My mother-in-law has quite the cancer record. Twelve years ago she was diagnosed with agressive naso-pharyngeal carcinoma. She did heavy duty chemo and radiation and went into remission. In the U.S., 3600 people a year get nasopharyngeal cancer, and it comprises one percent of head and neck cancers.
A year ago she had gallbladder cancer. Only 1000 Americans get this kind of cancer every year. It was totally unrelated to her previous bout of cancer. She appears to have beaten that cancer as well.
Now she has another tumor in her sinuses (naso-pharyngeal again). But this time it is a a sarcoma, almost certainly caused by the radiation that she received a dozen years ago. only 5% of cancer patients will actually have a recurrence of cancer due to their radiation treatments.
From the Cancer Care Alliance:
"Sarcomas are rare (only about 1 percent of all cancer cases annually), and they can be difficult to diagnose. The best place to go for diagnosis and treatment of these rare cancers is an academic medical center where our doctors provide the most up-to-date treatments to hundreds of people with sarcoma every year.
'We see people who are diagnostic challenges,' says Dr. Conrad, director of SCCA's Sarcoma Service."
That's my mother-in-law, the chronic diagnostic challenge.
All this just validates my opinion that statistics are strictly for doctors and insurance companies. Despite odds that seem overwhelming for or against one individual, when it happens to you, it's 100%. The numbers are just averages, and mean nothing, absolutely nothing, to the individual.
Unfortunately for my mother-in-law, this sarcoma has about a 99.9% of killing her. It is an incredibly fast growing cancer that has completely blocked her nasal passages and is spreading out it's killer tentacles with the abandon of a noxious weed. It's took a month to nail down a diagnoses and half the doctors have said, in so many words, "go home and make yourself comfortable, because it won't be long now."
A couple of other doctors have been more proactive, and pushed for treatment. Chemo is usually ineffective against sarcomas, so the more common treatment is radiation and surgery. My mother-in-law's tumor is inoperable due to it's proximity to the brain, and she cannot receive radiation because she already received her maximum radiation with her previous head and neck cancer. However, there is a brand new treatment, called a Cyber Knife (which, interestingly is radio-wave based), that is so precise it would not touch her surrounding tissue, only the tumor. Her radiologist here is pushing for using it, but the only operable machine is in Colorado, and the doctors there would need to agree to do it. On Friday, the Colorado doctor called and said he had concerns about doing the treatment. Again, in so many words, he expressed that he felt that the treatment would not be helpful. It would not do any good. It is her only option.
While we knew the treatment would probably not cure her, we thought it might give us more time. More time with her. and also more time to explore other options, and work with naturopathic doctors that might help slow the cancer. While I understand the position of the doctor in Colorado, he doesn't realize he is taking away all hope. And lack of hope will kill her that much faster.
As it is, my mother-in-law has recently turned to morphine for her pain. This from a woman who never has more than a half a glass of champagne, and who can't take codeine because it makes her nauseated. This woman is a martyr, if she is taking morphine she is in excruciating, take your breath away pain. She can hardly swallow, and breathing is an effort. She is in misery.
When my husband saw the most recent MRI, he described it as a "tumor the size of Texas" growing in her head.
So now, intermixed with discussions about doctors, and treatments and trying to get in to yet someone else, we are having talks about death. Immediate, in your face talks about what will happen next. What will happen to my father-in-law, who, although he is only 69 and in great health, cannot make a long distance phone call, because his wife does it for him. He doesn't pay the bills, or make anything more sophisticated than coffee. He has led a coddled life. We need a Do Not Resuscitate Directive. We need to buy a burial plot. You would think some of this would have been done before. But my in-laws like to live in denial, and frankly, up to now, it has worked for them.
Do you take your six your old to a funeral? We have determined yes, but explain the situation thoroughly before you go. How do you keep the memory of the favorite grandparent alive? Do we have the right recipe for her world renowned pie? How will we deal with the loss of a mother's unconditional love? How do we keep her close?
My mother-in-law takes care of people. That is her whole life; repressing her own needs for those of others. She cannot bear to stop taking care of people. My husband and I have both let her know that we will take care of the people she leaves behind. We will. And perhaps in that way we will get through this.