To Treat or Not to Treat. That is the Queston.

How do you make the decision to treat or not to treat stage 4 metastatic cancer? I had never before been in the position to make that decision on someone’s behalf.  With two doctors sitting across from me, sharing information about my uncle’s diagnosis, I knew that I would be the decision maker about his treatment. Oh my. The gravity of my decision weighed heavily on my heart and mind, but by the time our conversation came to a close, my decision was made and I felt good about it.  Well, I didn’t feel good at all, but I knew I had made the choice that was best for Ronnie.

You see, I keenly remembered how chemo and radiation affected my father’s life.  I remembered everything about the side effects, and I remembered how the chemo did nothing to reduce or even slow down the growth of his cancer.  I remembered that the worst thing that happened to my father was not death. The worst thing was enduring those side effects.

I wanted none of that for my uncle. None. I chose not to treat his cancer.  I chose not to biopsy his cancer.  I chose instead to allow him to have as much peace as possible during his remaining days.  I requested that he be transferred to the VA Hospital near me so that I could oversee his care.  The doctors both agreed with my decision and my request.

I do have a regret with a portion of this decision which I will share in the next post.

Seeing Ronnie For the First Time Since His Lung Cancer Diagnosis

I had never driven that far by myself. Well, even though I was the only one in my car, I wasn’t alone. God’s Presence gave me strength and peace, and I strongly felt the prayers of my husband and my sister. My drive to Albuquerque went smoothly, and even though I had never been there before, I had no problems finding the VA hospital.  Thanks to God and my gps.

I easily found Ronnie. In a ward with several other veterans,he was thrilled to see me. He seemed weak, but not in pain. Ronnie was emotional about all the events of the last few days, crying easily and frequently. When I began to talk to him about his diagnosis, he cried even more.

Within just a few minutes of my arrival at my uncle’s bedside, two doctors walked into the room and began to talk about his diagnosis, and the fact that some decisions needed to be made. Because Ronnie still had a great deal of confusion, the doctors felt that he was not capable of making those decisions himself.

At this point I did not have medical power of attorney, but because he never married and had no children, and as the oldest of his nieces and nephews, I was considered to be his next of kin.  Therefore, the decisions were mine to make.  The doctors wanted to talk to me alone.

I looked Ronnie in the eyes and asked him if he trusted me to make decisions for him.  He said that he did. I then told him that I loved him and would take care of him to the best of my ability, just as I did his mother.  We both cried.

For about 30 minutes, the doctors and I met and discussed treatment options for Ronnie.  One of the doctors was an oncologist and the other was a hospice specialist.  They were very easy to talk to and had quite a of information about Ronnie’s condition.

Next post: Making major medical decisions on Ronnie’s behalf.

The End Begins

The phone call that day from Ronnie’s friend brought with it the realization that the end had probably begun for Ronnie.  He had had a minor wreck that day.  When the police arrived, Ronnie did not know his name or where he lived.  He could not even communicate in a complete sentence. Something serious was wrong.

Ronnie never married and had no children.  As the oldest of his nieces and nephews, I was the one contacted that day.  Immediately I called the hospital where Ronnie had been taken. The hospital personnel was thrilled that I called because they had not been able to contact any of Ronnie’s family.

After transfer to two other hospitals and various tests, it was concluded that Ronnie had metastatic cancer, which began in his lungs and then spread to his lymph nodes and brain. The third hospital to which Ronnie had been transferred was the VA hospital in Albuquerque.

Nest post: My solo trip to Albuquerque.

My Most Unforgettable Character, Ronnie Patton

Yes, if I were going to write an article for the Reader’s Digest, it would be about Ronnie Patton, one of the most interesting, mysterious, and colorful people in my family. Ronnie began his life as the youngest son of a farmer in central Texas, He was shy and quiet as a young man. That is, except when he was playing pranks on my sisters and I. He joined the Navy after high school and went to sea on the USS Arlington, serving our country during the Vietnam War.

