Cancer Sucks

I’ve mentioned in previous posts, that my step-mom (a.k.a. Tutu) has brain cancer.  Here she is a couple of years ago when we were in SunRiver, Oregon…..Oh yea, and She’s a tree hugger….literally. 😉

Before I continue…….a couple of FYI’s: First, we call her Tutu, because that’s what my daughter, and all of her cousins have always known her as. It means Grandma in Hawaiian, and she’s Hawaiian. (Besides, its fun to say, isn’t it?  What girl doesn’t like Tutu’s?  Whether you’re talking about Grandma’s, or a poufy, girly ballet tutu.) Second, the type of cancer she has is called Glioblastoma, which unfortunately, is the most aggressive type of brain tumor there is. 😦

Her cancer journey (I say “her” but it’s also “ours”, because it has affected all of us, and we have been with her every step of the way) started in October of 2010.  She was diagnosed, and then went to Seattle to have the tumor removed. After surgery her ability to “connect” words and thoughts was affected the most.  They had a therapist visit her every day during recovery to assess her progress.  One of the days I visited her in the hospital, I was able to be there during the session with the therapist, along with her other two daughters Malia and Kristi.  The therapist laid down 5 objects on the tray in front of her.  Simple things, like a spoon, a cup, a pencil, etc. Tutu was supposed to say what the name of the object was, and then describe what you do with it.  She was able to mentally make the “connections”, but was unable to verbalize them.  One of the things I have always loved about Tutu is her sense of humor, and sarcasm, and a brain tumor wasn’t even able to take those away from her. It wasn’t long into the session before the four of us were in hysterics (Tutu included) at this little “quiz” she was trying to take, and failing miserably. I have a feeling, by the sober look the therapist had the entire time, that she either thought we were horribly mean people for laughing at (actually with) this poor woman with BRAIN CANCER, or she thought we were all just crazy. Either way, she clearly didn’t see the same humor in it that we all did. Crazy or not, I know that all four of us had the same mindset, that if we didn’t laugh, we would be crying.  I don’t know about you, but I would much rather laugh than cry, and besides, it’s better for your health!

The months following her surgery were hard for all of us.  Glioblastoma has a 4% survival rate.  We (and the doctors) really have no clue how long she has. She started chemo and radiation right away. That seemed to keep the tumor from returning, and kept new ones from growing for a while. Her ability to verbalize her thoughts has remained sketchy ever since her surgery, so it keeps us all laughing during conversations with her.  And amazingly, she has not been the least bit frustrated with it.  Her college degree is in phycology, and she worked in the mental health field up until her diagnosis.  I thought for sure that would be really hard for her…not being able to speak your thoughts. She has handled it well, and as usual, with humor. It’s like an on-going game of charades.  “Sounds like….”, “two syllables….”, “it’s something that you…….”. She can talk her way all around the word, describing it, but just can’t come up with the word itself. It can be pretty funny at times. 🙂 So who knows, maybe all of the laughter over this span of time had helped to keep the tumors at bay.     

Just before Christmas 2011, they found a “spot” on one of her routine MRI’s.  After Christmas, they determined that the cancer was growing again, and this time, very aggressively.  There were some more intense treatments that they could try but it’s tricky when you’re dealing with the brain, but Tutu opted not to go through that.  She decided that her quality of life in her remaining time here was more important than prolonging it. So right after the first of the year, she told us her decision to discontinue treatments, stop taking her medications, and call hospice to prepare for the inevitable. 😦   This was not fun to hear. I know I have mentioned this in prior posts, but I feel selfish for being so saddened by her decision, when it really is just THAT….HER decision.  She is at peace with it and it’s what she WANTS. Sometimes it’s easier just to bury your head in the sand, and “duck out” of the situation…..in attempt to make the pain lessen, or go away, and to be honest, that was my first instinct.  But my love for her turned me right around, and forced me to accept the situation head on and remain engaged.  Since her decision was made, we have talked several times. I continue to be more amazed by her strength and compassion every time. She was the one consoling ME after my break-up in January. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t be surprising. She has always been the one I go to for advice. She and I are alike, in that we are both pretty analytical people. We dissect. It’s how we process. So advice from an analytical, TO an analytical, is very helpful.  She was the one who helped me emotionally through my divorce/relationships, and has always reminded me of the good that exists in me, no matter what is happening to me “externally”. That I am who I am, and not to let others define ME. I owe her so much gratitude for her hand in getting me to where I am today……and that is to be who I am, and deciding to “Choose Joy” each day as well. Losing her is going to be tough. Very tough.

What prompted me to write this post, was having an awesome conversation with her last night.  And guess WHAT?  I made it through the entire convo without crying once. Every time I talk to her, I tell myself…..Kelly, DO NOT CRY. That is NOT what she wants….pppffttt yeah….that never worked. I did it anyway. She just sounds so normal and “herself” on the phone (except for the charades thing) you would never know she has anything wrong with her. Her laugh is the same, her voice is the same, and her humor/sarcasm is still there, everything. It’s hard to actually believe that the person I am talking to, will not be around soon. The only way I can describe it, is it kind of feels like talking to a ghost. But she is still here, so I want to open myself up and soak up every bit of her while I can, so I hang on every word she has to say, and every laugh.

This picture was taken after her diagnosis, and is a pretty accurate portrait of her attitude these days……

Last night we were talking about things going on in my life, some things that she too had been through earlier in her own life, and she reminded me just to keep them in perspective. She had been through them, and came out the other side a better stronger person. While they weigh so heavily on me right now, they will pass, and become distant memories. I look forward to that day, but I also am looking forward to making every day in between then and now as AWESOME and as POSITIVE as I can. 🙂

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