Saturday, 16 June 2012

A Life is Ending - Part 2

Continuing on from A Life is Ending - Part 1

I don't know if reliving the events of late 2011/early 2012 will bring some solace or if dredging it all up again will push me into the depths of despair. I do know that I must get it out of my head. Everything happened so fast and the weeks from early December to mid-January were a rollercoaster ride – we didn't have time to stop and take a breath or make a plan. So, for my sanity's sake (what's left of it), I think I do need to continue to document it.

Having been to the doctor on Monday 21st November, D continued to feel bad throughout the week with stomach pains and nausea. We waited on news of his blood tests.

Friday 25th November
D phoned me that afternoon to say the doctor had got back to him and said he was almost sure that the problem was gallstones. The blood tests showed elevated liver enzymes and the most likely issue was gallbladder-related. An appointment had been made at the hospital for an ultrasound scan which would take some time to come through. Hurray though! Gallstones we could definitely deal with!

Relieved after that phone call, I went back to whatever I was doing on the computer but, out of the blue, I was overcome by a feeling of total and utter panic as I suddenly recollected something: 16 years previously D's father, after months of feeling unwell, was diagnosed with gallstones but when the surgeon opened him up to remove his gallbladder he discovered that he had, in fact, advanced pancreatic cancer. He was dead four months later. Hearing 'gallstones' again and knowing that they got it wrong the first time (and also keeping in mind that cancer runs in his family)... my blood ran cold. I was alone when I had this panicked episode thankfully. I will always remember that moment because it was the very first time that cancer (or at least, at that point, the possibility of cancer) entered our home. What if he has cancer? What if he dies? I haven't been a good wife. I haven't always been there. We had drifted apart. Jesus. What about the kids. Oh fuck. Calm down. It's gallstones.

D returned that evening, still nauseous with no appetite and feeling exhausted. I didn't want to terrify him with talk of cancer but I knew it needed to be addressed. I told him that I was doing some thinking and that while the doctor is probably right about gallstones, I wondered could it be something else. To my surprise he didn't disagree. I said "I've been thinking about the gallstones diagnosis and suddenly it hit me about a time we'd heard it before..." and he immediately knew what I was leading up to and said "yeah, my Dad...". I suggested we go back together and speak to the doctor and tell him our concerns and he agreed. I did acknowledge that I was probably being over-dramatic about the whole thing! I pictured myself talking to the doctor about my fully-grown, more than capable, 47 year old husband, mentioning life-threatening illnesses and tumours and tests and then the doctor returning some weeks later, rolling his eyes and showing us an ultrasound picture of a teeny little gallstone!

Saturday passed with him feeling pretty rough but he still managed to play a gig, drive the boys where they needed to go and do lots of other things. He was tough, was our D!

Sunday I brought Aisling to see the Christmas lights and decorations that had been put up in the Woollen Mills in our village.

The place always looks so beautiful for Christmas and it's my favourite shop with a truly magical atmosphere, twinkling lights and lovely music, unlike the tacky places you usually see at Christmas. We were browsing through a few things when D rang me and said that he was finally feeling much better! He had decided that morning to reduce his dosage of Metformin (diabetes medication) because he suspected they were the cause of the nausea. His blood sugar levels were always perfect so a temporary reduction in medication wouldn't harm him. He felt we no longer needed to talk to the doctor and he would just wait for the scan appointment to come through. More relief!

The following few days saw him unwell again with the return of the nausea. His loss of appetite was back in full force so, although I was still feeling a little bit foolish, I went ahead and made the appointment to speak with the doctor. What had we got to lose?

Edited some time later to add:
I've decided there is not need to continue with this slow journal of his diagnosis. Essentially following our visit to the GP on Thursday 1st December, Diarmuid was admitted to hospital for a CT scan. Gallstones were confirmed and we were elated that it was nothing more serious. But they did decide to do a biopsy. Hmmmm. We had to wait a gruelling 12 days for the results of the biopsy, bringing us up to Wednesday 14th December. We got a call to come and see the general consultant at the hospital. We knew it couldn't be good news as they wanted us there that day.

He diagnosed Diarmuid with primary liver cancer. We were told that the following Tuesday (20th) a multi-disciplinary team would meet and decide on the prognosis and the treatment. We went home and told our sons. The shock and despair was so painful.

What a horrible week we had waiting for their decision. On Wednesday December 21st, we drove to the hospital, this time to meet the oncologist for the first time. The news was bad. There would be no surgery. The cancer had spread to the lining of the bowel. All he could offer was chemotherapy. He told us that Diarmuid would live for 18 months to 2 years but that as he was so strong, a non-smoker and a non-drinker, with a wonderful attitude that prognosis could well be overly conservative.

We went home and Diarmuid called the Cancer helpline looking for as much information as he could digest. He was determined and positive.

The next 2 days he vomited, felt dizzy, was exhausted and just felt so bad. On Christmas Eve he had to spend the whole day in bed bar one hour. When he was sitting with us, he was happy and determined to fight it.

Christmas morning Aisling woke at 6am excited and enthusiastic, waiting to see what Santa brought. All 5 of us went into the living room and the kids opened their gifts. Diarmuid was smiling and happy to be there with us. As it turned out that would be the last time we all sat together as a family. He had to go back to bed after an hour and never really got up again.

The following day I phoned the oncologist and told him that Diarmuid was miserable, he was in tremendous pain and I asked what I should do. Surely, given a prognosis of 2 years, he should not be feeling so bad? He prescribed morphine and after much hassle (it was a bank holiday remember) we got our hands on it and he started his new meds.

The next two days passed with Diarmuid in bed, in pain, uncomfortable, nauseous and scared. Again, I phoned the oncologist but he said give the medication time. By December 29th I brought him to hospital where the oncologist met us. He said the bile duct was blocked and a simple stent would sort it out.

That stent never happened. There was no blockage. On January 5th we were told it was bile duct cancer, not liver cancer. His chances of getting chemotherapy were fading. On January 9th he was much improved and the oncologist (ever stupidly optimistic) said he would be coming home in 2 days. But the very next day the hospice team visited and suggested hospice care. On January 11th he was moved to a hospice where he passed away 6 days later - 3 days before his first chemotherapy appointment.

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