An apology for being seemly absent from media; however, these are the events redirecting my energies as of late…
On October 18th, my mother was admitted to hospital in Toronto and we’ve been here, day and night, ever since.
See here, my mom has stage four cancer. We often joke about it being stage five or six, even though there’s no such thing. Reason is: mom was given weeks to live, months at the very most, after being told she had cancer in her gynaecological area, which spread from her breasts, hitting every organ on the way down, affecting her lymphatic system and bones as well. That was in February of 2008.
Five years later, mom was doing wonderfully well. The Holy Rosary was her only medicine and doctors couldn’t figure her out.
The situation changed dramatically when oncologists insisted mom try chemo for the first time in early 2013. After only two rounds, she lost 30 pounds and became very weak. She also began accumulating fluids in her stomach and lungs. After being admitted to hospital in May, mom had over eight litres of cancerous fluid drained from her stomach and two litres from her left lung.
Mom had a catheter placed in her stomach where I could drain her three times a week and one in her left lung, drained weekly by a nurse.
We decided to stop chemo before it killed her.
We then opted for regular intramuscular injections to slow her estrogen, which is feeding the cancer.
The side effects of the injections were worse than the illness, we planned to tell doctors in late October that it was time to change course: Go back to what was best– prayer and hope in The Lord.
By mid-October, however, mom underwent an upper GI scope. Thereafter, a known lymph node on her mid-chest seemed to double in size by the day. The pain it caused her was immense and worsening. This, coming from a woman who refuses or take more than a quarter Percocet at a time– a true soldier.
A few days after the scope, mom was scheduled for an appointment with her respirologist to discuss draining her right lung, which had accumulated so much fluid that she was having shortness of breath. However, an hour before the appointment, mom was vomiting bile and was in excruciating pain.
I called the doctor to cancel. To my surprise, the doctor himself picked up the phone, “Faith,” he said, “it’s when someone is sick that they should see a doctor. There’s no such thing as being too sick to go to hospital.” He told me to take mom to ER. It was after four other doctors said the same that I decided to pack a suitcase and boogie on down to the hospital.
As we drove near the front doors of emerge, a car in an ideal parking spot pulled out. My first thought was, ‘God is watching over us. He will provide.’
I know what you’re thinking, ‘It’s just a parking spot.’ But the events that followed that day and everyday thereafter prove otherwise.
When I ran into ER asking for a wheelchair, the nurse pointed to a big cushiony black one and said, “This is the only one we have.”
‘Good,’ I thought, ‘it’s the only one mom likes. The harder-formed plastic alternatives would have left me little choice but to piggyback my frail mother.’
Unlike ever before, we were rushed through triage in what seemed like a few short hours (this is socialized Medicare, hours are equivalent to minutes elsewhere).
Everyone agreed: mom had an infected lymph node, she needed to be put on a high dose of strong antibiotics as we prepared for further testing and a possible incision.
I jumped on my phone and began imploring my faithful friends for prayers. We didn’t want any surgery, hoping instead for a natural healing through Our Lord.
Then came the first of many spiritual attacks: Our nighttime ER doctor. In a conversation none of us was prepared for, he asked if my mom knew where her cancer would bring her.
“Yeah. I’m eventually going to die. What’s your point?” my mom fired back.
“Well, we have to talk about options if your heart stops while we are operating. Would you want to be reccessitated?”
At that moment it felt as though all our hearts stopped. Keep in mind this was in the day of the Supreme Court ruling that families ultimately trump doctors when it comes to end of life situations. Only issue: I had been busy with mom all day and was foggy on the news item and its, now, most prevalent details.
“Well, you’re a doctor,” mom started, “it’s your job to keep people living. And I’m a Christian. So you do everything you can to keep me alive and I’ll leave the rest to God.”
After that clear message, the doctor asked my mom to sign a Do Not Recessutate Form four more times. She said no each time, at which point he said, “Holler if you change your mind.” Who knew one must want to die in order receive five-star service in an emergency room?
