Jul 16, 2019 Latest post:
Jul 10, 2020
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Dad started having some digestive tract issues in May of 2018. Because his mother had had colon cancer, he had both a colonoscopy and an endoscopy last summer and those came back clear. He continued to have some issues but they were attributed to any number of relatively minor possible causes. Sometime during the past year, he also started to have back pain which again was attributed to perhaps a pulled muscle, some arthritis, just being in one's eighties. Dad also started losing some weight. I most often saw dad at church where he had on at least three layers of clothes and was slow to notice this symptom. Dad attributed it to just not eating as much. In April 2019, dad started complaining more about his back and side hurting. He also began to get take home plates when we would eat out for Sunday lunch. For the past 2-3 years, dad and I had taught Vacation Bible School together at church. It was something that we had enjoyed doing and I had looked forward to doing it again this year. In early May, when I asked dad about signing up to teach VBS, he shared that his back was hurting him too bad and that he didn't think he would be able to do that this year. At this point, I knew that something more serious than a pulled muscle was going on because dad loves helping with VBS. Dad also said that he wasn't up to a two hour car ride to go to one of his 1st cousin's 80th birthday party. This too was out of character for him. I asked dad if wanted me to get him an appointment to see someone about his back, and he consented to let me schedule an appointment with a specialist at UAB where I work.
Dad had an appointment to be evaluated by the NP for one of the orthopedic surgeons at UAB on June 4th. We had gone out to eat lunch after church on Sunday, May 26th, and in conversation dad shared that he had lost down to 185. Later that afternoon, I began to question, how much weight had dad lost and over what time period. This piece of the puzzle got me thinking in a whole new direction about what might be going on with dad. The next Sunday at lunch, I asked dad how much weight had he lost and over what time period. He said about 15 pounds over about four months. This would have been great if he had been trying to lose weight but he wasn't.
We went to the orthopedic office on Tuesday, June 4th. At this time, dad had decided that it wasn't his back but was most likely his gallbladder that was causing the problems as all of his symptoms could be attributed to gallbladder issues. Dad had his back X-rayed and was told that his back was great and that we would all hope to have our backs be that good when we were 80. However, this specialist was very concerned about the weight loss and side pain that dad was experiencing. The pain was on the wrong side of dad's body for his gallbladder to be the likely culprit. The specialist shared that the next step in evaluating what was going on should be lab work and a CAT scan. Dad had also agreed to let me set him up with a gerontologist to be his primary care physician. We were still in the process of trying to get that set up but planned to ask that doctor to run the tests. Dad and Charles who had also gone to this appointment stopped to use the restroom and I went back to see the specialist. I voiced to her for the first time what my fears were. I shared that there is a family history of pancreatic cancer (one of dad's aunts) and asked if it was possible for her to order the tests so that we would have results when we got to the next doctor instead of having to wait for that appointment before anything was ordered. She went ahead and ordered the lab-work and CAT scan.
I found dad and shared with him my concern about the family history of pancreatic cancer and that I had asked the NP to go ahead and order the tests for dad and that they could do the lab work that day if he was up to it. He went ahead and had the lab work done and the CAT scan was scheduled for the following Monday. Dad said that he hoped it wasn't pancreatic cancer because if it was he would probably only have a year left at the most. After dad's CAT scan, we got called by the orthopedic NP, and played phone tag for a day before we got the message on Wednesday, June 12th, that the scan had revealed an abdominal mass that looked like cancer and a request of whether or not we had a preference for an oncologist. Following the recommendation of nurses that I know and trust, I reached out to one of our surgical oncologists via e-mail the next morning, sharing the situation and asking what I needed to do to get dad in to see him for evaluation. He looked at dad's CAT scan and responded to me that evening that it did look like dad had cancer of the pancreas that had spread to the liver and that it would not be operable. He shared his cell phone number and offered to be available for me to call him to discuss options.
I had read that e-mail after I had gotten home that evening. I loaded up and went to dad's house and sitting on the back porch read the e-mail to dad. Dad's first response was "So that's what it is then" followed pretty quickly with dad quoting scripture "to live is Christ and to die is gain." Together we called and talked to the surgeon from UAB. The doctor asked how dad was doing. Dad started to give the automatic response of fine but stopped himself and answered honestly, "Well doctor, physically, I don't reckon I'm doing very well; however, spiritually, I am prepared." While these answers from dad brought tears to my eyes, it is a huge encouragement to know that dad is prepared no matter what happens and that he is trusting God through this. My dad who has taught me and others so much about how to live life well, will also show me how to live the transition from this world to the next. My heart wants a miraculous physical cure and to have daddy here for another 20 years at least to continue to be a blessing in my life and the life of our family, church, friends and community; I also know that our ultimate healing is when God calls us away from this world to be home with Him. We will trust in God and His love for us.
The next couple of days were some of the hardest for me knowing the diagnosis and not being able to talk about it, as dad wanted to wait to tell all the family at once. Dad had all his kids and grandkids together for Father's day and shared with everyone what his probable diagnosis was. He had a biopsy the next day that confirmed it to be Stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had spread to the liver. Pain and nausea have become constant companions. He visited with an oncologist that Friday, June 21st. A week later he became dehydrated and went to the hospital for several days--he came away with a little bit better pain management plan and meds. He had a port placed on July 5th and started chemo on July 8th. The chemo is supposed to help shrink the tumors decreasing pain and nausea and extending life. There is no medical cure. Our faith, hope and trust will remain in God.