Our Family Got Cancer
Tuesday September 22, 2015see more by jen
This is a post I never wanted to write.
I thought about not writing it.
I didn’t know if I could have the strength to write it.
But I wanted to write it because I wouldn’t feel right carrying on with posts as if nothing happened.
So here it is.
My mom has pancreatic cancer. 67 years old and completely healthy up until this (insert expletive here) cancer.
That’s our family above a few weeks ago. I’m on the left with my two girls standing behind. My sister is on the right with her two boys. And my beautiful mom in the middle.
Her name is Julie and she is the center of our family. Her cancer is our cancer. Our family got cancer.
Julie | Mom | Nana
To know her my mom is to love her. She is like sunshine. She sparkles.
Everywhere she goes and to every one she meets she makes life brighter with her positivity. She loves people and has a genuine interest in every one she meets. We joke that she is the only person that can meet a stranger in any situation and walk away knowing their kids’ names and where they went on their last vacation.
My kids worship the ground their Nana walks on. Because she is a LOT of fun.
Our relationship is so close that I can’t remember in my 40 years having a major fight with my mom. She has been my # 1 fan and is now tied for # 1 fan of my two girls.
She’s an extraordinary mother.
This summer, after 10 years of saving, and dreaming, my husband and I put in a swimming pool in our backyard. It was something I never thought we could do – but we did. I always dreamed of having my whole family over for pool parties with the cousins swimming and us all enjoying time together.
This photo was taken 3 days before her diagnosis. The water in our pool had just gone in 2 weeks prior and it was our first family swimming party for my parent’s 46th wedding anniversary.
I remember sitting there next to my dad, and saying to him, “I am SO HAPPY. I am just SO HAPPY.” I hadn’t felt that magnitude of joy in a very long time.
It is ironic how life can change in the blink of an eye.
The Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis
April 1st my mom got hit with bad abdominal pain out of no where and ended up having surgery to remove her gallbladder. She recovered nicely and the pain that sent her to the ER went away but afterwards the bloating in her stomach never went down.
Come June 24th she started experiencing bad abdominal pain that didn’t go away. She went to her doctor and because abdominal pain can mean a lot of things, she went down a road of different tests…that returned nothing. Weeks go by between different tests and results with no answers and then a CT scan was ordered that revealed a mass on her pancreas.
An endoscopy to biopsy the mass was scheduled and after the procedure the doctor came in and said you have a tumor on your pancreas and it is a cancerous tumor.
Life Changes In One Day
No one can prepare you for that moment of sheer horror.
NO. NOT MY MOM. Not now. No. No. No. No.
I went into the bathroom and dry heaved, shaking, crying, “No, no, no, no, no.”
The days afterward are hard to explain. I couldn’t stop the tears, I couldn’t talk about it without crying. It hurt to breathe. I would wake up in the middle of the night and just sob. I didn’t know how I could still have any tears left. I was emptied.
“I Don’t Know How to Do This”
I kept saying, “I don’t know how to do this.” I have always thought of myself as a fairly capable person who could handle obstacles placed in my path. But I didn’t know how to do this.
I didn’t know how to handle this pain, I didn’t know how to get through the day, I didn’t know how life would ever feel normal again.
A good friend of mine’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer two weeks prior to my mom. I called her in a parking lot not being able to drive because I could not stop sobbing. I asked her, “How did you do this?”
Her words and empathy that day were so healing. We cried together. But behind her tears and voice was a strength that inspired me. She assured me we were all going to get through this. I had hope that one day my voice too would find its strength.
We needed more information, and a plan. She told me, just get on the path to a plan for treatment.
The Cancer Diagnosis to Treatment Plan Roller Coaster of Hell
The pancreatic cancer diagnosis with no information yet was hell, pure hell.
The minute I heard there was a cancerous tumor inside of her I wanted to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT – like NOW!! I wanted her in some sort of treatment the next day.
But it doesn’t work that way. One must wait for appointments to get more information with each day feeling like a year. You desperately wait for the next appointment, but that also comes with a dread of what you might find out.
The first appointment was with an oncologist who said surgery to remove the tumor was the best shot. In order to be able to operate, it had to not have spread and be in a spot on the pancreas to be operable. She was very positive and encouraging. We left that appointment feeling like a hand was reaching down to us to pick us up. We felt hope. Maybe the surgeon could operate and cut it out. Get it out of her.
