have this tumor removed surgically. It would be up to the surgeon if mom would be a candidate for surgery. We met the surgeon that day, Dr. Mark S. Allen, MD. He looked over mom’s information and was impressed at how young she looked and how vibrant she was. Dr. Allen said yes to the surgery. Within minutes mom had decided to have the surgery.
The surgery was on November 4, 2016. Mom was in the waiting room with us. Since there were so many of us, a nurse came into the waiting room twice to get mom. The first time she could not find mom so the nurse went back and told the front desk mom was not in there. They said “yes she is, she doesn’t look her age”. So the nurse tried one more time and she noticed mom sitting on the couch. She told mom she had a hard time locating her because she was looking for an older looking lady. Then she told mom it is time to go.
Dr. Allen had previously told us that before proceeding with removal of the cancer tumor he would takes biopsies of many of her lymph nodes. We were called in the waiting room and told all biopsies were negative. Now they were proceeding to the next part of the surgery, the removal of the tumor. There were over 20 of us in the waiting room breathing a sigh of relief. The lymph nodes were negative! We knew we weren’t out of the woods yet. The next part would take up to 3 hours to complete so we all sat back and waited. Some left to get things to prepare for the wait. However it was only a few minutes later Pam got the call. Mom was done with surgery and they were closing her up. There were only a handful of us in the waiting room. We knew something was wrong - it was supposed to take hours not minutes. The nurse told us someone would come and get us to bring us to the surgeon. We called everyone back and we all waited. All five of mom’s daughters followed the surgical representative down many hallways to the surgery area. They put us in a small room and we waited, quietly. Dr. Allen walked in. It was not good news. We knew it. We knew it. We listened to him tell us that our mom’s tumor was attached to her ribs and her spine and they were not able to remove it. They did put clips in to help pinpoint for radiation treatments. He talked more and we asked some questions and he left. We stood still for a few minutes and left the small room. We called the rest of our family who were back in the waiting room so far away. We said meet us in the cafeteria. We barely talked while trying to get to the rest of the family in the cafeteria. We finally got there and we told them the news. How do we tell mom? How will she take the news?
Mom was in recovery and getting more awake. She didn’t ask the question, so we didn’t offer it. At one point she did ask and she was told. However when Dr. Allen came to assess things he confirmed to her he couldn’t remove the tumor, but not to give up - there are other things to try. Mom held on to that statement, and so did we. Mom was in the hospital for 4 days recovering before she was discharged on November 7, 2016. Mom had to wait one month to recover from her surgery before returning to see what the next step was.
On December 5, 2016 we all went to see Thomas Pagenkopf, PA-C, for mom’s Thoracic surgery follow up appointment. We told him how mom was up doing things within days of surgery, and within 2 weeks she was going shopping and moving around pretty well. He was impressed at how mom bounced back. Since she did so well he said they could have seen her earlier than a month. That was a wonderful compliment for mom. That same day mom saw a medical oncologist, Dr. Randolph Marks and a radiation oncologist, Dr. Yolanda Garces. Doctor Marks recommended 6 chemotherapy treatments (one per week) and Dr. Garces recommended 30 radiation treatments (5 days per week).
Now mom had to decide if she should have the treatments at the Mayo in Rochester or back home at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Doctor Garces had given mom a high recommendation for Dr. Monyak at Abbott Northwestern. Mom originally wanted to have the treatments at the Mayo, so we quickly got things organized, where we would stay, who would be staying with her and etc. Then while this was happening mom told Pam (me) to call Dr. Monyak’s office at Abbott and ask a few questions. Mom wanted to make sure they would be giving the same kind of treatments that the Mayo described. Mom liked the answers to the questions and decided to keep the appointment on Thursday, December 14th to meet with Dr. Monyak. He was going over mom’s medical notes from the Mayo. Dr. Monyak’s first comment was that mom has a lot of support. Dr. Monyak was reading that all five daughters were present at all the Mayo visits. Evidently the reports also mentioned numerous times how mom was a delightful 86 year old. Mom did not take long to decide she liked Dr. Monyak. He went way over and above explaining to us what mom has, and how the treatments were going to go. HE WAS GOING FOR THE CURE!
Mom started chemotherapy and radiation treatments on Monday of Christmas week (December 19, 2016). Mom was told that during her treatments she is to live her life as normal as possible. That meant to not cancel Christmas dinner at her house because of the germs 41 people would bring into the house. She followed that advice and we had a wonderful Christmas gathering.
Mom is very brave and courageous person. She handled her first week of chemotherapy and radiation like a rock star. This fight has shown the family a new side of our mom that we had not seen before. We have always known that she is strong and independent. But now we have seen another side. She is also fragile, frightened and willing to receive care in a way that we have never seen or recognized before.