Kathy Coughlin

First post: Jan 21, 2020 Latest post: Oct 13, 2022
Diagnosis:  Stage 4 Non-small cell adenosquamous carcinoma (lung cancer) , with the ALK mutation, metastasized to the brain (nine tumors, inflammation)

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This story has two sides: the external, medical side, and the internal, spiritual side.  I will start with the external, then move into the internal (the most mind-blowing and awesome part!) in the journal entries.

In mid-November, 2019, my psyche collapsed.   I went from my native being overly interested in too many things to an active "I don't know and I don't care!"  I had enough experience with my depressive temperament to be alarmed.  Around the same time extreme exhaustion set in.  I was barely dragging myself through essentials, down from buzzing around like a bumble bee into *everything*.   Crippling loneliness had already been present for quite a long time & I was starving for spiritual communion with other people.

I put it down to extreme overexertion (processing hundreds of pounds of squash, carrots, apples, & pears) & Michigan's DARKNESS that time of year.  The darkness had taken me down the previous year as well, just not as far.  That time, when the houseplants starting putting out new shoots in February's return of sunlight, I'd perked up with them.  I was determined to wait it out.

My Prince, Brian, wasn't so sure.  He wanted to get things checked out.  But...I DON'T DO DOCTORS.  Been there, done that, bad experiences.  I go out of my way to manage my health preventatively by giving my body what it needs & avoiding abusing it--better to make sacrifices while *healthy* than do damage control with doctors!

Then I had an episode where my memory failed me, embarrassingly.  I just *couldn't* find words that I'd already thought through & wanted to communicate.  By the end of the conversation, I wasn't even following what my friend was saying.  Severe headaches began.  I've always avoided medications, including aspirin, but was going from pill to pill as soon as it was safe to take more, just to function.   I also found that I was at risk of dribbling the Most Precious Blood out of my mouth at Holy Communion.  My balance deteriorated.  I fell twice, hitting the back of my head hard the second time.  Weeks went by.  My Prince's alarm increased, as did that of several other people who were hearing about these symptoms, especially since my grandmother and aunt had died from complications of brain tumors (and my brother has excruciating headaches his doctor refuses to investigate).

Finally, a lady talking with us after daily Mass recommended Dr. Kim Barrows, a member of Sacred Heart parish, a community I trust, a pro-life doctor who came highly recommended as being godly.  That gave her just enough credibility for me to reluctantly agree to allow my Prince to make an appointment with her for me for Tuesday, January 7 & to send her information about my symptoms.  What she saw led her to meet us at the emergency room toward the end of the day, where she would have access to testing equipment her clinic did not have.

It was a LONG NIGHT.  The head CT scan revealed brain tumors, leading to an MRI & a body CT scan that showed tumors in my lymph nodes & lungs.  The tumors in my brain were surrounded by inflammation, which doctors brought down via a steroid--through a needle they left in my arm.  I don't do needles either.

I went "out of it" (I didn't have any idea I *had* until the next day or so, but Brian sure did!), incoherent, slurring words, repeating incomplete sentences, uncoordinated, weaving... and I stayed that way for hours (until the steroid they gave me eased the brain swelling and the worst of the symptoms).

Brian got the word out that we needed prayer and a FLOOD of prayer was sparked around the country for us.

I was admitted to the hospital, which was no small thing--I'd told my Prince from the beginning of our relation ship, "If I'm conscious enough to know I'm in the hospital, I'm too healthy to be there.  GET ME OUT!"  Having a polyester allergy complicated things in its own right--polyester is *everywhere*.

Dr. Barrows was an angel for us, staying long hours into the night, consoling Brian as much as she could, and advocating for us.  Fellow teachers of Brian's brought cotton sheets for the hospital bed & food Brian could safely eat.  The staff at the hospital, Mercy Health St. Mary's, were inspiringly compassionate and accommodating.  The night doctor who came in knelt at my bedside, bent his head, took my hand and expressed his deepest sympathies, promising to pray for us.  Staff members praised each other and praised their workplace, saying how wonderful it was to work there.  A med student--whom we started calling our "angel"--introduced herself with her shared love for God.   She got us to daily Mass in the hospital chapel (once we got doctor's permission to leave the floor) & talked with me about the things I most dearly love to talk about--saint stories, holiness, the beauties of the spiritual life.  She said she'd just been praying to grow in holiness & then she met me!  She fed my soul.

She also told me that something remarkable was going on with me--given what she saw of my brain scan, I should not be lucid, let alone as sharp as she found me to be.  She saw God at work in me *physically* as well as spiritually.  I was later told that because of the location of the tumors, I should not be able to articulate or balance, and that I should be in such extreme pain that they'd have to drug me into incoherence.  Yet my only significant remaining symptom was extreme weakness. 

Over and over, God provided.

If I had to be in the hospital, well, God chose *that* one, with its attendant details, just for me!

Visitors built me up with more talk of the Lord & when attendants wheeled me back to "my" room after a biopsy that was difficult enough to cost me something, but not nearly as painful as I'd anticipated (the radiologist & his assistant were AMAZING, with wonderful bedside manner), they stopped in their tracks & exclaimed, "You have the most beautiful room on the floor--*look* at all the *flowers*!  (they liked the penguin cotton sheets that had been brought in to protect me from polyester too :).  Several bouquets had arrived in our absence, and they were indeed beautiful!  There were enough to share, so I asked the nurses if there might be a patient who really needed a pick-me-up & they thought of one man right away, saying it would make his day.  I *loved* being able to do that!

Through everything, my Prince was at my side, tenderly cherishing me, looking out for me, providing for me.  I felt completely confident leaving everything in his capable hands.  My heart expanded.  My psyche revived.  The headache was gone.  I felt better than I had in *months*, but for the extreme weakness.  It felt odd for people to be feeling sorry for me.  I was *happy* for the first time in a long time!  ...except for being in the hospital, & I considered even *that* worth the price of this newfound well-being!

But I couldn't sleep.  I rested (I'm an experienced insomniac, with tricks up my sleeve).  And the persistent needle in my arm was a trauma.  The second night it got tangled in my blankets & I *felt* like it'd been multiplied in the darkness & stuck in even more places, including straight into my arm.  I protested & Brian thought I'd taken leave of my senses.  While I just wanted to him to *fix* it, he very sweetly tried to comfort me.  I was left aggravated, he traumatized, thinking I was hallucinating.  I just needed to get out of there.

The next morning, Thursday, January 9--my Prince's birthday--we were both motivated & asked what it would take to be discharged.  The doctors wanted me to stay, to expedite further testing & diagnosis.  The staff cheerfully got on our side & pulled off feat after feat to arrange medications (& avoid one that required injections!) & to arrange for a new doctor to take on my case.  Dear Dr. Barrows was not permitted by her clinic to take me, which set up a shock of trying to find a doctor I could trust!  Our "angel" came to our rescue, saying that her mom was a doctor who could take me on & that I'd LOVE her mom because she was "just like her daughter, only wiser".  I breathed easier at that.  Her mom had a full load, but her daughter talked her into taking my case.  The dread needles were removed & I was released!

Being back in my own bed, with my Prince in our waterbed bed (no rails & chair sides keeping me from reaching over to touch him) did me a world of good--& I SLEPT for the first time since entering the emergency room.  I didn't sleep *long*, but it was such a blessing!

My Prince threw himself into handling a flood of administrative details I had no head to even consider, handling food (cooking is far outside his comfort zone), nursing me attentively, and just generally continuing to be my knight in shining armor!

To be continued in the journal entries--which are the best part!