We were chugging up the roller coaster towards the light.
The next morning we met with a surgeon with no bedside manner that delivered the news that it was inoperable because of its placement near the veins and arteries that run behind it. Surgery was not an option. We could do chemo to try and shrink it. His delivery was not hopeful.
Enter the free fall roller coaster of fear drop.
In total we had five appointments with oncologists and surgeons, with each one a different outcome of hope or fear or a mixture of both.
This is Bigger Than Me
The highs and lows and loss of control and fear were more than I could handle. At one point in the middle of the night I realized I couldn’t do this on my own. This was bigger than any human. I started to pray.
I have always been a Christian, but there is nothing like a cancer diagnosis to drop you to your knees with a need for God in a way I had not experienced before. Our pastor has said that God is always found at the end of your rope. I was at the end. And God was there.
The next day, things started to shift. I went for an early morning run and there was the most beautiful silver lining behind the clouds with the light shining through. I felt God in that moment sending me a message that there would be a silver lining. I felt hope.
The Beauty of Human Connection
In the midst of our devastation and sadness, our eyes have been opened to the beauty of human connection. They say it takes a village to raise children, well it also takes a village to get through times like this.
We have witnessed the most intensely beautiful outpouring of love and support.
I had multiple friends jump to help me watch my girls so I could make all the appointments. My best friend helped me through the beginning days when I didn’t think I could get through this. One night a friend left dinner on the doorstep so I didn’t have to think about what to make.
I have shared beautiful moments with both my girls who have been there to give me hugs and “mother” me.
My sister got a pep talk from a friend who fired her up and told us to get out there advocate and fight for the best care for my mom, who in turn fired us both up. Yes, the “put on your big girl panties and do what you need to do to take care of your mom” phrase was used. And we did!
My husband continues to be a source of unwavering comfort.
I got a call from a woman I know, a cancer survivor, that put me in touch with a family who is currently (and successfully!!!) fighting pancreatic cancer. This man’s wife has become a source of support, encouragement, information and expertise for us. They have both been a gift from God.
My family, the four of us, has spent more time together in the past month than we probably have in the last year. Memories I will always treasure.
I have turned into the communicator to send out email updates to my mom’s family and friends, and the words of encouragement and prayer that come back are overwhelming.
My mom has an army of Prayer Warriors praying for her. Team Julie is STRONG!!! JOIN US!!!
Pancreatic Cancer Hope – Join Team Julie!
How You Can Help
If you made it to the end of this post, I applaud you. It was a long one. I appreciate you taking the time to read it because I know your time is precious.
If you are moved to help our family during this time, there are a few different ways, and I thank you so much. So very much.
1. Pray for my mom Julie, and our family. Pray for the chemo to shrink the tumor and for her to tolerate it well.
2. Join Team Julie just you or the whole family and walk or run a 5K with us Saturday, November 14th in Irvine to benefit the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and RAISE MONEY AND AWARENESS for this ugly disease. You can even sign up for the 5K and just show up to give out hugs or cheers! We don’t care!! We want to get 100 people on our team and raise $10,000 and we are half way there!! Join us!!!
3. Donate to my personal page on Team Julie. Any amount appreciated!!!
4. Like our “Team Julie” Facebook page to stay updated on progress and to give my mom inspiration and support.
5. Sign this petition on Change.org to turn the NFL and sponsors to turn “purple” in November for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in November.
Facing a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is terrifying and there is so much fear. However, there is always, I mean ALWAYS hope.
My mom will start chemo in the next week to shrink the tumor.
I recently wrote out a Family Mission for us, to remember what we believe as we walk this path with her, before she begins chemo in the next week.
My mom and our family chose hope.
We choose to be positive.
My mom is one of the most positive people you will ever meet. She is ALWAYS upbeat, looking on the bright side, and filled with a God-given ability to overcome any obstacle life has put in her way. With a smile and an “It’s all going to be OK” attitude. This situation is no different.
We believe she will be one of the success cases to give others hope and we believe she will be a survivor of this disease.
We believe in the power of the mind, body and spirit working in conjunction together and we believe that the positive energy of the people on Team Julie that surround her during this time will have positive effects on her spirit and health.
We believe this path is in God’s hands and we know our faith can move mountains.
Thank you for reading and thank you for your prayers.