(With Amanda’s permission, this blog post is written and posted by her husband Charles.)
Until recently, Amanda approached her cancer with fight. And, if the fight was a video game, Amanda was in full attack mode against a foe. If the fight was a soccer match, Amanda’s team played positively, with three attackers up top, midfielders constantly pressuring the ball, and defenders holding a high line with discipline. Our hope and prayers during her fight focused on recovery and cure. Her body endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy treatments and scars and wounds from four surgeries. But despite the fight, her current prognosis leaves her with a few weeks left to live. She cannot eat and digest food. Her wounds seep fluid constantly. Her liver is failing. She is in constant pain. She is dying.
The truth is patients with cancer do die. Even with prayer and the best treatments available, cancer patients die. At the same time, there also are cancer patients who go on to live cancer-free lives. We all know family members and friends, those we’ve prayed for, who have lived long after receiving a cancer diagnosis. For many, life or death after that diagnosis depends on the type of cancer, if it’s contained or metastasized to other organs, the treatments pursued, etc.
For the last 21 months, I did not think Amanda would die from cancer. We faithfully prayed she’d live. She had an intercessory prayer service to heal her body. Up until a week or so ago, we also had other treatment options to extend her life when current therapies or surgery failed. When doctors told me she was dying, I felt disbelief along with the feelings of great sorrow and sadness even though I’ve always known that cancer does take the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans every year.
I’ve now accepted Amanda’s prognosis. It makes cruel sense to me given the colon cancer diagnosis and what she’s been through. Amanda’s colon cancer and tumor type, one that’s rare and dangerous, were first discovered in April 2015. At the time she had suffered from severe abdominal pain, which doctors thought was caused by an ovarian cyst, and had exploratory surgery to address what was an adhesion between her colon and abdominal wall. Following that procedure, she had a colonoscopy that the gastroenterologist could not complete because a massive tumor blocked a portion of her transverse colon. The cancer had metastasized and other procedures followed, including HIPEC surgery in January 2016 to remove tumors in her peritoneal tissue and other organs. This surgery was pursued with curative intent but we knew the outcomes for patients opting for the surgery were mixed. A clinical study showed the median survival rate following HIPEC was nearly two years. For Amanda, she enjoyed six months of having no evidence of disease (N.E.D.) before learning her cancer was back.
There now are several tumors in her abdomen, including one in particular that appears to be killing her. You can touch her belly and feel a hard mass beneath the skin. This tumor, and maybe others, has shutdown her bowels and sends pain shooting from her abdomen to her back constantly. Her liver is not functioning, so any fluid she drinks gets absorbed in her tissue and has caused extreme edema in her legs. Any nutrition she consumes, including via IV, is not being processed by her body but now feeds and grows the cancer. Before Amanda entered hospice, we pressed her doctors on other treatments and surgeries. Even hours after her most recent surgery, Amanda was in the ICU asking the lead surgeon if an innovative procedure that shoots vaporized chemo in the patient’s abdomen could be beneficial. The surgeon’s response: I’m sorry, it would not help.
I could further list the different chemotherapy drugs and the number of chemo rounds Amanda has received. And, I could recount the days in the hospital and invaluable nursing care. Several friends and family also have provided solicited and unsolicited advice in various forms; we’ve politely ignored some but not all when we thought alternatives would improve her outcome. Every medical decision and every prayer has been made with hopes of a cure. But still Amanda is dying.
Colon cancer is the simple clinical response to why Amanda is dying. There is another answer. It’s an answer I cannot comprehend and my inability to understand is excruciating.
But as I think and recall Amanda’s life before her colon cancer diagnosis, my thought is that she might be dying so she will once again be free of cancer. And, as I think about my wife finally being cancer free, without all the nausea and pain on a day not too far away, I know we will soon rejoice and will be glad.