When I booked my ticket home to see Mom; I knew things were getting worse and her treatment options were changing rapidly. I tried to prepare mentally for the journey ahead. My sisters were hesitant to tell me just how bad things had been for Mom, but soon confirmed what I already feared. One afternoon on the phone discussing my long weekend travel plans Jen suggested that I extend my stay as long as I could. She confirmed the reality approaching and didn't want me to be surprised at Mom's weak and fragile condition. With the support of my co-workers and amazing boss I was able to change a weekend trip to 11 days. No one had any idea my visit would turn into a month or the loss that lay ahead. It was a hard time to leave work. My stress level was extremely high especially leaving Cory with Bailey's medication regiment and the list goes on. However daunting the encouragement received from everyone in Arizona made it feel a little easier to get on the plane.
I arrived in St. Louis September 2nd and was greeted by 2 long-time amazing friends from our local congregation. They drove me almost 2 hours and then I finally got to see Momma. It was a relief finally arriving and seeing her beautiful face again. We've been so fortunate lately to have seen each other on a regular basis since my brothers wedding and the Franke girls trips to Arizona. I felt right at home again in the comfort of her sweet little house surrounded by my family and near the street I grew up on. My sister was right, it was hard at first to see Mom thinner than ever and not quite herself. I could tell she was trying to be strong but I could see the fear and pain in her eyes. Jen stayed the first night with me to help groove me into the routine again. We've all been through caregiving before but never to this degree. By the next morning I was ready to give my family a caregiving break and felt driven to begin my mission. It warmed my heart to support my siblings and was nice to have them come over for visits with Mom and I.
Through a private Facebook page Aunt Margie setup, we created a "Caring for Kerry" network with a few family members and close friends. There we kept up with medicine, exercises, visiting nurses, grocery list items and the diary of Mom's progress and care. It was a great help and support. Very quickly after my arrival the meals started arriving each day. I can't even describe how much these hot meals warmed our hearts and helped reduce stress. More family came to visit and help support Mom. Sadly though her condition was quickly getting worse but she carried on with the routine like a champ! The pill pile was a huge task for Mom and even making sure she ate or drank enough during the day was a constant adventure. I started to wonder which pills were actually helping and necessary. I started to question the strange feeling of doping her with the strong pain medication and then pepping her up with the stimulant. It just felt wrong, but I realized how important it was in managing the severity of her pain. If we missed the stimulant she wasn't up for much but sleeping and eating, drinking and the pills had to happen!
Soon the idea of having the physical therapist and occupational therapist come was the opposite direction of where Mom was headed. This all became clear without a word between us. Then one day during a nurses visit she asked what the treatment plan was and if Mom was going to have any radiation or chemotherapy. Mom sweetly and softly told the nurse that she was done with those options. Not necessarily by choice. Anyone who knows Mom and her journey knows that she would have done more, if she could. The clinical trial wasn't an option and the cancer spread beyond our control. Since her initial diagnosis in 2008 Mom had been preparing us for this day. She taught us that each day was a special gift. She told us that her cancer was a monster and one day it would catch up with her no matter how hard she tried to run. I know everyone can agree that Mom's fight with cancer has been the equivalent of a true Olympic Champion! As Mom was talking to the nurse, I smiled and our eyes met as if we were in complete agreement. This was no surprise. I told the nurse that Mom's "new treatment plan" was fighting to get up each day and this was true. I felt so extremely proud of her that feeling sad seemed selfish. She has fought so hard for so long that it was clear she was going to finish her fight with "Grace and Tenacity!"
It was after this eye opening visit we had our special talks. Mom started to open up and share more about her wishes and we talked about life without her. We cried and held each other; it was the most amazing yet difficult conversation in my life. Days following I had many deep discussions with my siblings and family about Mom's choice and the reality that lay ahead. Tears poured down my face when I called my boss to explain how I needed to stay longer and couldn't get on the plane yet. He was so supportive and helped redirect my focus on being with Mom her final days. Hospice came quickly after and was a great help providing clarity with our goals and new treatment plan. We reduced the medication only using the most important for pain and nerve control; but made sure the amount was just perfect for her to remain aware and conscious of her surroundings. Mom's wishes were to control the pain, stay in her home, and go before winter. She hated winter. Among many other wishes such as the Celebration of Life and cremation. Her most important goal was to make this as easy on her babies as possible. She told us how proud she was of us and felt confident about our lives; "My chicks are all in a row!" She knew that there was so need to worry too much but of course she knew we would miss her every single day of our lives. Her love and legacy far outweigh the pain of seeing her suffer any longer. There are no words to explain the loss we are feeling. There's only comfort knowing that we will see her again! The rest of my story will come later in pieces as we heal our hearts. Perhaps it will help others one day; but it's also a way to share our love and express our sorrow. Until the next time...
One day at a time and "Kerry On"