Friday, August 31, 2018

Dad's at Peace

On Wednesday evening we saw Dad take a turn towards the true final stages of his journey. When Beth had gone back to the hospital around 9 o'clock she was alarmed when she walked in the room to see that he was not breathing. However he had slipped back into the stage of where there are regular periods when he didn't breath for 30 seconds at a time. (this had happened the previous Saturday but he transitioned back to regular breathing on the Sunday and was a ittle more aware and responsive for the next few days, though not eating).

Beth felt that it may be our last opportunity to be with Dad so all of our children were able to come up to the hospital and Mom was with us as well, coming right over after her dialysis treatment. It was a special time and we were so grateful how it had all worked out for us to be together - Alison had come down from Barrie that day because she was taking a course this week, and Joel had just arrived back from a visit to Nova Scotia the day before.

Beth and I took turns staying with Dad during the night, reading Scripture and singing, and Mom came back a bit later in the morning. Dad was mostly unresponsive but we believe he was hearing all the words of love that we expressed to him. He continued his breathing pattern of 30 seconds of apnea and then laboured breathing for a minute or so. I was spending the afternoon at the hospital when Mom and Dad's pastor came by in the afternoon. Pastor Richard and I had a wonderful time of sharing, including great stories of how Dad had been such a positive influence on so many people over his life.

Mom came back about 5 o'clock and Pastor Richard stayed with her while Beth and I went home for supper. He called just after 6 to let us know that Dad had passed so our family headed back up to be with them. Mom said that her and Richard had been singing hymns to Dad when he took his final breath.

Dad passed away almost exactly 3 weeks after Beth and I had taken him into the hospital. We consider it a great blessing that the time from his cancer diagnosis to his passing was really quite brief. The care he received at St. Mary's Hospital was exceptional and we are so thankful for the staff there. With Beth's many years of nursing there (and my few years as a medical attendant at the beginning of our marriage), and living almost right beside it, St. Mary's has always felt like 'our hospital' so it was very meaningful to share these last days with Dad in this special place.

Details for visitation and funeral are being finalized today but we have decided to have visitation at the Henry Walser Funeral Home on Sunday evening and the service will be on Monday at St. Stephen's Lutheran Church (12:00 Noon).

Thanks once again for your prayers and support through this time.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Final Stretch?

If the last couple of days are an indication then it seems we are likely entering into Dad's final days. As the week progressed his periods of conscious interaction with us have begun to decrease. Thursday evening his spirits rallied briefly when our granddaughter Lindsay was up for a visit with her "Papa Moe" (the photo here though was from Tuesday). He was originally scheduled for a radiation treatment this week but it was cancelled as his condition was deteriorating. Dad really hasn't had much to eat at all over the last couple of days. On Friday papers were signed to get him on a waiting list for a palliative care facility in the area.

With the changes we were seeing in Dad's condition, Beth and I decided it was best not to go up to our church camp as had been planned. We've been very grateful for Mom's sisters and brother in laws coming down to help be with her this week, along with driving her to the hospital.

Everyone in our family is obviously finding this a difficult time, but we take comfort in knowing that he is definitely ready to let go of this life, looking forward to the life to come. The care at St. Mary's has been phenomenal and for the most part Dad is resting comfortably.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Further Details About Dad

Thanks to everyone who has shown support for us during this time. We certainly appreciate your expressions of kindness and even silent prayers that have gone up on Dad's behalf.

The doctors feel that the primary site for the cancer is in the lung. The mass there is about 6cm x 5cm x 4cm (so quite significant). They believe that the cancer has then spread to form a tumour on his spine.

For much of the past week Dad has been pretty heavily sedated. On Monday this was because of the need to have him lay still for a radiation treatment. He was taken over to the Cancer Centre at Grand River Hospital and they were successful in giving the radiation. However, because he had difficulty being still on Sunday they opted to give him one larger (weekly) dose of radiation instead of the 5 daily doses they had originally planned. The radiation oncologist said this would equal about 80% of the radiation he would have gotten over the 5 day treatment.

