04-05-2012 05:48 PM
Please use this thread for discussion of Chapters 6 though 11.
04-25-2012 12:33 PM
I've been trying to write this off and on for about three weeks now....
Some books speak to us in different ways, depending on when we read them. The first time I read The Weird Sisters I really identified with the love of reading that is so much a part of the Andreas family and very much a part of mine. This time, I had to put the book down for a bit at Chapter 8.
It hit very close to home. My mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor in December - my normally very healthy mother who keeps everyone in line, remembers all our birthdays, is ready to help us at the drop of a hat (including when I called her at 1am once, terribly ill with food poisoning, because I just wanted to talk to my Mommy), and functions as the information hub of the family. We were blindsided - her symptomology was so minimal and yet there was a golfball-sized mass on her MRI with mass effect, swelling, and inflammation throughout the entire brain. It is likely that she would have died in her sleep before Christmas had her ability to play the piano and organ not suddenly deserted her.
In contrast to the Andreas family, a good chunk of my family is made up of (mostly rational) scientifically-minded people. My father is a systems engineer. My older-younger brother is a paramedic specialist (the other younger brother wants to be a cop). I'm an epidemiologist. Because I work at a top-25 university-affiliated hospital, my mother was able to see one of the best neurosugeons in the country.
He acknowledged the tumor was in a tricky place, pushing on the motor cortex and dangerously close to the vision center in her brain but Mom only had two options: leave the tumor alone and certainly die soon or have the surgery, get the pathology back, and take your chances from there.
He operated the next day.
I still feel a little bad for the other families in the SICU waiting room (Mom was last on the surgery schedule that day, due to needing to fit her in on an emergent basis, and so the docs thought it would be best for us to wait up in the SICU since that was where she would go after the procedure was over). We all had our books (I had my knitting, too) and one bro/SIL combo brought their homework but what we really did was talk. We like gallows humor, particularly the brother who is a paramedic, and we were likely entertaining although a little morbid.
We also subjected the SICU to a little extra scrutiny. Since I work in hospital epidemiology - and was running a hand hygiene study in our SICU at the time - everyone in and out of Mom's room absolutely had to use the hand gel (OR. ELSE.) - I also forced the nurses to write my pager number on everything, so they could find me easily. The paramedic brother checks all Mom's lines and meds - twice - before he was thoroughly satisfied with her care. We probably made them all nervous.
Thankfully, Mom came out of the whole mess still Mom. She was hopped up on morphine and Percocet, an anti-seizure med, and had had her brain scrambled but she was still ADAMANT that we remember to take cookies to Dr. Howard's staff (the neurosurgeon) and "don't forget the little anesthesiologist with the big eyes" (Dr. Heller, one of the Anes residents, who was fantastic). And remember to buy her enough thank you cards, because so many people sent cards/flowers/came to visit. And could I bring her a book of crossword puzzles? And did I remember to remind Dad to sort the Christmas presents so that I could wrap them?
Mom has now finished her radiation and initial round of chemotherapy (still a couple rounds of chemo left to go). We are very lucky that she's still with us and has come through everything with few serious, lasting side-effects (her balance is wacky, and she has trouble with concepts of time, but she is able to go to work part of the week).
And that's where Chapter 8 got me - the family gathered at the hospital, the uncertainty that you'll get your mother/wife back (and if it will be Mommy that comes out the other side), the weird role-reversal where you have to care for the person who has always cared for you, how devoted the husband is to the wife (my father was granted emergency medical leave/worked on his laptop from Mom's hospital room/appointments and stayed with her almost 24/7). I know that Eleanor wrote from her own experience with her mother's breast cancer - I had actually forgot that aspect of the book until it punched me in the gut.
(and I know this is rambling, but I decided rambling was better than perfect)
04-25-2012 01:59 PM - edited 04-25-2012 02:01 PM
Melissa, I haven't been following the discussion for this book, but I saw the subject for the last post and was curious. I'm so sorry for what you, your mother, and your family have been through. It must have been so difficult. I am so glad that your mother came through it and is mentally ok. My mother was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer. She had some polyps removed, which turned out to be cancerous. There is a possibility that just the removal was all that was required, but it is also possible that it was advanced enough that she will require further treatment. We are waiting for an upcoming test to find out, so it is a bit stressful at the moment. She is very active and independent at the age of 88 and lives in her own home. She is already a cancer survivor, having had colon cancer 28 years ago, from which she completely recovered. But what you went through was so much worse - brain cancer is, to me, one of the scariest of all. Also, it seems that frequently one doesn't even know anything is wrong until something serious happens. Someone I know online's husband had it (and passed away soon afterwards), and they didn't know until he collapsed at work. She's lucky she paid attention to the warning signs. I hope she continues to do well!
Grand Dame of the Land of Oz, Duchess of Fantasia, in the Kingdom of Wordsmithonia; also, Poet Laureate of the Kingdom of Wordsmithonia
04-25-2012 02:36 PM
I hope your mom's test has favorable results!
The crazy thing about Mom was that Dad suspected something was up for about three weeks prior to her major symptoms but it was all very vague, minor things. He'd call me and worry that she getting forgetful (well, they're both in their 60s now, so I didn't think much of it) or that she was more tired than usual (she's had a thyroid issue for years and, well, she's in her 60s) or that she almost ran a stop sign because she was talking to him and not paying attention (uh, I had to confess that I'd done that a few times). Her motor skills deteriorated over three days - she was OK at choir practice on Wednesday (maybe a few more sour notes on the piano than normal, but she was tired) then on Sunday she couldn't coordinate her right and left hands to play the organ (she is/was a church organist) and had developed a very lurching gait. Her tumor had finally grown large enough to press on the motor cortex in the center of her brain - it started on the outer edge of the ventricle and grew across the fluid-filled space of the ventricle. I think we would have found it sooner had it been in a different location where it would have affected function sooner.
I did my master's research in cancer epidemiology so I know too well what the long odds were/are, what types of drugs they're using, the tumor grade, the aggressive nature of that pathology so the worst part, for me, was the uncertainty. I was a wreck from the minute they took her back for surgery until the final pathology came back a week later. Once I knew what we were up against, I could put my game face back on, explain what was going on, deal with Dad's surprise phone calls at 7am when I'm trying to get in the shower, deal with random relatives, etc. I now know more than I ever cared to know about my mother's medical history and can fill it out from memory (most awkward moment came when we got to the gynocologic section and both my brothers and my dad suddenly developed a need to visit the bathroom at the same time).
Things are settling down a bit. They won't ever be back to "normal" but are much more on an even keel, so to speak.
04-26-2012 11:24 AM
Thank you for sharing that, Melissa. Your family is in my thoughts and prayers.
Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.