Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

Cancer breaks all the rules

I hate losing. I hate it when I lose my keys, lose my way, or lose my train of thought. I have spent my life trying to learn the rules of every game that I played in an effort to ensure that I was always prepared and that I had everything that I needed to be victorious. The game always made sense to me when I knew the rules. I respected the boundaries and I fought hard. I am not accustomed to or comfortable with losing, and that is why I am having a difficult time.

Earlier this year, my dear sweet mother-in-law passed away, less than three months after being diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer that had metastasized from her lungs to two places in her brain. When we were first told that she was sick, I kept telling myself that times had changed, medicine had gotten better, and the field of medicine had been revolutionized, but, in so many ways, it has not. There is no cure for terminal cancer, and there is nothing worse than having a doctor tell you that there is nothing that can be done to cure you or a loved one. Nothing. At all. My mother-in-law, Florence Whitehead Huzzey, went from being a robust and vibrant person to being on complete bed rest in less than a month. She went through six weeks of radiation to the brain, and because of it, her body was acting like she had had a stroke, so her left side stopped working. In so many ways, so did we.

When someone you love gets diagnosed with a terminal disease, your life as you know it stops working. You lose touch, and you lose track of time. The days slip by, and though you are going to work or to school, you are not fully present anywhere. It is as if the universe demands everything you have to give and makes you focus all of your attention and energy on trying to keep your loved one alive. I could feel myself almost trying to will her back to good health.

Cancer became real to me, and it was everywhere. I would hold conversations with cancer and demand that it answer my questions about what I could do to force it to leave mother-in-law alone. I got angry at cancer. I fussed at it, ignored it and apologized to it. In my mind, cancer was like a spider that had caught my mother-in-law in a web, and everyone who was connected to her was caught as well.

There were days when I convinced myself that we were winning and days when I knew that we were not. Her cancer was aggressive and mean and relentless. It was smart and was always about two steps in front of us. It was playing a game that had no rules. When we attempted to fight the cancer in the lungs, it moved to the brain, and when we went after the cancer in the brain, it moved to the lower gastrointestinal tract. I remember the day we found out that it had moved from the lower gastrointestinal tract up to the trachea; this was the day when I realized that we were fighting a battle that we would not win.

By that time, my mother-in-law had not walked in a month, had not smiled or laughed or spoken to me in two months, and I had not exhaled in close to three. I was walking around in a semi-comatose state just waiting for the next thing, to hear the next place where cancer had taken up residence or the next remedy that the doctors wanted to try. I was a weary traveler.

Although my mother in law stopped smoking almost 30 years ago, her cells' DNA had been permanently altered. When she first became sick with recurrent bronchitis, the doctors, even though they knew her history, did not order a low dose CT scan. We are encouraged to get mammograms at an early age if breast cancer runs in our family or early prostate checks if prostate cancer runs in our family, but former smokers are not typically screened for lung cancer. Even though it is the second most common cancer, it is one of the few cancers that is rarely detected in the early stages. Unfortunately, the 5-year survival rate for all stages of lung cancer is about 16 percent. I do not know if an early screening would have saved my mother-in-law, but when I think about her smile, her spirit, her laughter and our loss, I wish we would have at least tried.

Kaye Wise Whitehead is assistant professor of communications at Loyola University Maryland. Her website is http://www.kayewisewhitehead.com, and her email is kewhitehead@loyola.edu.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • The road to peace does not start with war

    The road to peace does not start with war

    President Obama's rush to attack Syria betrays the hope that he would lead us away from violence

  • Sex among the ruins

    Sex among the ruins

    Netflix must know something nobody else does because they created a show about old people having sex.

  • Where it was made matters

    Where it was made matters

    She walked slowly up the aisle, picking up every single blender on the shelf in Sears. Holiday music played joyfully in the background. "It's all made in China," she said, gently returning the box to the shelf. Disappointment flashed across her face as she slowly moved on to the next box.

  • Educators call for an end to PARCC testing

    Educators call for an end to PARCC testing

    While a modest reduction in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing hours, announced last week, is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough to address the many problems of the new online, high-stakes standardized assessment.

  • Can the GOP win back the White House?

    Can the GOP win back the White House?

    So far, the 2016 Republican presidential primary is a complete puzzle to me.

  • The disintegration of us-vs.-them politics

    The disintegration of us-vs.-them politics

    For all the decades of its existence, American social conservatism has been rooted in a premise simple enough to be fully expressed in just three words:

Comments
Loading

81°