Diagnosis Terminal Cancer-Part I

DSCN3871“I look to the mountains, where will my strength come from?

January 2003 – Who can save my husband – this mountaineer, a dad, a man of integrity, courage and faith, this man known as a “great guy.” Who can save him from terminal cancer? Can his doctors, can God, can I? When all the answers are no and the agony of terminal cancer trumps coping, how can I sustain my courage to face what is coming?

By Christmas, Werner said to a friend who said, “How are you doing?”  “When I wake, I don’t have any energy. I feel wiped – out. I’m just hanging on.” It set my alarm bells ringing.

On January 28, 2003, the sun rose pale and cold and the cancer wheels ground forward. As usual, we walked in silence from the parking lot and into the hospital for the appointment to hear the CAT SCAN results. Holding hands, we walked our beaten path along the oncology corridor. As usual, we stopped to look at the artwork displayed doing its job to distract. In crowded Oncology, we found an empty love seat along the wall. We sat. We waited. Having had lots of practice, we waited well. He read. I wondered.

The nurse called our name. I said, “Okay, love, here we go.”

Always upbeat, he slipped his arm around my waist. “We’ll be fine.”

We entered the back rooms where test results might mean a matter of life or death.

In our tiny windowless exam room, we sat in our usual worn waiting chairs. But nothing about this day turned out usual. Werner’s nurse stayed. She usually left after she entered Werner’s vitals and weight loss in his health chart.

Werner’s oncologist arrived, and pleasantries followed. “Hi, Carla and Werner. How are you?  Nice to see you. How’s the skiing Werner?” All the while Werner lived with cancer’s assaults on his body, his extraordinary energy and continued active involvement always amazed his medical team.  His oncologist said, “How are you doing?”  “Great,” was Werner’s reply.

And then the silence hung heavy and lingered too long before the hammer came down shattering our world like the breaking of a crystal glass.

“The CAT Scans are back, and I am afraid the news is not good. We are sorry to tell you that your cancer has returned.”

“Bummer,” said my beautiful husband.

I dared not look at him.  My fragile emotional hold retreated to a hiding place for protection.  I reached for his hand and held on tight to hear cancer invaded Werner’s lymph nodes, pancreas, and liver. It spider-webbed around vital organs prohibiting surgical removal. Cancer acted like a parasite. It ate his food first sucking out the nutrients and left him the trash. And then came the worst, “There is no cure. Perhaps six months.”

Everyone’s eyes fastened on us. Tense. Silent. Waiting. How will we respond? Anger, hysterics, blame?  No, we sat. We did not move. The atmosphere in the room felt oddly calm.

The oncologist broke the silence and offered the palliative program chemotherapy and without hesitation, Werner said, “I will fight. When do we start?”

As if on cue, a palliative care doctor arrived followed by his nurse and Werner’s nutritionist. After we had accepted all the palliative help offered, we stood to leave, amid hugs and good wishes. Werner walked half-way through the door, turned and said, “I am going skiing tomorrow.”


Part II: Beyond coping when facing a loved one’s terminal cancer. Who Will Help?

“My strength comes from God who made the mountains.”

Surviving Stage III The Esophageal Cancer Journey


DSCN5562Surviving Stage III The Esophageal Cancer Journey

     "Do not research this cancer," said my friend.
It was the year 2000, my husband was diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma at the Stomach Junction 
We entered The Fifth Gate-survival of Stage Three Esophageal Cancer

In 2000 online information and resources about esophageal cancer were scarce. What information I did find scared me enough to understand why my friend warned me not to research the diagnosis tagged onto my husband, Werner.  Stage III Esophageal Cancer with a few lymph nodes  involved.

     “One esophageal cancer warrior said, “When I heard the diagnosis, I felt like I had been hit with a baseball bat. When I asked about my chances of surviving this disease and heard the poor outcome, I felt like someone hit me again with the baseball bat.”

     I tried to follow a piece of advice offered to me. Do not look at survival statistics.  All right… I won’t dwell on cancer patients presented as statistics.

That advice was short-lived. Two to five-year survival statistics popped up on my computer screen and stared back at me like dirty smears on my eyeglasses. Enough! I clicked out of the cancer web sites.

 The other piece of advice offered to me, think positive, find the stories of people who were cured. Finding none, I began to feel like a dog digging for a long gone bone. Like the dog, I refused to quit digging. Stunned by the lethal character of this cancer, yet I gave myself a go at positive thinking.

Let Werner’s quiet faith and courage wash over you. Focus on the power of his strengths, physical and athletic. He is aggressive and focused. How else could he have climbed more than 100 routes on the Swiss Alps? Cancer cannot take him down.

He grew up racing downhill on a Swiss Ski Team. As director of Loon Mountain’s successful alpine race team, he possesses the everyday physical endurance to set race courses, support his staff, and coach young racers in all kinds of weather and mountain snow conditions. Cancer cannot take him down.

He lives trusting God. Cancer cannot take him down.

     Two points crept all over my positive thinking drill. Cancer was no respecter of people, and Werner’s advanced stage of cancer.

For the first time in our 30-year marriage, physical vulnerability reached out and touched him. Suddenly it hit me. I would lose him to this cancer. I hated knowing it. Inexpressible terror overwhelmed me. I told no one.  I promised him that I would be brave, but the path I saw was littered with enough ingredients to break my heart. What now?

     Somewhere I read, “Courage is not the absence of fear.”  And C.S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

     I thought when God promised to help me honor Werner’s one request, “You must be brave,” He meant I would be immune from despair’s mocking voice. I was wrong.