Thursday, September 25, 2008

One More Valley, One More Hill

Listen closely to the words of the hymn "One More Valley, One More Hill" (it's right on my playlist) as it is my husband's favorite, and it's helped to carry him over many difficult days along his journey with cancer. Being given a timeline for life is unimaginable for most of us. Personally, I'm very sure I would not be able to continue my daily routine, knowing such devastating news. That's not the way it's been however, for my husband right from the first day he heard the words "You have three months to live"!

I remember quite vividly, as the doctor stood by his hospital bedside and uttered that sentence. My husband very calmly seemed to accept his fate, while my daughter and I instantly went into shock. Was this a very bad dream? Did we really hear those words? Surely, there must be some mistake! We knew he had not been feeling well for the past few days, but we didn't expect this. He was just one month away from his final five year medical follow-up, after having had a nephrectomy five years earlier. We were always under the impression after numberous scans, MRI's and testing that there were never any signs that the cancer had metastasized. We had taken our lives for granted and now suddenly, in just an instant, those words changed everything.

Climbing that hill, was not an easy task for my husband, but he was determined to try his best. Our youngest daughter had one more year left before she'd convocate from university, and that in itself, gave him determination to not give up. And so his journey along many valleys and up very steep hills, began.

A few days later, he came home from the hospital, very weak and very ill. He had accepted his fate, but at the same time, did not accept the fact that he should just lie in bed and prepare to take his last breath. Within a few days, he did return to the emergency once again and was re-admitted to hospital for several more days. Apparently, he had been allergic to the morphine that was prescribed, as well as several other drugs, and this was causing him most of his discomfort and pain. Once the correct diagnosis was made, he returned home and began his slow descent down that mountain.

Thankfully, it was during late spring and early fall, so the weather was very cooperative and allowed him to spend time outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Everyday his appetite was better and soon he was gaining weight. During this time, he was not taking any chemo, as nothing was available. He was determined though to not give up, and over the next few weeks, he amazingly grew much stronger. It was a slow process, but well worth the results, as he gradually returned to a relatively "healthy" state. Five months later, he began his first chemo treatment and began another climb up a very steep hill.

First scan results while on this chemo looked a little positive. These were vague signs that a little decrease in some mets was happening. At this point, any tiny bit of good news was encouraging, and most welcomed. A half centimeter decrease was glorious and good reason to celebrate. We focused on the good news whenever it came along, no matter how insignificant it might have seemed from a medical perspective, but it allowed my husband a gentler walk along that valley, rather than up a jagged and steeper hill.

Over the next few months, and with his first chemo failing, we started right back at ground zero. All he had endured, both mentally and physically .....had it all been for naught? Miraculously, another new chemo drug loomed on the horizon, and after several weeks of discussion and finally seeking it's approval, he began a much steeper hill with this intravenous chemo. More scans, more testing, more follow-up visits with his oncologists and more negative test results, all made that mountain climbing so very treacherous. He wondered when he would reach the crest of that particular hill, but it just never seemed to happen, as that type of chemo, also proved to be ineffective.

By this time, we were somewhat used to the bad news that we constantly received after every scan report. It's probably difficult for most of you to realize that we had the results almost memorized, each time "before" hearing the doctor say the actual words "your cancer is continuing to spread further"! We'd just sit there in the doctor's office, ask if there was anything else that could be done, and like each visit before, we'd shake the oncologist's hand, say thank you and begin our long drive home. What could I as caregiver say to make my husband feel better. I felt terrible, helpless and yes, even hopeless, but I kept encouraging him not to give up, as new treatments were always being developed. Once off the chemo, a few days later, any side effects he's previously encountered,would slowly disappear, and for the most part, my husband would feel very well again.

Another chemo drug appeared before too long, and once more he began his treck up yet another hill. This particular chemo was administered for the most part at home, by his private nurse, "me" who now knew how to give injections. For better or for worse, yes those were the vows we took many years ago, and although there were many times throughout this cancer journey that seemed like "the worse" times, we continued to focus on "the better" times to get us through. This particular chemo only lasted a very short time, for it was not long when we once again heard the same words of "this chemo is not working, your cancer is continuing to spread further".

Every time we'd return home after a doctor's visit, naturally family and friends would call to see how things went. It was very difficult to keep saying that things were once again getting worse..........there were just no words to put it into perspective as to how we were feeling.

A few more weeks went by and then my husband went on another chemo drug. He was blazing a trail for sure for other cancer patients. He remained very strong willed to continue with whatever was out there for him to try. As long as he was willing, we all stood by his decision. He was about to take another trek up another mountain, not knowing how long the journey would take. This particular climb, proved to be very short, as within only a few treatments, it was determined by scan reports not to be working. Now it seemed like after all the hills he had climbed, there was nothing left for him to try. The road ahead would be very uncertain, but he continued to keep going and not to give up!

Makes you wonder just how many times you can get knocked down in life, but still have the courage and determination to keep fighting back. Now you can fully understand why we all call him a miracle man! His story needs to be told for other cancer patients to listen, in a hope that it will give them the courage to not give up as well.

Miraculously, my husband is now back on a previous chemo. He continues to keep fighting, he looks very healthy and he is doing quite well. Sure, there are always obstacles along this journey. Sometimes the road gets very bumpy, and the hills more difficult to climb, but for the most part now, he's walking along a much smoother valley. He is blazing a trail for other cancer patients as the medical experts determine what works and what does not work. We have been very blessed, because as one door shuts, another one has always opened for him.

Cancer research has been vital in developing new drugs to fight cancer. Just when you think there is nothing else, something new is being tested. As you listen to my husband's favorite song, I trust that you will be encouraged to keep walking along this cancer highway. Most of all, keep the faith and never, never quit!

One more significant note to make before ending this particular daughter did convocate the following year after my husband's initial diagnosis. He attended the ceremony, beaming with such pride. It was a very special day for our entire family, but more importantly for my husband and our graduating daughter!!! Never, never quit!

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