More waiting, more tests, more unexpected turns.
In February and March mom also developed a rash on her upper body which was a mystery in itself. Mom’s doctor referred her to a dermatologist and it would take until mid-March to get in to see her.
The long awaited biopsy happened on Tuesday March 13th. The procedure went quite smoothly and the gastro-enterologist, Dr. G, even sent us home with some hopeful news that it looks like it may be the “better” kind of cancer which is less aggressive and slow growing. A few days later the Tumour Board met to discuss the results and possible options for treatment. We got the call from the surgeon, Dr. S, on Friday the 16th, that surgery is not in fact an option right now and that mom would be referred to the BC Cancer Agency (BCCA) for chemotherapy. It was a particularly tough (and extremely abrupt) phone call to absorb on a Friday afternoon. Based on the direction we thought we were headed, this information left us stunned and crushed. Our prayers and hopes had been set on surgery based on what the gastroenterologist and surgeon has said earlier. Now in a matter of 30 seconds, the journey took a different turn and we didn’t receive any direction of what happens next. Do we call the BCCA? Will they call us? How long does it take to see someone there? Will it be the Vancouver or Surrey location? Why chemotherapy and what kind? What about radiation? What did the “tumour board” discover and discuss that seemed to have so rapidly changed the direction for treatment? Is there still an option for surgery later? So many questions and no one to ask, no one to give us any answers. Well…Dr. Google was available but he isn’t always kind. It was an emotionally tough weekend.
The dermatologist appointment also took place that weekend and a biopsy was done. The following week at a follow-up with the doctor, we learned that it’s nothing of particular concern, however to this day we don’t know what exactly caused it.
Back in February, Maria did some extensive research and sleuthing and connected with a surgeon who had operated on someone we know and came highly recommended. This surgeon, Dr. M, was kind enough to respond to her outreach over LinkedIn and offered to have a conversation with our family if we ever needed support with understanding anything or making decisions. Sasha spoke to Dr. M on March 22nd and explained our situation to date. She expressed our helplessness and frustration about the abrubt phonecall from Dr. S the week before, how difficult it was not to understand what’s happening in one’s own body. Dr. M shared that although his focus is on colorectal surgeries, his clinic business partner, Dr. M2, is a pancreatic surgeon and he would arrange an appointment for us to speak with Dr. M2. This offer blew us away, a complete stranger who had a big heart and was willing to help us understand mom’s health situation and options.
On March 26th we went to see Dr. G, the one who did the biopsy for a follow up. It was Sasha, mom and I who went to this one. The appointment was not filled with pleasant news, however Dr. G’s bedside manner was amazing. His kind eyes, compassion, patience and willingness to explain things to us won me over despite the difficult topic. We discussed some pain management options that he could help with through a procedure called the celiac plexus block. Mom asked him questions about how he would treat his own mom in this situation and he looked at and spoke to mom with such kindness and compassion. He also pointed at Sasha and I that we need to be paying attention to our own health and should get registered with the hereditary program. Gulp. At the end of the appointment he gave mom the warmest hug which left me in tears. We walked out of his office with me apologizing that it doesn’t look too good if patients are in tears when they re-emerge from his office to the waiting area. We laughed.
Two days later, on March 28th, we had our first meeting with the oncologist at BCCA, Dr. O. This was a long a difficult meeting. Long, because Dr. O makes a point to ensure we have as much time with him as is necessary. Difficult, because talking about a loved one’s cancer diagnosis isn’t an easy thing. He explained the three types of chemotherapy options which are currently available to us. He encouraged mom to try the most aggressive option for the (hopefully) best results. He felt she was strong enough to tolerate it based on her current appearance, weight, appetite, pain management (still tylenol), etc. We left the office after a lengthy review of a 7 page handout on the side-effects of this chemotherapy – some scary stuff in there. He also told us that before mom can start chemotherapy, she needs to get a ‘port’ surgically inserted in her upper chest so that the chemo can be administered through the port rather than through the veins in her arms. We could see the benefits of this approach however this meant that we have to wait another few weeks to get an appointment for this day surgery. Ahh more waiting. It was a lot for each of us to absorb that day and I was glad that we could be together to work through some of the information overload and the emotions that accompanied it.