We were eventually transferred to the GI unit, but told it would be temporary– until oncology had a bed.
GI was a dream: A bed by the window on the sixteenth floor, with a view of the city and diligent nurses who quickly fell in love with my mom’s humour, and God-loving spirit.
Mom began witnessing and ministering to any doctors, nurses and patients who would listen. And, boy, did they listen. Some medical professionals would stay for upwards of 20 minutes at mom’s bedside to hear her praise and give thanks to The Lord. And I don’t think it’s just because they’re government workers. I truly believe it’s because they were mystified by my mom’s faith, despite her circumstance.
After her CT scan Saturday morning, mom returned to her bed with my sister, Alexandra. I was outside looking for a parking spot at the time.
“Lex, ask the nurse for a Percocet. The pain is excruciating,” mom said grabbing the inflamed bump on her chest, now the size of a large orange. Following orders, my sister darted outside the room while mom reached across her bed for some soup.
Suddenly, mom heard a loud ‘ppssshhhhh’ sound coming from her midsection. She figured the abscess had ruptured and expected to see wetness around the size of a quarter on her white shirt. When my mom looked down, she found her whole shirt was drenched with fluid, and it wasn’t slowing down.
“ALEXANDRA!” mom screamed, pressing the nurse call button with all her strength.
My sister whipped around to see the light above mom’s door flashing, “Hurry!” she yelled, “We need a nurse in here!”
Four nurses leapt to their feet and rushed into mom’s room.
“I’m scared!” mom confessed aloud, “Lord Jesus, help me.”
“Our Father…” my sister began, arms hysterically flailing in the air, wide-eyed to the sky, “Who art in Heaven,” she continued, “Hallow-” nurses stopped her before she performed a full exorcism on anyone within reach.
“You have to leave,” one nurse said firmly, “we need quiet.”
I found Alexandra outside the room hyperventilating, understandably shaken by what she just witnessed.
“What happened? What’s going on?” I demanded to know.
“It’s ok,” she responded, “Mom’s ok. It’s just that the thing burst. And… And it was really scary,” she cried.
At that moment, I was overcome with a feeling that can only be described as Heavenly peace. I marched to mom’s room.
“I heard the good news,” I started, amid the nurses frantically tearing open sterile gauze packages, in a race to clean the output from my mom’s chest, overflowing unceasingly, “the doctors won’t have to operate!” I added.
My mother told me later, when she saw me walk in with such an air of calmness, it’s what grounded her in a time of utter chaos. I told her I didn’t know where that tranquility arose from if not from the Holy Spirit Himself.
After nurses dressed my mother’s new wound, we three Goldy girls were giddy with excitement.
“Praise God. Doctors don’t have to cut me open!” mom started.
“I’m so happy the pus is coming out,” Alexandra added.
(Admittedly, we’re a weird family…)
“But, Lex, smell this. It doesn’t smell like pus,” mom said pointing to her chest.
(Like I said: weird.).
Alexandra, naturally endowed with scent-superpowers took a sniff, “Yeah. It smells like apple cider.”
Mom consumed two glasses of apple juice before the eruption in order to dilute the radioactive contrast ingested for the CT scan earlier that day. We thought little of this, and continued giving thanks to God.
That evening, a senior GI doctor came in with another doctor about half his age and stature.
“Julia,” he said in a thick Germanic accent, “the CT scan shows that the hole in your chest is not, in fact, a result of infection…”
We all held our breath. If not an infection, what could it be?
“You have a fistula– an abnormal tunnel between tissues. This tunnel has connected your stomach to the area outside your skin.”
“So, you mean this isn’t pus?” mom asked, pointing to her chest.
“No. It is acids from the stomach.” The doctor replied matter-of-factly.
I felt my heart sink into the pit of my own stomach, my head began to spin. ‘You can’t faint,’ I thought, trying desperately to think rationally, ‘If mom dies tonight, you can’t be in ICU with a cracked skull.’ An odd thought, but it seemed logical at the time.
