Monday, February 20, 2012

Life with Poppa

It was a year ago, to the day, when Poppa's radiation was began. Today we found out that not only is the cancer growing again but it is very active.  

It had been bothering Pop for a long time, but being a typical male of his generation, he didn't mention it to anyone. Well, actually, he DID complain of chest pains that, it turns out, were radiating from this mas. Several times over the last two years Poppa has been rushed to the hospital with these symptoms which were mimicking heart attack symptoms.  When the connection was finally made, we were sent scurrying to a surgeon who removed as much of the mass as he could, but left what was attached to the chest wall.  The biopsy resulted in the diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma.

41 trips to the radiologist.  Eight and a half weeks (one half week off for rest) of daily trips to the cancer clinic. Pop and I would head out in all types of weather, enjoying the time together in the car, stopping to do errands on the way, called it our "adventures."

O my, what a year!  So many life-altering events have taken place in the last 12 months.  So many, in fact, that I had to write it down, fearing that no one would believe me.  I don't know how many trips we made to the hospital.  Starting with Pop's lumpectomy, followed by radiation, weeks of kitchen remodeling, Mom's emergency surgery which caused her heart failure and move into hospice care, closing our studio (Tim packed it all up by himself as I was caring for Momma) and emptying it with no place to move it to, Mom and Pop's ranch in Alabama selling and Tim and I going to get their stuff, moving our renter out of the cottage, renovating the cottage into our studio and moving into it, waves of relatives coming to spend time with Momma during her last days, Mom's passing July 26, and after her cremation we hurried to Alabama for the memorial before my brother Bud moved to Arizona, Poppa had cataracts removed from both eyes and a cancer removed from his left eyebrow (turned out to be squamous cell also) and extensive repair to his brow, and lastly, during a follow up for that procedure, the cancer on his right eyelid was found, biopsied and the basal cell carcinoma that was removed was even larger than the cancer on his eyebrow and required extensive skin grafting and reconstruction.  

Pop has endured it all with grace.  He misses Momma, his life partner of 68 years, but hasn't grieved inordinately or fallen into despair.  It has aged him, changed him and worn him out.  At least when Momma was alive he had a purpose which was to look after her and spoil her, as he always had done. Now he lacks purpose. The once formidable, robust man is frail.  He is still mostly independent but needs me to make sure he gets his meds and checks his blood sugar and injects his insulin.  I make his meals and encourage him to eat because he has so little appetite. He leans on me when we walk and depends on me for his companionship. Recently I've noticed that he's made the cognitive leap from being the man in charge to the one being cared for.  In all of this he says he is as happy as can be expected, given the circumstances.  He says he could never have gone through it all if he hadn't been here with us.  We still see flashes of his lightning wit. 

In the morning we take Pop to the oncologist to decide what, if any, treatment he will pursue in regards the tumor growing under his arm.  As it is, it presses on nerves which cause him intense pain that radiates from under the arm across the chest, mimicking heart pain.  We manage the pain now, but know not what will be required when the tumor grows.  The plastic surgeon has tried to repair the damage caused by the cancer on his face, but his appearance is drastically altered.  What will be required to stop the outrage of cancer growing in this 89 year old body?  How does one make the choice to poison the cancer with drugs,knowing that the side effects might potentially sicken him to death but at the same time, how can one choose to not fight back, knowing that if he doesn't he will surely die of it, not to mention the increasing pain? 

More and more often I find Pop sitting alone in his living room without the television on, no newspaper in his lap, head down.  I think he is praying.  He doesn't talk about his faith but he is calm and prepared.  I know he is battling despair, as am I, come to think of it. Yesterday I read in Psalm 46 that "God is our refuge and strength and a very present help in trouble."   We need your help, Lord, this day. Bless my Poppa.