Struggling to live while facing death

By From page A5 | April 11, 2012

Richard Esposito

Grace walked into the Bert Fish Medical Center in New Smyrna Beach, Florida with her newest hard cover puzzle book featuring an assortment of mind benders and Sodukos. Working crossword puzzles helps pass the time and at age 69 Grace’s skill level is ranked somewhere between amateur and professional.

On this particular day, Grace would receive her third chemotherapy treatment for cancer and visit with her oncologist. She was diagnosed with small cell carcinoma cancer this past November when two small spots were discovered on her left lung and liver.

When the pain in her side became excruciating her husband decided it was time to visit their physician and seek relief. “We thought it was her gall bladder or appendix,” he would later recall. To their disbelief it was cancer.

The oncology waiting room was comfortable and the volunteer on duty offered patients coffee and other beverages. Typical of most waiting rooms, the same old dated magazines were available but this morning I noticed many of the patients brought along their own reading materials and other items to occupy their time. One woman clasped a blanket on her lap; another brought a tote bag with a small pillow tucked inside. I could see the fluffy head of a small white teddy bear peering out over the top. Obviously this provided some comfort during her long treatments.

A young mother receiving intravenous chemotherapy was a stark reminder of a disease that strikes without prejudice. Her three young children, all under age 7, were in the waiting room with their dad.

Cancer is a word that invokes fear in the mind of anyone hearing it. It’s a word describing a condition touching each of us through someone we might know. It may be a relative, friend, fellow worker, or simply an acquaintance.

As Grace sat back in the recliner, an intravenous tube was inserted into her “port” a small tube implanted into an artery below her shoulder. This would serve as the entry port for the chemotherapy. Her chemotherapy cocktail would slowly drip from a plastic bag hovering on a portable stand located behind her. Today’s treatment would take approximately two hours, not bad considering her first treatment, two weeks prior, lasted six hours.

During her initial consultation with her oncologist, Grace was asked how long she smoked cigarettes, what brands she smoked and when she quit. Her form of cancer is preventable and is directly linked to smoking, a habit she started at age 16.

Grace, like countless others, fights a battle against cancer. She’s determined to fight this disease with an ironclad outlook. And despite her hair falling out and the pain she hides from her family, she continues moving forward masking her fears of the future and what lies ahead for her.

Advanced medical treatment is astounding and it’s difficult to know where today’s victims would be without it. For Grace it offers hope and a chance to prolong her life. She’s determined to fight the disease. She’s displaying great courage and strength. Her voice never reveals any of the pain or discomfort she’s experiencing. And her outlook is positive.

Grace’s resolve and determination to fight this battle reminds me of the importance of family and faith. Parents are continually teaching their children life’s harsh realities and how to face them. Courage is something my mom is demonstrating now.

(It’s been five years since my mother lost her battle with lung cancer. This column was published three months preceding her death in The Oak Ridger, a daily newspaper serving Oak Ridge, Tenn. While it reveals her struggle to live, it doesn’t tell the story of how she died and how Hospice assisted our family. Next week’s column will expound on Hospices’ role in meeting my mother’s end-of-life needs.) 

Richard Esposito


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