The older doctor shook my mom’s hand and bid her goodnight.
Immediately, my head turned towards my mother. I wanted desperately to screen her for any sort of reaction. What state was she in? What did this mean? Would she make it through the night? I had so many questions. My mom is always the one providing answers in my life– about everything. Surely she knew more than me in this instance as well…
“Oh. My. God.” My mother mouthed, as tears streamed down her face. My sister at one side, and me at another. We each grabbed one of mom’s hands. I felt a lump grow in my throat.
The three if us wept together for four hours. We talked about funeral arrangements: which home, what casket and of course which liqueurs, brandies would be served, as well as the desirable muscularity of my mom’s future pallbearers. My mom’s a famed party planner, she wasn’t about to let her last bash go without strict attention to detail.
We wept and wept. But just before going to bed mom said, “In hindsight, isn’t it clear God has been in charge of every minute, every detail while we’ve been here?”
“Yes,” Alexandra and I answered in harmony.
“From our first parking spot down to the minutes between the necessary CT scan and the second this thing ruptured… He was always in control.” Mom carried on, “And, if we’re so confident that He’s overseen every detail of yesterday and today, shouldn’t we have faith in the fact that He knows what tomorrow is to bring?”
For the first time in what seemed like forever, hope returned to my heart. My mom was right. God had been revealing His mystery, his grid-work, throughout the previous hours, days– heck– my whole life! Why would I fear the unknown now?
And so began our concerted conversion, one we’d have to perform daily, sometimes more than that, to chose faith over fear.
I prayed God would reveal His Will to us in the plainest way possible.
And that, He did.
Our favourite doctor tilted at the recommendations of his superiors. Instead of the high-risk procedure of installing a stent into my mother’s stomach, mostly filled with cancer, he recommended my mom begin TPN, intervenors feeding to allow the stomach time to heal. While he described why he thought this was the better route, the hospital priest walked in. We took this as a sign and agreed to treatment.
It’s now been over a week since my mom’s been fed through intravenous. She’s not permitted to take anything by mouth– not even water. She talks about Jesus’ temptations in the desert and how He went without food or hydration for 40 days. Often, though, mom’s mouth becomes extremely dry.
“I thirst,” she said once, reminded of Christ’s words on the Cross.
And her shared sufferings with Our Saviour don’t stop there. Since the eruption, mom now has five holes in her body: three catheters, one picc-line, and the fistula. Five wounds– the same number as Christ during His Crucifixion.
We’ve since moved down the second floor, here in oncology. Unlike the depressing, palliative-patients-only zone I thought it’d be, mom’s got a single room and we’re surrounded by nurses who aren’t too shy to knock on mom’s door, in hopes to hear her minister to them.
We’ve passed the seven day TPN trial period and the wound has not closed. But we have not lost hope. Mom will carry on with TPN, without food or drink for as long as it takes to heal her fistula. She offers such sufferings for the conversion of souls.
Her wounds, her thirst, and her greatest desire– the turning if hearts to God– is now united to Her Creator.
But, there is one more union to make: a union of will.
Yesterday mom told me she had a conversation with God.
“I’ve raised you girls with His help. You’re both fiercely independent. I’ve done what I wanted to do in this life: raise my children. But I don’t know that I’ve done all of what God wants me to do. If He needs me up there, I understand. And I told Him so. I hope you’re not upset with me. I’m not done fighting here. But I shouldn’t fight with God. His Will be done. And I’m ok with whatever His Will is.”
Mom admits her hope is to stay here, with her children, on earth. She wants to continue being an instrument of His Holy Love: carry on planning her famed ‘Praise be to Jesus’ parties, continue preaching to friends and strangers, instilling pearls of wisdom to her daughters.
My hope is identical to my mom’s.
For now, we pray for a miraculous healing and continue giving thanks. Thanks for our blessings: each other, this life’s lessons, the power of prayer, and Our God who endowed us with it all.
Please join my family by keeping my mom, Julia, in your prayers. From my family to yours: Thank you and God bless you.