On Tuesday he was also sedated more because he went back over to Grand River for an MRI of his spine so that they could have a more accurate picture of the tumour there. That was able to be done as well but it didn't really result in a lot more information regarding treatment.

On Wednesday Dad was much more awake and aware but this lead to him also being more anxious and confused. Beth, Mom, or myself tried to be with him most of the time but if he was left alone it seemed he forgot almost right away that we had been there and expressed to someone in a neighbouring bed that he couldn't understand why he was there. Dad has pulled out his IV site and his name band several times this week. If he was able to move his legs I'm sure he'd be trying to get out of bed as well. Fortunately he has slept pretty soundly each night. As well, we're thankful that he doesn't seem to be in very much pain.

Thursday was the day scheduled for a biopsy of the tumour in his lung, so he was again pretty drowsy for most of the day. The material they gathered from his lung will be sent off for testing (which will take up to a week) to determine the exact form of cancer they are looking at. However, this morning the doctor talked with us and said that he thinks it could be quite likely that the Cancer Centre will recommend that Dad not go ahead with chemotherapy treatment for the lung cancer. This is mostly based on his Alzheimer's diagnosis and the fact that he has been deteriorating physically.

We're grateful for Mom's sisters, who are coming down this coming week to provide extra support. Beth and I had been planning to go to our church camp next week and take along our granddaughter Lindsay for her first experience there. We'll have to see if that is still possible. I just got back from sitting with Dad for an hour (Friday afternoon) and he slept most of that time.

If anyone nearby wants to visit Dad (no pressure at all, I only include this for those who might already have been thinking about it) it might help to know that Mom is there most days at lunch and dinner times. Also, if you don't mind walking up the street, you can park in front of our house (57 Patricia) for free - you just need to grab one of the passes from our mailbox and hang it from your rear view mirror.

Thanks again for your care and concern!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

An Update on My Dad

Well, Dad ended up in St. Marys hospital on Thursday (August 9) because he was having trouble walking, which was unusual. He'd been complaining about more back pain the last couple of weeks but we figured that was just more of his chronic back problems. However, when they did testing in the hospital they discovered cancer in his spine, as well as a mass in his lungs. 

We didn't tell him of the cancer right away and yesterday (Saturday) he seemed comfortable and was even smiling and joking a bit. I think it helped that mom was able to be there for a couple stretches of time (and pain medication helps too).

Today (Sunday August 12), however, was not so good.
Beth spent most of the day with Dad. We got a call after 9:00 saying that:
- dad had been awake and agitated most of the night, and had pulled out his IV site twice
- the doctor felt there was further deterioration of his ability to move his legs, so he wanted to get him in for a radiation treatment at Grand River today

When Beth got there Dad settled some, and he was also given some sedating medication. His bladder was full but he didn't seem able to urinate so they put in a catheter.
When they went over to Grand River he was not settled enough to have the radiation. They tried more medications but even after 3 hours he would not be able to lay still for any treatment. Of course, when they got back to St. Marys he was out like a light and Beth says he'll probably sleep all evening and night now.

They have booked to try again tomorrow morning at 11:30. They will need to coordinate giving him enough drugs so that he will be basically sleeping for this. 

In some ways it's difficult to know how to react to this cancer diagnosis - with Dad's memory loss and his desire to go home to heaven (which he's been expressing pretty regularly for a few years now) it's hard to see this as a tragedy. However we could have a tough road ahead of us. So far, mom is holding up pretty well. She has been driving over to the hospital but then needs help getting up to the floor as it's a long walk. She uses a wheelchair and then one of us takes her car down to our house to park it.

We appreciate your prayers and will keep you updated,

Saturday, June 11, 2016

An Update on My Parents

This is written with the thought that for anyone who reads it who is a praying kind of person, they may shoot one off for my mom, or dad, or Beth, or I guess even for myself. I don’t presume that this post is of interest to everyone but I sure know that we have many caring friends and family who may appreciate a summary/update. Thanks so much if you fit into one of these categories.

