My mom has lung cancer.
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you probably picked up on that. It was my mom’s January 2020 lung cancer diagnosis that pushed me to decide on a career change. I decided to leave the safety, comfort, and stability of a career in Software. Healthcare had called to me my entire life, and I finally decided to answer. Finishing my Bachelor’s Degree, and Medical Degree would take time; but becoming a doctor would be worth it.
But I wouldn’t be updating you for no reason. So, in short, my mom’s lung cancer Is getting worse.
I posted on Instagram Monday, and again on Tuesday, about what was going on, but admittedly had been very vague. So I figured this would be as good a time as any to explain what’s going on.
As I said in my Instagram post on Monday, my mom has been having pain under her ribs. Since she had just recently moved to a new house, she thought she may have pulled something while carrying boxes. Since she didn’t mention it after that, I figured that to be the case, and didn’t press it any further. But the pain wasn’t going away — it was getting worse; she just never told anyone.
We Find Out About Her Pain
Fast forward to this past weekend. While visiting my mom, she mentioned to my grandmother (her mother) that she wanted to go to the hospital. I think she didn’t mention it to me, because she knew I’d be upset that she hadn’t said anything sooner. I was also supposed to go home a day sooner than my grandmother, so she didn’t think I’d take her.
When I found out, I cancelled my plans for Monday (I had to reschedule an interview for a PCT position). Then I tried my best to help my mother feel more comfortable, until we could go to the hospital.
Arriving at the Hospital
We arrived at the hospital around 5:00pm. While it would have made sense to arrive earlier, that’s not always an option. When you are experiencing excruciating pain, it’s not always easy to move quickly. She was triaged immediately. However, we did ended up sitting in the waiting room for nearly two hours, waiting for an open bed. While we waited, they drew blood, to help expedite results. Those results came back around the same time she was assigned to a room.
We’re in a rural area, and this is one of only two hospitals close to us. It is the closer of the two, but still nearly an hour drive. The ER Is often busy, as people come from all over to be seen. This evening, I saw an Amish man (a group who, at least in our area, very rarely visit hospitals).
In the Emergency Room
She was called back around 7:00pm, and was quickly set up with an IV and some pain medication. The nurse came in, and reported on the results of the blood work. Everything was normal, aside from an elevated WBC (white blood cell) count. Her WBC was around 18, whereas normal range is 4.5 to 11.0). I’m not very knowledgeable of lab values, but even I knew that was high. When I recently had blood work done, my PCP was concerned that my WBC was around 12.
A CT Scan was Ordered
A CT scan of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis was ordered. In no time the radiology tech came and whisked her away. (An interesting side note is that my Uncle (her brother) is a radiology tech for this hospital. He was originally supposed to be scheduled for this shift, but is out on PTO.) The CT scan didn’t take very long, and I passed the time by calling my grandmother with updates. Including transport, she wasn’t gone even 30 minutes, though if I’m being honest, I wasn’t really keeping track of time.
Waiting for Results
Once the scan was complete, she was returned to the room. The nurse hooked her back up to the IV, blood pressure cuff, and pulse oximeter. The doctor came in to check on her, and ordered some pain medicine through her IV. The pain medicine didn’t really help much, but it made her sleepy, which probably wasn’t a bad thing. (Honestly, I don’t remember exactly when the pain meds were ordered. The doctor may have came in and ordered it before her CT scan, but you get the point.)
Devastating Results: Metastatic Lung Cancer
Around 10:00pm there was a knock on the door. The doctor entered. Followed by the nurse. It was at this point, I realized that whatever was about to be said was not going to be good. (Thinking back, I’m not sure what brought this idea on. I don’t believe it’s that odd for a nurse to accompany a doctor into the room?)
He explained that the results from the CT scan had come back.
Her pulmonary (lung) mass, had been shrunk to around 4mm by chemotherapy and radiation. Now, it had a measurement of 9mm.
Metastatic Lung Cancer
Her lymph nodes, of which only one had previously shown any suspected metastatic activity, were now noticeably enlarged and diseased. This included both retroperitoneal (behind the abdomen) and hilar (where blood vessels attach to an organ) adenopathy. The largest of the lymph nodes measured around 1.5cm.
There was also some pleural-parenchymal (lung) scarring. A simple renal (kidney) cyst of 5cm, that had previously been identified as benign, was also seen.
And then we addressed the elephant in the room; the reason for her severe abdominal pain.
Very Bad Metastatic Lung Cancer
Extensive hepatic (liver) metastatic disease, which the largest mass measuring approximately 10cm.
10cm is somewhere between a fast-pitch softball and a bocce ball in size, or roughly the size of a grapefruit. No wonder she has been experiencing such bad pain under her ribs.
Genuine Fear and Unscripted Reactions
I don’t know when my mom decided to stop listening, but I think it was around the time when the doctor decided to sit down. Doctors with good news don’t sit down.
He explained each finding one-by-one, going down the radiology report; speaking slowly, and clearly. He clearly expressed that the results were not positive, but was noncommittal about specific prognoses or outlooks. Oncology is not his speciality. My mom reacted predictably, and showed immediate signs of a panic attack. She wanted to leave the hospital as soon as possible. The doctors had done what they needed to do. We found out what we needed to find out. There was no reason for her to stay any longer than she had to.
The doctor gave his apologies, and left the room. The nurse told us the discharge was In progress, copies of the results were being printed. We could leave as soon as all of that had been taken care of.
The discharge paperwork was printed at 10:33pm. We were outside and in the car by 10:54pm.
It was a very emotional ride home.
What Comes Next…
That was Monday evening. As of Friday morning, I have yet to get in touch with the oncologist she was referred to. Their office is closed until Tuesday.
We don’t know what the outcome will be. No one has let us know how great the survival rate is. We don’t know If her liver will ever decrease to a size that doesn’t cause her excruciating pain. But for now, and especially until we can get in to see the oncologist, we’re taking things day-by-day.
Keep us in your thoughts and prayers, or whatever conversations you have with the universe. We are lost, and scared, and hoping for a miracle. Lung cancer sucks.
As I stated in my first blog post, on Monday: I’m going to start writing on this blog. So, I’ll keep things updated as there is more to say.