I've been scant on the posts lately due to some news in my family. My mother was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer this past week.
Recently she was at our house helping us paint the bathroom, seemingly as healthy as can be. A few weeks later she was in the hospital having two major surgeries and almost becoming septic. Days later she was given her diagnosis: a fatal cancer that had most likely been present in her body for years. Here are a few facts about pancreatic cancer:
- It is considered the cancer with the poorest prognosis. Of those who have it, only 6% will live past 5 years of their diagnosis.
- It is typically detected in the later stages. The pancreas is hidden behind other organs, and there are few symptoms in the early stages and those symptoms are like the signs of many illnesses.
- There is currently no preventative screening available for pancreatic cancer. Most of the procedures that could potentially get a good look at a growing tumor in the pancreas are expensive and/or invasive like an endoscopic ultrasound, laparoscopy, biopsy, and/or MRIs and CT scans.
- Of those who do receive detection in the first stage, only about 15% will live past 5 years.
- There has been slow progress experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer. This is partially due to the complexity of the cancer, partially due to it being a rare cancer, and partly due to lack of lobbying for research funds. When almost everyone with a specific cancer dies relatively quickly after they are diagnosed, there aren't a lot of people knocking down Washington's door or running 5Ks.
- There is a rare pancreatic cancer gene mutation that can run in families.
- The average life expectancy for stage IV PC is 3-6 months.
My grandmother had pancreatic cancer in 2008. First she developed diabetes, then died within 6 weeks of being diagnosed, right before my wedding. She was in her 80s. My mom is less than 65.
What exactly do you do when the second most involved person in your life is suddenly, out of nowhere, going to die? How do you handle that? At this point I can't even believe it. I can't even see my life without her in it; my children's lives without her as their grandmother. How can one lose both parents before the age of 30?
What I really don't understand, though, is why some people's lives are filled with so much hardship and tragedy while others' follow a normal and relatively easy course. My mother is one of those people who has had a hard life. She took care of her husband while he was in a coma for two years before he died in his early thirties- while having three young children. She then finished raising three particularly challenging teenage girls (to say the least). When she finally had a chance to breathe and enjoy being retired, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and she helped take care of her. Then she had to help take care of her father who has Alzheimer's, and just recently was told her husband has Parkinson's disease. Almost her whole life has been spent taking care of others.
Now, less than two years after having her first biological grandchild, which was a joy she looked forward to more than anything, she finds out she is dying. My children won't even remember her, or that she was the best grandmother one could ask for.
Why do some live a life of gut-wrenching experiences while others skip through life with, at worst, a breakup, strained relationship, or job failure to deal with? Why is the burden so unevenly spread? Why couldn't my mom enjoy the rest of the life she had left?
Perhaps I should have expected something like this. I'm convinced God has decided to bestow us with at least one traumatic experience every year, so I guess we were due. Ok, obviously I don't really believe that, yet a part of me wants to be bitter. My mom isn't bitter, though. She never has been. She goes through life with a big smile on her face and she never complains. She's always known what is really important. Not money, things, status, comfort, or others' opinions, but love, respect, generosity, and support. I hope that the next months of her life are the best yet. She deserves nothing less.
Life really is but a breath.