The stress of the last 6 weeks has been pretty intense but I’m thankful that for the most part the 4 of us have weathered the storm pretty well. Mom was feeling pretty weak and sickly for last couple of weeks in April and ended up being admitted to the hospital on May 3rd with a very low hemoglobin blood level and a very high creatinine level (indicating her kidneys weren’t functioning very well). Along with her compromised lungs (a condition called bronchiectasis) she presented the doctors with a very complicated case.

Over the course of the next 5 weeks a variety of strategies were implemented, including receiving units of blood, iron, prednisone and Lasix. Progress was slow and erratic some weeks but by the end she was feeling stronger and was looking forward to going home. However, while she was in the hospital, we had to pack up and move them out of their house of over 30 years as they had sold it earlier this year in order to move into a nearby apartment. So in the end, going ‘home’ meant coming and seeing the apartment for the first time since they had walked through it in March when finalizing the rental.

At the same time, Beth and I were preparing for our oldest son, David, and his daughter Lindsay, to move into our basement apartment. This meant moving out our previous tenant, who had lived there for 12 years, cleaning, tearing up carpet, repairing walls, and painting.

Through this all, mom’s sisters, Shirley and Marilyn, have been a great support. Aunt Shirley and Uncle Gordie have been around a lot over the past couple of months, especially as Dad needs someone around because of his short-term memory loss. They were able to stay with him through most of mom’s hospital stay. However they did have other commitments leading up to the moving day so Beth and I ended up sleeping over for a few days before the move. Then Dad stayed at our place for a week instead of moving into the unfamiliar apartment environment. He had a few days with Shirley and Gordie at the apartment before mom came home this past Monday.

So the past 5 weeks have been busy with visiting mom (plus trying to connect with the myriad doctors and nurses who were making decisions about treatment) and supporting Dad as he went up to the hospital twice a day and needed rides (as we don’t feel he should be driving anymore) but this past week may have been the craziest/busiest one yet. Beth took Dad up to the hospital on Monday and shortly after she left Mom called to say she was going home today. This was a surprise, although we expected her to be released early in the week. So there was a lot of arranging to do – Beth went back to the hospital to ensure all of the supports would be in place for the transition and I went to rent a wheelchair (Mom had been using a walker in the hospital but was only making quite short trips, usually just to the bathroom, so we felt we’d need a wheelchair to at least get her from the car to the apartment, or for when going to appointments).

It was great to have her back home and she has done really well, showing a real positive attitude and surprising us with how strong she is. While in the hospital she was mostly in bed but since being home she is mainly up sitting, and is having no issues getting around the apartment. However, one bigger complication began almost as soon as she arrived home – significant swelling in her feet and legs. This resulted in Beth, on Tuesday, needing to advocate for a doctor to get involved and hopefully order some medicine for her. After a number of phone calls she was able to get Lasix ordered and for her to see her nephrologist (kidney specialist) on Thursday. The drugs did help a bit, but when Mom saw the doctor he said that she should begin on dialysis the next day.

In the meantime, Dad has found all of this change pretty unsettling, even though he doesn’t always articulate it well. Adjusting to a new place brings a ton of challenges for someone who has limited short-term memory. The most concerning behavior has been an unwillingness to get out of bed in the morning. He often presents as being almost in a catatonic state and can remain uncommunicative for quite a while as we try to rouse him. This past Tuesday was particularly difficult and so we made an appointment for him to see his family doctor the next day. Beth and I went with him and had written up a document outlining our concerns with his behavior over the past 6 months. The doctor prescribed a drug to help curb memory loss as well as behavior, and is running a battery of tests.

It was at this appointment that we also talked further with Dad about driving. There have been more issues with this for him lately, and now with the move, which puts him in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, he finds it quite difficult. Also, when Mom was in the hospital he didn’t really drive much at all, and the new apartment has very narrow parking spots in the underground lot they use. This seems like an appropriate time for him to stop driving and the doctor was supportive of that decision, but as someone who basically drove for his living every day for most of his life, Dad is obviously finding it hard to accept.

So overall, this has been a week like no other. Beth and I are thankful that we are both retired and available to give support to Mom and Dad at this time, as they sure need it. They (and I) are so grateful for Beth – she has been their advocate and personal support in so many ways, and we all say we don’t know what we would do without her. She is truly amazing but the time and energy that goes in to helping in this situation can be quite draining.

