The Plan

After visiting several doctors for multiple opinions on what, if anything, could be done for my mother’s cancer, we finally had a plan.  My mother would undergo treatment in a clinical trial.  This had the advantage first and foremost of being free.  Secondly, it gave us something to hang a hat of hope on.  All of the traditional survival rates for chemo and radiation were absolutely abysmal for my mother’s type of cancer.  But the doctors said that the combination of some heavy duty drug called cisplatin, given in high doses once a month, along with traditional radiation, was being explored as a possible solution for cancers like my mother’s.

My mother’s cancer had the unfortunate circumstance of being not only very large, but located in the middle of her lung, very close to her heart and esophagus, which made it awkward to remove.  The hope was that the chemo would stop the spread of the cancer, and that the radiation would shrink the tumor to the point where removal was possible.  This scrap of hope lifted her out of her depression, and a month after she was diagnosed, I checked her into Harper Hospital for her first round of chemotherapy.  My great aunt left the day before, finally feeling like my mother was back to her old self with a fighting spirit and a saucy mouth.  “Screw this cancer,” she said as she changed into her hospital gown that Friday.

My mother would be checked into the hospital once a month for a three day round of chemo therapy.  The doctors would also administer new anti nausea drugs to help ease the effects that were so well known of the poisons she was willingly now injecting into her veins.  Fortunately for me, the hospital was five minutes from my university, so I could check her in for that first time, go to my morning class, and then return with my mother’s favorite salad for lunch and spend some time with her before going home to pick up Zach.

She was optimistic, she told me, for the first time since the diagnosis.  “I kept thinking how this was going to be just like my father,” she confessed to me in between bites of taco salad.  “But they are talking about how the new drugs make it so you really don’t get sick.  Too bad though, because I was kind of counting on dropping a few pounds now that I am actually doing chemo.”

The jokes were a good sign.  They were indeed confirmation that my mother was back in the game.

“Maybe I can get some too,” I laughed back.

We wondered what the next months would be like.  My mother was starting radiation soon, and we had heard that had an effect of burning the skin and underlying tissue, that built up over time.  Of course it made sense, since the whole point of radiation was to burn the tumor, it had to harm healthy tissue on the way in.  We had been mystified by the machines when we went in for her measurements; the machines were huge and similar to x ray machines, and just like x ray machines, you couldn’t see or feel the rays that were being directed towards you.

We had scheduled the radiation in the mornings, five days a week, at a different hospital sixty miles away in the other direction.  She was scheduled for forty treatments, or eight weeks of radiation.  In addition, she was supposed to take six rounds of the chemo, once a month in patient in the hospital for three days.  Then they would assess the size of the tumor and see if the treatments had worked.

That was the plan.  It felt better, even in light of the awfulness that we were sure lay ahead, to at least have a starting point and an end point on the calendar.

By September we should know what we were dealing with.  I hoped my twenty second birthday would give me the present we were all hoping for.



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