Mother / Caregiver
My son had brain surgery in the summer of 1989. We did not travel to see my husband's family until later that fall. Our first thought was something is wrong with Grandpa; he had lost an enormous amount of weight. Grandpa had not gone to a doctor because he was so worried about our son. Finally Grandpa visited the doctor and was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Treatment was radiation and chemotherapy. It was very harsh, and Grandpa passed right before our son's high school graduation.
Our next cancer incident was our family friend's daughter. She was diagnosed with spinal cancer, and after a long hard battle, she too passed from cancer at the age of 17.
Next, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with bladder cancer. We immediately brought her to Columbus for treatment. By this time, the research had advanced, and she had her bladder removed and underwent radiation therapy with a far less invasive treatment than her late husband's. Grandma went back to normal, walking every day with her brothers, shopping, getting her hair done, and traveling. Unfortunately her bladder cancer returned in her pelvic area, and again, she had radiation treatment at the James Hospital. After this treatment, she returned to walking five miles a day, traveling, and enjoying her family and friends.
The following year, the cancer returned as a brain tumor. She returned to Columbus for surgery. She returned to live in our home where I provided daily care giving. We turned our formal dining room into a downstairs bedroom, and my entire family and extended family helped her recover. During her treatment phase, her small intestine began leaking (a product of radiation) which caused enormous discomfort, and the care giving level elevated. A surgery to repair the intestine was successful; however, my mother-in-law passed from complications of the surgery. This was in May of 1998. My family mourned the loss of this dear family member, and I found myself missing her enormously.
In the fall of 1998, my oldest son Michael was riding his bicycle home from work and crashed. My youngest son arrived on the scene, put Michael's bike in his truck, and they both came home. Michael was in a lot of pain, and he paid a visit to the doctor. The doctor gave Michael pain medication and sent him home. The pain was intensifying so Michael visited our family doctor, and I will never forget the phone call that followed. He said, "Helen this is Dr. Passias. Michael's abdomen is filled with tumors, and we need to get him in for testing immediately." Of course it was hard to grasp, and the doctor arranged for immediate testing. I took our son for the tests and called my husband, Dave, who was working in Washington, DC. After testing, Dr. Passias called back to tell us that it was not good. He was certain it was cancer and possible a serious case.
We told the doctor to make arrangements for Michael to be treated at the James. Upon arrival at the James, Michael had been assigned an oncologist, and they wanted to run more tests. They began testing for testicular cancer. In my head, I hoped it would be testicular cancer because that cancer has been recently researched, and Michael would have a good chance of a cure.
Michael had surgery, and testicular cancer was confirmed. He immediately began intense daily chemotherapy, including six hours on Christmas day. By the beginning of January, Michael had lost an enormous amount of weight and a visible tumor was growing on his neck. After much deliberation, Michael was transferred to Indiana University Hospital because they specialize in testicular cancer. Michael stopped chemotherapy, and he was sent home to get healthy. He returned to Indianapolis for a 14-hour surgery, which removed one kidney and two masses from his abdomen.
During Michael's treatments, my husband and I stayed at the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge in Indianapolis. I must tell you, this was a positive experience during a very difficult time. At Hope Lodge, you are among other families facing the same situation - a loved one has cancer. You find yourself getting up early to make coffee for everyone. You find yourself making extra food to leave for others to enjoy. You find yourself listening to other's stories and you just don't feel so alone and scared.
At some point you realize what a great advantage Hope Lodge is to your family. They offer an exercise room, television, game room, computer, library, laundry facility, kitchen, and dining room. They have private sleeping quarter with a two double beds and a bathroom. All this was provided to my family at no cost.
Michael faced many surgeries and many doctor visits at Indianapolis hospital. Each time we stayed at Hope Lodge, and each time I was reminded of the huge importance of Hope Lodge and the American Cancer Society's role in fighting cancer.
Michael just recently faced what we hope is his final surgery. He had a tumor removed from his brain. During his last hospital visit, he had many tests, and we are most excited to hear he is now cancer-free.
Why am I such a personal crusader for the American Cancer Society? Because of what they do:
- Research - My son is alive today because of research; however, we need to continue and advance more research.
- Early Detection - We need to provide testing/screening. It is the key to survival.
- Hope Lodge - Central Ohio must have a Hope Lodge in the near future.
- Support - The Society's Web site and staff provide support to newly diagnosed cancer patients and care givers.
- Education - The Society is a source of free education and enlightenment for cancer patients, caregivers, and families.
- Funding - Relay For Life is an excellent example of grassroots fundraising organized by the American Cancer Society. Cancer has affected most families, and participating in Relay For Life is an almost spiritual experience that raises money for cancer research.
Well folks, I could go on and on. I urge you to jump on the American Cancer Society band wagon, be a volunteer, be a contributor, get a Relay For Life team and support fundraising, and remember the statistics.