I’ve finally found some inspiration to blog… but it’s not a happy source of inspiration. Unfortunately, Craig’s mom passed away early Wednesday morning. Her cancer caught up with her, and took her quite quickly. She was 66 years old.
It’s a fairly long story that played out over only a handful of days…
- As you may recall, Heide was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer (that had spread to several lymph nodes and her liver) back in December. She weathered two rounds of aggressive chemotherapy – with little complaint – and was declared cancer-free in June. Over the summer she underwent a mastectomy and the removal of several lymph nodes as a preventative measure, since cancer is most likely to recur in places where it had already been. We knew that her cancer was very aggressive and that it could very likely return. A couple of weeks into her radiation treatment, Heide passed out at her appointment last Thursday afternoon. As a result of some tests that were run, doctors found that the cancer had returned to her liver. She was admitted to the hospital, and that was all we knew at that point.
We had already planned to take the day off on Friday to visit with our friend Jenny, who was in DC on business. We planned to spend the day with her and then visit DC’s Little Ethiopia to pick up some spices (so we could finally start some Ethiopian cooking) and meet up with Alan and Lindy for dinner. When Craig got an update in the morning from the nurse at the hospital, he was told that his mom was stable and would be discharged that afternoon. We decided to meet Jenny for lunch and then head to the hospital. We canceled our dinner plans, not knowing how long we would be and how much attention Heide would need once she got home.
Then, just as we were about to head out the door, we got news that the oncologist advised that we come right away, because Heide was in very bad shape and could go into a coma at any time and never wake up. Woah! Obviously, we canceled our lunch plans and went straight to the hospital, which was about an hour and a half away in Alexandria, Virginia. We got a hold of Craig’s aunt (Heide’s sister), Gretel, on the way and we all met at the hospital.
We were pleased to see Heide awake and fairly alert. She was amazingly jaundiced. She was definitely tired and weak, but she was eating a bit and was able to get in and out of bed, with some assistance, to go to the bathroom. She was mostly lucid but would slip into speaking in German (her native language). Both Craig and I have woefully forgotten most of our German, but Gretel had nice conversations with her. She said Heide was bringing up childhood memories. Shortly before we left for the night, Craig got a call from the oncologist, who said that Heide’s liver was riddled with cancer and that she was in complete liver failure. He said that most people at this point only last one to two weeks. We also learned that the cancer was in her bones.
Craig, Gretel, and I decided to take shifts visiting with her, since we didn’t want her to be alone in the hospital. I took the first shift on Saturday and Heide slept the entire time. Craig and Gretel had some good time with her later in the day and evening. She was eating – although not a lot – and was in and out of lucidity. By Sunday she was not able to eat more than a few bites of applesauce here or there, and she was not able to speak much more than “yeah” or “no.” She was in such rapid decline. Each day I saw her, I thought, this can’t get much worse, and then the next day, it was markedly worse. By Monday she wasn’t eating and we weren’t sure if she knew who we were, and she was in notable discomfort. She barely opened her eyes at all. By Tuesday she was in clear pain and I don’t think we once saw her open her eyes. There was no communication at all. Her breathing was loud and obviously laborious. It was absolutely heartbreaking to watch.
Since we knew her diagnosis was bleak, and it was so clear that there was no chance of recovery, we elected to do nothing more than keep her comfortable. There wasn’t ever even any treatment offered to us, but I suppose we could have insisted on a feeding tube or something like that. But really, by about Sunday, it was clear to us that the best thing that could happen to Heide was for her to be able to find peace and move on from this world. Accordingly, we made arrangements for her to go to hospice. However, a bed did not open up until Tuesday afternoon.
She was transferred to the hospice center on Tuesday afternoon. We all stayed with her through the evening and then went home.
At 1:15am, the phone rang. It was one of those middle-of-the-night phone calls that makes you jump out of bed and think, who died?!, and of course, we knew it could really be the call telling us that she had died. The hospice nurse told Craig that Heide’s breathing pattern had changed quite a bit, and that she thought that she might die within the hour. So, we rushed down there as fast as we could. But when we arrived, the nurse met us at the door and told us, “I’m sorry, she didn’t wait for you.” I thought that was a nice way of telling us that Heide had died. Gretel arrived shortly thereafter and we all spent some time with Heide. It was very, very sad, of course, but all three of us took a tremendous amount of comfort in seeing her in such a peaceful state.
Craig is holding up, although it goes without saying that it is absolutely terrible to lose your mother. He has received a great deal of support from friends and family, as have I. We truly appreciate the phone calls, emails, and FB comments. The shock of the diagnosis was quite intense, since it seemingly came out of nowhere and took her so quickly. But we are so grateful that she found peace and did not have to struggle any longer.
Due to her schizophrenia, Heide lived a life more difficult than anyone should have to live. But when she was well, she truly enjoyed life. Her two favorite people in the world were her son and her sister, and I am so grateful that she was surrounded by her loved ones in her final days, even though this all happened so quickly. It gives us all a great amount of peace.