Lymphedema Begins

It began in his feet. Ronnie could no longer wear his cowboy boots. Then soon he needed larger shirts and jeans. I erroneously thought that he was probably just enjoying the food served to the veterans.

However, one day the doctor informed me that the increase in Ronnie’s size was due to lymphedema which is swelling due to damage to the lymph node system. News to me. I had never heard of lymphedema and had to to some research to learn how this was going to effect Ronnie.  Before he passed away I was ordering shirts and pants for him in size 4X. Being this size was one of the things that made him miserable.

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Lung Cancer and Smoking

I know he understood the consequences of smoking. I know he had been told that lung cancer was a possible result of decades of breathing in the toxins in cigarettes. I don’t know if he did not care, or if he refused to mentally acknowledge that it could be reality for him.

Whatever his thinking, a diagnosis of lung cancer was not enough to make him stop smoking. Nope. He smoked through his entire illness, up until about a week before his death when he was too sick to smoke.

I had such mixed emotions when he bought cigarettes on one of our first Walmart trips. Part of me wanted to yell at him for continuing a nasty habit that was going to be the cause of his death. Another part of me wanted to just acquiesce to the fact that his man did not have long to live and deserved to live his last days doing what made him happy.

Well, stuffing the former urges into my heart, I did the latter.  I even bought cigarettes for him once he was too sick to by them for himself. I never thought I would do that.

There are no regrets in what I did or didn’t do here. He needed to be as happy and satisfied as possible, and smoking helped accomplish that. I would do it again.

Comfort Care for Ronnie

Hospice Care is primarily comfort care.Ronnie was not going to beat this cancer so he had no therapeutic treatment.   Mild pain meds were all he needed to keep him comfortable initially.

The growth of the tumors in his brain were causing confusion and memory issues for Ronnie which were evident at his original diagnosis. The doctors in the first hospital prescribed dexamethasone, a steroid which helped with inflammation and slowed the growth of his brain cancer. The hospice doctors decided to continue this treatment and it made a huge difference in his ability to think, reason, and remember for several months.

All things considered Ronnie’s care was adequate for his needs for about 3 months. We were rocking along.

 

Many Good Days With My Uncle

One of the blessings of my uncle’s relocation to the VA near me was that we got to spend a lot of time together. I visited him several times a week. I took him out to eat and to shop frequently. I finally had the opportunity to get to know my elusive Uncle Ronnie.  We laughed about funny moments, shared stories about life experiences, and cried about the loss of family members over the years.

He loved to go to Walmart. At first he was able to use a walker to get around, but before long I had to talk him into using a motorized riding cart. He soon knew the layout of the store better than I did.

Good times. Wonderful memories.

Settling Into a New Life

Ronnie was amazing. He left his home one morning never to return. He had a terminal cancer diagnosis. He was flown to another state, to a hospital, to a hospital room that would be his new home for the rest of his days.

My uncle accepted all these things with no complaints and no self pity. Within a day or two he was smiling, laughing and making new friends. He never once asked me to take him home. He accepted all the medical intrusion into his life with no pushback.

Yes. I learned by watching my Uncle Ronnie that life is not always kind, but responding to life’s unkindness with acceptance results in a sense of peace for everyone involved. Thank you, Ronnie.

The Hospice Path, Once Again

The doctors at the VA in Albuquerque decided that, considering the gravity of Ronnie’s health, and the decisions I had made regarding his treatment, the hospice unit would be an appropriate placement for him. I agreed.

So here I go again. Once again completing the paperwork, talking to the nurses, meeting the chaplain, and on and on.

My emotions at this point were just whirling. I was feeling a great deal of grief, because I knew my uncle’s life as he had been living it was over. I felt guilty because I was the one who made the decisions that took him from his home. I felt grateful and thankful because things had worked out so that I could be close to him. I felt some anger at Ronnie because his decision to smoke all his life had resulted in his body being consumed with cancer. Yes, I felt a complete range of emotions with clear reasons that I could articulate about each one.

Having been down this path though has helped me put whatever I am feeling into perspective. I am not the person in the midst of this crisis. Ronnie is. My feelings are secondary to his situation. He is the person who is ill, facing pain and death. My life will go on. His will not.

 

Here He Comes!

Some moments you never forget. The image of the elevator doors opening and my Uncle Ronnie just “appearing” there, lying on a gurney wearing his signature plaid shirt, his worn out cowboy hat and boots, will be forever a clear memory in my mind and heart.

it took about a week for all the paperwork to be completed, but the VA expedited my request to have Ronnie transferred to a VA near me.  They arranged for him to be flown via small military jet to my location. Ronnie had been through a lot, physically and emotionally, but that flight was an exciting moment for him. I was impressed with all the VA had done.

When he arrived on the VA floor that would be his home for the rest of his days, I was the first person he saw. All the emotions of the last two weeks came flooding over Ronnie, and he began to cry once again.

A new journey down the now familiar cancer path had begun once again.