Tag Archives: Cancer

A gift of grace

When Mrs. Charm was still with us, in the last few days of her life, a big orange cat started hanging out on the patio outside our bedroom where she was going through what the hospice nurses called “active dying” from her spreading cancer.

The dying had a smell. It reminded me of burnt embers, like a camp fire that was going out. A nurse said she’d never thought of that similarity. I had seen animals attracted to human death before so I wasn’t particularly surprised at the cat’s presence.

But it stayed, spending the next several weeks sleeping away the mornings in a chair on the patio, presumably after a hard night of hunting squirrels. Haven’t seen a squirrel in the Back Forty in a long time, so ginger is a good ‘un.

I started feeding the cat at the suggestion of Mr. Goon, my cat-loving friend in Israel. Dry cat food. Leaving a bowl of water beside it. Then, last week, animal lover that I am not, I finally broke down and invited Mr. Cat into the house.

He (or she, we haven’t determined yet) explored every room. Including Mr. B’s where he was still asleep after a late night of Xboxing. The only thing the cat seemed interested in was Mrs. C’s dressing table. It jumped up on the bench, glanced in the big mirror, turned around and hopped down. I let it out and it wandered off and I forgot about it.

Saturday morning the cat was back, as usual. After a little consideration, I asked Mr. B. what he thought about the idea of encouraging it to stay. He was willing to give it a try. I invited the cat in again. Another exploration ensued but, this time, the cat curled up on the rug in the family room and went to sleep. Mr. B. calls it Garfield ’cause it looks like the cartoon cat

Saturday night I bought a litter box, which seemed to please the cat. Its inspection of the box and its litter prompted a lengthy session of ankle rubbing. Then I took pictures of the cat with the phone and sent them to various people, including Mr. Goon. Obviously not an alley cat, he replied, probably an abandoned house cat. Others were pleased at the idea of us having a new pet after our big loss.

Then Mrs. C’s best friend, who had known her since high school, replied with “Wow, the first thing I said when I saw this pic is ‘Pumpkin!’ [Mrs. C.] had a cat like this one long ago.”

I asked Mr. Cat if his name was Pumpkin. Of course I did. He glanced at me. When I asked again, he meowed. I’ll take that for something close to affirmation. I thanked him for coming. And, hopefully, staying.

He’s a hunter, so I expect him (or her) to stay out nights. But, these days, I’m usually up at dawn, anyway, so I’ll be able to let him back in where he can sleep it off in comfort and security. And keep us happier than we’ve been in a while, with our new gift of grace.

Mrs. C. “somewhat better”

On Saturday afternoon, after 24 hours of chemo at M.D. Anderson for her recurrent B cell lymphoma, Mrs. Charm said she felt “somewhat better.” Suggesting the chemo she’s been receiving almost continuously and will still through today might be knocking back some of the tumor load that was making her increasingly sick.

Hasn’t been all roses, of course. At one point in the treatment her O2 count was so low they had to put her on oxygen for a while. An X Ray of her lungs showed no problems, so apparently it was the tumor-filled lymph nodes pressing against them. The swelling of her left leg, from groin to toes, called Lymphedema, continues, however. Docs say it could take two weeks to go down. There is no cure for it, but only in severe cases does it lead to amputation.

UPDATE:  Two days later, when she returned to the Rancho, “somewhat better” had gotten a big boost. Mrs. C. said her night sweats of several weeks standing were gone. Likewise her recurrent fevers, and pain, for which she was medicating non-stop several times a day. Swollen lymph nodes in her neck and under one ear also have diminished. All of which promises to make her two weeks of recovery from the first dose almost pleasant. Before the second one continues at a hospital in Austin.

Off to Houston

Mrs. Charm’s lymphoma cancer, which had been in remission since February, is back with a vengeance and her local docs are punting her to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

We’ll be leaving soon and living in a hotel there for the foreseeable future. So posting will be light, if at all. Hang in there, rare readers. Back when we can be.

UPDATE:  We haven’t left yet. Earliest Mrs. C. is scheduled for now is the 13th for an evaluation. Her local doc was fairly frantic to get her in before that but, so far, no joy.

I can’t help wondering why she didn’t give us a local referral. M.D. Anderson ain’t magic, whatever the Saudi princes and South American dictators who go there think. Austin ain’t Podunk in cancer treatment. But I’m a follower this time.

Uncertainties

Mrs. Charm’s cancer treatments were going well until the other day when her latest scan found good news and bad. The good news: her lymphoma tumor load seems to have significantly decreased across the board just four doses into her eight-dose chemo regimen.

The bad: the scan showed there was a dark mass on her small intestine where it connects with the large one. It could be a hard tumor, possibly a sign of small intestine lymphoma which is not an unusual development in lymphoma cancers. Or, as her gastroenterologist said, because she has none of the expected symptoms of small intestine lymphoma, it could be a false reading and he could be chasing a ghost.

So this morning he made what Atul Gawande says in Complications, A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, is the hardest medical decision of all: to do nothing, not even a biopsy. Only to continue the chemo doses. And wait until the next scan six weeks from now, unless symptoms set in before then, to see if the mass is still there. And so there we are, still uncertain about what’s going on but still seeing progress and hoping for the best.

When boring is good

Mrs. Charm’s struggle with Stage III Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma, DLBCL continues towards apparent remission. So little has changed in the past month it’s become boring to write of and easy to forget to do it.

Fourth chemo session Monday is producing the same familiar exhaustion, and the white-blood cells booster shot on Tuesday some bone pain, but neither was unexpected.

She’s due for another scan next week, a PET this time, after which we’ll know for sure if the cancer continues to retreat from her lymph nodes. That’s what the most recent blood test suggests and the doc found nothing worrisome.

So there are times when boring is good and this is one of them.

A CAT Scan’s good news

Last night’s persistent stomach pain for Mrs. C. had us worried. It was keeping her awake. This morning we were all smiles when we found out the latest CAT scan showed her tumor load (awful term) was decreasing.

Things are progressing nicely, her doctor said on the phone. As for those stomach pains, said the doc, reassuringly, probably something greasy she ate. Greasy and chemo don’t play well together. Whew.

Hair loss and exhaustion masking good news

Post-chemo (Monday’s second round), Mrs. Charm is moving slowly about the Rancho, almost like someone twice her age. Her energy of the past ten days is nowhere in evidence. Her hair loss which began late last week also makes it harder to ignore what’s happening to her. Only her faded Paddington-Bear hat makes it seem like old times.

But her cancer doc said Monday the energy will return in a week or two, the hair will grow back eventually (though probably not for several more months), and, best of all, the cancer-swollen lymph nodes definitely are shrinking. So joy—momentarily in abeyance—continues at Rancho Roly Poly.

Further enhanced by several containers of goodies delivered yesterday by a favorite work colleague, the latest in the tidal wave of home-cooked and bought meals from many friends to show her how much they love her. Which makes me feel smart all over again for marrying her.