A Christmas Diagnosis for the Family: Pancreatic Cancer

I'm not a huge fan of the holidays in the first place. Granted, it's a few weeks off of school and you get presents, but that just isn't enough to make all the other stresses better. This Christmas was no different. I haven't written about it, because I was still trying to come to terms with everything, but I feel like I have now. If you have ever had to watch someone whom you love and care for and has been a significant part of your life for so long fade away from cancer, you will understand. I got off the plane in Seattle, and after finding Alex and my baggage claim, I checked my phone for messages. I had one from my mother. She wanted me to call her. So I called her cell as we were waiting for the bags to come and she told me that she had some bad news. Apparently, Nana had been diagnosised with pancreatic cancer. She had known for almost a whole month. But she didn't want me to know while I was still in school because she didn't want it to mess with my studying or grades. My father later told me that the first words out of her mouth when she told my parents were "Don't tell the girls till they get home." So here I am, standing in the airport, crying. I'm glad that I was told, but I feel like my mother could have waited till I was at Alex's and not in public. I looked like a fool for sure. The nun sitting next to me on the bench just looked at me funny while I tried to explain to Alex what was going on between sniffles. That was the start of my Christmas break.

Nana is a tank, I keep telling people that and for some reason, they dismiss me and underestimate her. She was born the year before women got the vote, married a military man that turned into an alcoholic and apparently an ass (I never met my grandpa).  She lived through the depression and raised her 4 kids as best she could. This isn't even her first cancer. She had breast cancer in 1992, she ended up having to get her left breast removed. I have no real memories of her before her breast cancer. I don't remember her going through treatment, or the surgery, but I do remember her and my parents trying to explain to me what happened. She has fallen off her roof and broken arms and other bones trying to do things that I would have never tried. She helped raise me when my parents where both working full time. We even lived with her for a year before we got a new house. Nana has gone through so much. But nothing has ever beat her. I'm sure that she has gone through so much more then I know about and can understand.

She has been in and out of Hospice care for a few years. Every time something goes wrong, and she takes a dip in health, the doctors and care staff freak out. She was hallucinating at one point a few years back, turned out she just needed some real sleep and a tweak in her meds and she was completely fine. Even while all her health concerns scare me, she is still a crack up. She knew she was hallucinating once she came out of it. And then she told us all about it. How there was a "really cute and handsome red haired man in the corner" that she wanted to get to know, 'but then some floozy started to move in" on her man. She was pissed! Nana has a thing for red heads...grandpa was a red head, and every time I would tell her that I was seeing a new guy, she asked if he was a red head. I never really dated one, Alex is a close as it's going to get with his dirty/strawberry blonde curls. Even in her current state of pain and weakness. She is making jokes and gossiping. She always wants to know about who is pregnant and all the scandals.

The first time that I went to see her after I got home was hard. She had to have known that I knew about her condition. And I was struggling to get the first few words of a greeting out. I was choking back tears. Alex was strong and made things easier by jumping in to talk when I was about to lose it. Nana never mentioned the cancer or the pain. She did mention that she had some nausea but that was it. Her skin then was so yellow. The jaundice had really kicked in by then. She was still so happy to see us and talked and asked questions and was in a really great mood.

She has progressively gotten worse. She is still taking meds for the nausea and they have started giving her morphine for the pain. She is very weak some days and very tired. But still, twice over break the professionals at the hospice home told us that she wasn't going to make it through the night, but each time she wakes up. She even told us that "the doctors are wrong." She is a tank! People underestimate her! Sure, she is weak and in pain and yeah, this will probably get the best of her. But not before she properly gets all her living out.  In fact, after one of those nights, she got up the next morning and went shopping with of her daughters, my aunt. I got a text message from my mother saying that and "you are right, she is a tank." My response? "YESSSS!"

She is doing well. I saw her everyday off I had, and even sometimes when I got off work early I would drive down to see her. It was always hard to leave. Every time my phone rang, and it was my mother, father or aunts, I got scared. When the house phone rang, I didn't want to answer it. I was terrified that it was going to be the news that I am just not ready to hear.

I have had so much great time with her. She helped raise me, taught me to be strong and to be a smart woman. I can honestly say that I am a better person because she was in my life. She is one of the few people in my family that I can never stay mad at, even as a kid. I have the right to be sad and upset at how her life is ending, but I know that she has accepted it. I have my memories and experiences to draw from. Another one of my aunts told me through tears that she knew that Nana would have loved to see my wedding. I want her there too. But I am just hoping she can see me graduate university, or at least the proposal, just taking life one step at a time.

Pancreatic cancer is a serious thing. Nana isn't going through any treatments, she is too old and frail. Hospice is just trying to make her comfortable and happy. Which she told me would happen if "the damn Seahawks and Mariners would win a few games." Her mind isn't going at all. She remembers who didn't give her any Christmas gifts and she called them out on it. She even has the fashion style to tell me that my new boots or coat is really cute. This is most likely going to be her last year with us. I went to the National Cancer Institute for information on the cancer so that I could be better prepaired for whats going to happen. The booklet on Pancreatic cancer was really helpful--->http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/pancreas

When that phone call does come, and it will come, I'm going to be devastated. But I just have to keep going. Nana was strong and got a ton out of life. Its all I can do to give it my best shot and live like she did.