I admit it…I’ve been really neglectful of my blog over the last couple of months (not like my blogging here is terrific, but I was trying to be more consistent). So I thought I’d just write a post to share why…I will say one thing before I launch into this: When “you know what” hits the fan, I do whatever needs to be done, and then I get really quiet and I process…so I’ve been processing and now feel like I can share.
At the end of May, I was on top of the world. I traveled from Southern California to Indianapolis to attend the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 and visit my family. It was an amazing trip until just before I returned to California…
I received a call from my dad on May 30th. I was getting ready to go to the Indy 500 awards banquet and might not have answered if it was anyone else, but my dad doesn’t call very often. I could tell right away there was something a a little off in his voice. When he said, “Don’t get upset but…” I knew it was going to bad. As a matter of fact, I thought I knew what the news would be. My great-uncle had very advanced brain cancer and I thought my father was going to say he’d passed away. Instead, he told me that my youngest aunt, his baby sister, was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. She had known since May 12th, but had not told anyone in our family (except her daughters) because she didn’t want to worry everyone. However, she had an incident with numbness in her arm and had to go to the emergency room, which really left her no choice but to tell.
So, she told her sister, who in turn notified the rest of the family. As it turns out, the numbness was caused because the cancer had metastasized to her brain. My dad said that my aunt and her doctors were optimistic. They told her that it was treatable, they felt they could get it…etc. She was at home and they would be starting radiation treatments within days. Everything was going to be all right. So (STUPID ME) I returned to California without seeing her….for many reasons that seem so unimportant and ridiculous now.
After I returned, I called her, just to see how she was doing. She sounded very upbeat. She told me that she still had a great appetite, everything was going well, she was doing physical therapy for her arm and was regaining use of it. The only issue she was having was letting her two dogs in and out, that part was a bit difficult for her. I actually made a mental note to look into getting her a fence and a dog door, it seemed like it was the thing that would help her the most. When we got off the phone, she said she was so glad I had called and we said we loved each other…it was a really nice phone call.
Exactly one week later, I received a call telling me she had been taken to the hospital, she was coughing up blood. To be honest, it sounded bad, but she was receiving medical treatment and I thought the doctors would be able to “make her better.” I asked if I should come home and my dad said, “No, wait until we know more.” So I waited and worried.
Two days after that (June 9th), my brother called and said I should come home. Less than 4 hours after that call, I was on a plane for Indy. I landed at midnight and headed to the hospital. When I walked in, I was totally unprepared…my funny, lively, animated aunt was in ICU covered in tubes and wires. I tried to be strong…I didn’t want to upset her daughters, but it was terrible…there are no words.
I slept at the hospital. Waiting, hoping, praying…watching all of her stats…celebrating each tiny improvement…talking with our family, the doctors, nurses…making sure that we understood what was going on. We were told that they would need to take her off of the ventilator within two weeks of starting her on it because if not, there could be severe complications. As we approached that two week mark, we thought she was doing a little better (based only on monitors – she was sedated from the very 1st day). However, we were mistaken.
On Sunday, June 19th, I woke up in the lobby of the hospital about 7:30am, checked on her and then a friend brought me breakfast to the hospital. When my dad arrived, my friend left so that I could chat with him. I told him I’d go back to check on her again and I’d give him an update when I came out (my dad never went into her room because he didn’t want to see her like that).
When I saw the doctors doing their rounds, I was glad because usually they will give you an in-depth update if you can catch them. I wish I had run the other way…
The Chief doctor walked into my aunt’s room with his team in tow. He said, “There’s no hope.” and “her prognosis is horrible.” I wanted to scream (I was screaming inside), but instead I asked all of the questions that I could…looking for a shred of the hope that he said didn’t exist. He answered every question that I had and then I requested a meeting with the rest of the family. He was going to have to tell them. There was no way I could tell my grandmother or her daughters that there was no hope…
And then I did one of the hardest things I have ever done…I walked out of that room and down the hall and looked into my father’s eyes. He could see the tears shining in mine and I think he knew. He simply said, “What?” And I said, “I’m so sorry daddy, the doctor said there’s no hope, there is nothing else they can do for your baby sister.” I cried and he held me…I didn’t know what else to do. I told him that I’d ask the doctor to speak to the family that afternoon. We waited for my grandparents and my cousin to arrive. When my grandma called to say they’d be in after lunch, I just gave my normal update and let her know that we’d be speaking with the doctor…maybe some would have just told her, but I couldn’t.
We met with the doctors and they shared the devastating news. We scheduled a 2nd meeting for the next day with the entire family, but we knew what she would have wanted…she would have wanted us to let her go. She could not recover from the issues with her lungs, she would have had to be kept alive with machines, and she would never regain consciousness.
So, on Monday, June 20th, the family told the doctors to make her as comfortable as possible and remove the ventilator. Several of our family members went into her room and we just held her hand, talked to her and said our good-byes…my Aunt Teresa passed away a few hours later surrounded by people that loved her.
The next several days were a whirlwind of the details that have to be taken care of…I did what I could to assume some of the responsibility so that my grandparents wouldn’t have to deal with it. I never thought I’d find myself in that position…helping to plan a funeral…for my aunt who was only 48 years old.
I did the best I could for my family…and just a few short hours after her services, I flew back to California because my other family, which includes my dogs, needed me. I thought returning to California would mean returning to some sense of normalcy, but that didn’t happen…