Thanks again for your support and prayers!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


     So Beth finished her final (25th) radiation treatment last Friday (and yes, that's her lined up in the machine in the picture). These daily sessions (Mon.-Fri.) have gone pretty smoothly. Most of the time they are between 8 and 9 o'clock in the morning and this timing has worked well, as it's nice to get it out of the way first thing and then get on with the day. Napping in the afternoon has been a pretty regular part of her routine as well, although it's difficult to decide what is causing the tiredness - at first she wondered if it was still recuperation from the surgery, or a cold bug, or a side effect from the radiation. Apparently fatigue is common as the radiation progresses. Her skin (in the areas she receives the radiation) has gotten pretty red, which is normal. We're hopeful that her skin doesn't blister or break open into sores, but that can also be quite common. We were told that effect on the skin will continue for up to 10 days after the treatments are complete (that is, her skin could continue to react for that long). Someone has also said the actual radiation continues to work in the body for up to 2 months after the treatments are finished. There isn't a lot that can be done for the skin - Beth has an anti-itch cream she has begun to use and if sores appear she is just supposed to use polysporin cream or some compresses on it.
     At the beginning of March Beth began attending the Well Fit program on Wednesdays and Fridays, which is run at the University of Waterloo. This is a free fitness program they offer for cancer patients and she finds the trainers to be very good. However her schedule has sometimes made it challenging to make it out on a regular basis.
     There have been a couple of follow-up appointments regarding Beth's (one remaining) parathyroid gland. We saw the surgeon in Toronto on the 11th and he was quite pleased with how the incision is healing, as well as with the calcium level which appears to be approaching normal levels, meaning that the parathyroid is beginning to work. The following week we saw the local endocrinologist who is also following these levels. While there have been some minor medication adjustments made it seems good progress is being made with this aspect of her bodily function.
     One other encouraging appointment this month was with the genetics counsellor at the Grand River Cancer Centre. She has been studying Beth's family history and gathered quite a bit of information from a number of her relatives who have had cancer. The good news is that the results indicate that there is no apparent genetic link. The counsellor seemed to confirm what Beth has been suspecting all along about her cancer history - that she received some form of radiation on her head as a baby, which likely led to the Hodgkin's in her 20's, and the radiation she received for that very probably caused her thyroid cancer in 2002, and may have even been involved in the occurrence of breast cancer now. In the end the lack of a genetic cause is good news for our family, especially our daughter Alison and granddaughter Lindsay.
     Just over a week ago we got a bit of a scare as Beth started to get sick (ie. vomiting) a couple times on Thursday night going into Friday morning. We assumed it was a flu bug and because of the way she was feeling she didn't go in for her regular 8:00 radiation treatment. Fortunately she felt better during the day and the hospital was able to fit her in for the treatment at 4:00. Beth felt fine most of the weekend but then on Sunday night she got sick again. So she laid awake a lot that night beginning to worry about why this could be happening and one thing that she thought was that she has never had a CT scan of her head. Beth couldn't keep her toast down at breakfast but felt well enough to go for the treatment and I tagged along at the last minute in hopes we'd be able to at least talk to the nurse for Beth's radiation doctor. She did meet with us and after listening to our story she was very reassuring - she felt pretty strongly that it was probably just a flu bug (her daughter had had very similar symptoms in the last week), and she said when the brain is affected any nausea or vomiting comes with severe headaches (which Beth wasn't experiencing) and curiously it usually occurs in the morning. She said she would talk to the doctor and was sure he'd gladly book a CT scan for us if we still wanted it.
     So Beth is booked for this scan of her head on Thursday and the doctor said he will meet with us on Friday to share the results. We are certainly hopeful that it will show nothing suspicious. If you're the praying kind we'd obviously appreciate your support in this way. We know from experience that worrying is not a helpful thing but sometimes it gets hard to not worry. Beth doesn't look forward to these kinds of appointments much, as she's had too many times when she went into a doctor's office expecting everything to be fine and then having a bombshell dropped on her. Praying that won't be true on Friday.