After his time in the Navy ended, he found himself in Arizona, then in New Mexico, cowboying for a land baron. Ronnie made his home in northern New Mexico.  Literally. He built for himself a little three room house, with a completely off the grid electrical system, using solar and wind to provide power for his lights and his well pump.

During the 80’s Ronnie and a friend leased wagons, horses, and buggies to movie production companies working in the area. He also had the opportunity to appear in several of the movies.  As his family, we were very proud of Ronnie’s moment of fame.

Ronnie also prospected for gold in the mountains of northern New Mexico.  Did he ever find any? “Yes and no”, was his answer when I asked him that question.

Another of Ronnie’s interests was writing cowboy poetry.  He could turn almost any story into a poem.

In addition, Ronnie was an avid ham radio operator, and he loved communicating with his other ‘hams’ daily.

If we were lucky we got to see Ronnie once a year when he came to Texas at Thanksgiving or Christmas, and if we were lucky, because he was so quiet and reserved, we got one good conversation with him.  For this reason, Ronnie remained a mysterious legend to his family his entire life.  And we loved him dearly.

No, Not Again.

It was a typical quiet Friday evening at the Foster house when my phone rang. My husband and I were preparing to watch our highly anticipated regular Friday evening TV shows. Curling up on the couch with my husband and/or our puppy dog for about 3 hours was my reward for a week’s work.

I answered the phone and heard an unfamiliar voice that  belonged to my uncle’s friend.  What he told me rocked my world, or at least my life at that moment and many moments to come.  I knew almost immediately that things were going to be different for me for a long period of time.

But that didn’t matter.  I would deal with my personal changes as needed.  What mattered were the things this friend shared with me about my uncle.  You see, my personal changes would be temporary, but the changes in my uncle’s life were going to be immediate and permanent.

Cancer had once again hit our family.  Next post: My most unforgettable character, Ronnie Patton.

Lessons Learned From Donna’s Illness and Death

Yes. Every time I walk down the path of serious illness and death of a family member, I learn lessons.  Lessons that apply directly the next time I have a similar situation.  This is what I learned from Donna’s last days.

1. If there is a medical concern that is not being adequately addressed (in my opinion), I need to speak up.  Donna had restless legs syndrome and previous to her heart attack, had taken medication for that condition.  She used it regularly, and it worked well for her.  When she had her heart attack, the doctor took her off that medication.  He was concerned that her restless legs medication might exacerbate some of the mental and physical confusion she was exhibiting.  Because we did not believe that to be the case, Donna and Darla both asked the doctor to allow her to have the medication.  He refused them both.  Since they did not receive positive results from their requests, I did not follow-up with a request of my own. Looking back on this, I wish now that I had respectfully and forthrightly approached the doctor. Who knows? Perhaps I would have been able to help the doctor understand our concerns and place Donna back on the medication, thereby make her much more comfortable.  If he refused me as well, then I would know that at least I tried.  At least I tried. At least I tried.

2. You never know what or when a person’s last words will be.  So to the best of your ability, pay attention to every moment.  Stay engaged in the conversation when your family member feels like talking.  When it’s over, it’s over.

Looking At Donna’s Face for the Last Time

As I think back to the day of Donna’s funeral service, I think about the friends and family in attendance. There were many people who traveled large distances to attend.  I think about the music and the message. Both were fitting and inspirational. I also think about how peaceful Donna looked.  Her struggles were completely over, and she finally could be at rest. We decided on her purple wedding dress for her burial clothes and plenty of purple in her casket spray. I think she would have been pleased.

Our prayers have all been answered.

She finally arrived.

Her healing, once delayed, has now been realized.

Though once in a hurry, she has no schedule to keep.

She’s just enjoying Jesus, sitting at his feet.

If we could see her now, she’s walking streets of gold.

If we could see her now, she’s standing tall and whole.

If we could see her now, we’d know her pain had all been erased.

If we could see her now, we’d know she had seen His face.

We would never want her to leave that place.

if we could only see her now.

(Adapted from the song, “If You Could See Me Now”)