The Ups and Downs
I was in shock when my best friend called to say that she had cancer. I was dumbfounded as I listened to her telling me that she had ovarian cancer and would be having surgery in a few weeks. Numbness struck as I thought it is the week before Christmas; her favorite time of the year.
She survived the surgery and the prognosis was good. She would have to undergo radiation and chemo, but they were optimistic that they had gotten it all. I looked at her when she came home and was amazed, she was ashen and her bright eyes were dull. As usual, she was optimistic and raved about how she had lost so much weight. We joked as this was a constant battle for her.
Our lives changed drastically. We had always done shopping trips, lunches, get togethers and so much more. Little did we both realize that our lives for the next two years would revolve around doctor’s appointments, meal preparation and anything that had to do with this damned cancer.
The chemo treatments started. I took her to the treatments as I worked nights and her husband worked days, so it was easier. The chemo made her violently ill. She dreaded them as she started feeling good the day before the treatment and felt lousy the rest of the time.
Her appetite shrank as did her weight. She had no strength to cook and no interest in food. No problem, I would make extra when I fixed my families meals and bring over dinner. I tried everything and anything to tempt her appetite – nothing seemed to work. Every night I called and it was always the same, “it was good, but I just wasn’t hungry”.
The doctor’s decided that perhaps radiation would be better since the chemo was making her so ill. it did seem better she was not so violently ill, but there was no appetite. She said everything tasted like tin. I learned not to fix her favorites, to try other dishes and combinations. This seemed to work, but then nausea set in, everything made her sick. The doctor’s prescribed a pill for her that was supposed to lessen the nausea. These were like gold – $60 a pill and not covered by insurance.
During this time she developed a problem with her leg – it always ached and she never felt good. She had back problems due to her being so overweight. The leg and the back problems just added to the difficulty of her treatment.
So many times we would go for her radiation treatment to be told that the bed was not working, could we come back later, which we did. This took its toll on her as it was always the chore of getting there and having the treatment and leaving, when we had to wait or come back, it made it so much worse.
When the radiation was finally over, she went for her examination and the results were good – they could not find any trace of the cancer. It had been 6 months – we were overjoyed. Life started to get back to normal. Barbara’s appetite increased, she went back to work part time and all seemed well. We went on day trips, we did shopping and everything seemed to be back to normal. This was short lived.
I went over to take her to work one morning and she said that she didn’t feel well. I asked what was wrong and she said it wasn’t anything in particular, she just didn’t feel good. She made a doctor’s appointment and we went. They took more tests and could find nothing, maybe she was just tired. It didn’t change, she never felt good. We started going to her regular doctor, the cancer specialist, her allergist and an internist. No one could find anything. Yet, she didn’t feel good.
July 4th of 2000 came and we spent the day together. She and her husband came over for a barbecue and despite me having all her favorites, she barely ate a thing. We did a lot of laughing and enjoyed the day. The next day, she was vomiting and just didn’t feel good. Once again, we went to the same doctor’s and they could find nothing out of the ordinary. A blood test revealed that her levels were a little low. A liver scan was suggested for July 20th.
Barbara and I talked about everything, but for some reason we just could not talk about this liver scan. We did as much as we could in the two weeks before this scan. We went shopping, watched TV and just enjoyed being together. Going out was difficult as we now had a walker, cane and a pocketbook full of pills. We laughed and acted like this would go on forever.
July 19th came and we both thought that a special day would be appropriate. It was pouring that day, but we vowed not to let the rain dampen our spirits. We went up to the local farm and got some fresh picked corn on the cob and proceeded to the grocery store to get her a salmon steak – her absolute favorite. She suggested that we go to Stewart’s for lunch as she was craving their fish sandwich. As we were driving there, a deer ran in front of the car. We commented on how unusual it was to see a deer and how beautiful it was. Lunch was a disaster, nothing tasted good and she was too tired to eat. She asked if we could go home – this was not “my Barbara”.
Barbara, her walker, cane, pocketbook and I made it up the 19 stairs to her apartment and she laid down. Soon, it was time for me to go to work. We hugged each other and didn’t want to let each other go. I got called into work during the day on the 20th and could not go for her scan. She told me not to worry, her sister-in-law would take her and she would call me the minute it was over.
I called her the night of the 19th, but her husband said that she was asleep. The 20th came and I called her to wish her good luck and gave her my love. She reassured me that I would hear from her by 10:30 since the test was at 9:00. We told each other how much we loved each other. 10:30, 11:00, 11:30, 12:00; 12:30 came and went and no phone call. I called her husband at work and was told that he left and went to the hospital.
Panic set in. I called and got a wonderful operator who put me through to the emergency room where she was. She had an effect from the scan, and was not doing well. Her heart rate was not good, her breathing was shallow and she was in pain. I called again and spoke to her – she was so weak, she said “thanks, sorry I didn’t call you – I love you”. I told her how much I loved her.
Finally, her husband called, when they did the scan she had been full of cancer and the scan released the cancer into her system. She had about 48 to 72 hours. I was in shock. I went to the hospital and after much hassle finally was allowed in to see her. I was not family. I looked at her – gone was the radiant color in her cheeks, the bright, sparkly eyes never opened. I held her hand and told her that I loved her and I felt a slight squeeze on my hand. It must have been a reflex I was told, she was in a coma. Barbara left us on July 20th at 1:14 a.m.