Monday, March 3, 2014

And on to the Final Treatment Stage

     Last Monday's (Feb. 24th) parathyroid surgery in Toronto went very well. We drove down in the early morning (the best time to beat all of the traffic) and found our way to the pre-surgery area. We were encouraged by the IV nurse who came, as she shared she is a breast cancer survivor, being diagnosed just one year previous to Beth. Eventually they came to wheel her away and I headed to the beautiful waiting area they have at the hospital. Her surgery was scheduled for 8:00 and the surgeon came to talk to me by 10:30, sharing that everything had gone according to plan. He said that he was able to clearly see the vocal cord nerve so was easily able to avoid that. He told me that he removed the left superior (upper) parathyroid gland and saw that the anterior (lower) one was intact. However this lower gland was quite small, as the upper one with the (non-cancerous) tumour would have been inhibiting its functioning. The doctor said that it could take up to several months before her one remaining parathyroid gland completely takes over regulating her calcium level (that is the role of our parathyroid glands - to regulate the amount of calcium in our blood and bones). Regular practice for this type of surgery is to stay in the hospital for a couple of nights to have your calcium levels closely monitored, which is what happened with Beth.
     She made it up to the floor around 1:00 and was a bit groggy, but feeling okay. Within an hour or so she just seemed like herself, though she did have a headache. We did some walking and got her some yogurt from the Tim's in the hospital. We were kinda surprised that there wasn't pain medication ordered for her yet (according to the nurse anyway) and that they didn't have some of the other pills ready either even though it had seemed to us that all of this was supposed to have been setup when we visited the week before with the pharmacist as part of the preop preparations. It's a good thing Beth is a nurse and that she even did bring some of her meds because we ended up using a few pills from home initially. The previous week Beth had noticed that one of the incisions from her mastectomy had a spot of infection so she went to emergency (Sunday, Feb. 16) to get it looked at and they put her on an antibiotic. It seemed to take a while to get better so she didn't want to be missing any doses of that medicine (it seems to have pretty much cleared up by now).
     So the stay at the hospital was pretty quiet and relaxing. Beth had a nice and warm private room. I came home on Monday night but stayed with our friends Sheila & Bert's at their condo near Lakeshore Blvd. on the Tuesday. We hoped to get away early on Wednesday but they needed to do blood work around noon. The calcium levels were dropping, as expected, but they weren't too low, and she began taking calcium supplements 3 times a day (which has continued, along with regular blood tests back in Kitchener). We ended up leaving the hospital around 4:00, just in time to hit rush hour traffic on the way back home. Still, it was great to finally get back and we ended up having some quick visits with David, Rachel & Lindsay; Josh; and my mom & dad (Alison was working and Joel was still out in Halifax visiting his girlfriend Caora). Overall the whole parathyroid surgery part of this adventure went extremely well and it was pretty amazing to see how quickly Beth bounced back from this. We knew that the surgeon is highly respected in his field and this was confirmed by a doctor who came in to talk to Beth one day - he is a surgeon from Australia and has come to Toronto to work under, and learn from, Beth's doctor, as he has a world-wide reputation as one of the best head and neck surgeons.
     A highlight from this past weekend was that our grand-daughter Lindsay turned one year old on Sunday (March 2nd - yes Lindsay and I share a half-birthday if you know what that is). We ended up offering our house as the party place as both sides of the family adds up to 20 people and we can accommodate that number pretty easily. It was a wonderful get-together and it was so much fun to see Lindsay try to figure out what was going on - from the decorations, to the large crowd of people, all the presents, singing 'Happy Birthday', and of course her first taste of birthday cake! She had a great time (and a much needed nap afterwards).
     This morning (Monday) Beth began the last stage of her breast cancer treatment - radiation. She will be getting 25 treatments spread over the next five weeks. Each session only takes about 15 minutes and we're thankful that they're scheduled for earlier in the morning so that it doesn't break up the day and there's less danger of the technicians falling behind schedule. The first couple of weeks there are no expected side effects but as the treatments progress there may be some issues with the skin burning or blistering and fatigue.