Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Never thought it would happen to us...

It was Monday, May 26, 2008.  Daniel and I were at a Memorial Day picnic over to his dad's house when he received a call from his step dad telling him that he had taken his mom to the emergency room at our local hospital.  She had been complaining about stomach pains for months now, but her doctor brushed it off as IBS and suggested she change her diet and get on medicine, which she did and the pains continued.  Daniel's step dad promised to call us as soon as they heard anything.

Three hours later Ernie called, Paula had a cat scan and a mass was found in her lower stomach. The doctors planned to do surgery the next morning. I wanted to go to the hospital the morning of the surgery, but Daniel insisted I go to work.  He knew the emergency room would be packed with his step sister, himself as well as Ernie and Paula's four siblings. All day I waited for the phone to ring and finally at 3:00 Daniel called and told me his mom was out of surgery, he said that she was being brought up to her room and that she would be allowed visitors in about an hour.  I asked how she was and he said, "okay." So I assumed everything went well.

When I got off work at 4:00, I made the short five minute drive to the hospital.  When I arrived, Daniel's aunt (Paula's brother's wife) was just getting there too.  We rode the elevator together and Aunt Elaine asked me what I had heard, I smiled and told her that Daniel said that Paula was doing fine.  The look on her face told me things weren't well.  We walked down the hall Paula's room which was at the end of the hall way. Daniel and his other aunt were standing outside of the room, I gave Daniel a hug and he told me the doctor was in with his mom now.  I could hear the conversation with the doctor, Paula was still groggy, but I could make it out {the door was open}.  The surgeon told Paula they removed around a six pound tumor and it was cancerous.  It was a form called "spindle cell sarcoma".  He promised they got it all.  At this point Paula started crying, in my three years with Daniel I could never remember her crying.  My knees became weak and I felt as if I were going to pass out, I sat down on the hallway floor and Daniel sat next to me and held each other as we cried.

In the days to follow, Paula met with an oncologist and she went for several more tests.  Everything came back that the cancer was completely gone.  The oncologist suggested that she go through one round of radiation once she felt up to it.  Once Paula recovered from the surgery she went for that round of radiation and the oncologist promised us the cancer was gone for good.

In July 2008 we had a party to celebrate Paula being cancer free, we had a lot to celebrate! Paula had lost her mom to cancer six years earlier and she knew how lucky she was.  In August 2008 I found out I was pregnant with Cecilia, we weren't trying, but we weren't preventing it either.  Daniel and I were thrilled as were our families.  We finally moved out of his parents house and started renting a house not far away. Everyone was excited, Paula was cancer free and we were planning for a baby.

In November at my 17 week sonogram, my mom and Paula came along with Daniel and I to find out the sex of the baby.  I know my mom, Paula and I were secretly happy that it was a girl.  Paula bought Cecilia her very first outfit a little onesie that said "Daddy's Little Girl". She also started re patching a quilt that her mom made for her when she was pregnant with Paula almost 50 years ago.  She couldn't wait to give it to her new granddaughter.

Right before Christmas Paula and Ernie announced they were going to get married.  Daniel's step sister would be flying out from Arizona for the wedding on December 23rd. We were extremely happy! Paula and Ernie had been together for fifteen years at this point and I knew she couldn't wait to be called Ernie's wife.  On December 20th, just a few short days before the wedding we got some more bad news.  Paula had went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore {one of the best hospitals in the country} after the same pain returned. She had another cat scan done and sure enough the tumour was back and larger then before.  The doctors at Hopkins were shocked that the oncologist at our local hospital hadn't suggest Paula do chemo on top of the radiation. They said if she had did chemo the cancer most likely would not have returned.

The doctors at Hopkins suggested that Paula undergo intensive chemo and radiation to shrink the tumour, they would then remove the tumour.  Paula and Ernie had a beautiful wedding and I think after the news we received a few days earlier that day was extra emotional.  I was so happy Paula was living her dream and marrying the love of her life.  They had a small, but beautiful wedding at the Justice of the Peace and we had a reception at our house afterwards.  It was exactly Paula wanted.

In January 2009 Paula started the aggressive chemo at Hopkins. She would stay over there for a week or two at a time and get chemo treatments. After the treatments her blood counts would drop and she would need to a platelets given to her via a blood transfusion.  There were many times we'd visit in the hospital, never once did I hear Paula complain.  She always had a smile on her face and would ask questions about our jobs, our dog Cari and a lot of questions about the baby to be.

Paula continued the chemo through March.  She was scheduled to have surgery to remove the tumour and get radiation. She didn't want to have that surgery though until after the birth of her granddaughter.  I was so happy that she was in delivery room for my entire labor and she was able to see her granddaughter, Cecilia Anne be born.  From that day on, Cecilia had mom mom wrapped around her finger!

In May Paula had the surgery that removed the tumour along with part of intestines and liver, one of her kidneys and her uterus.  The doctors wanted to remove anything that the cancer could attach itself it to. The surgery went well and six weeks after surgery Paula was able to start the radiation. Most of the summer of 2009 she did radiation.  In September she had another cat scan and she was cancer free! This time we knew better then to have a big party to celebrate.  Instead we threw her a small 50th birthday party with just  immediate family.  I knew that meant a lot to Paula.

Paula loved nothing more then spending time with her family especially her two granddaughters.  She was always more then happy to watch Cecilia so Daniel and I could have night out.  She was very supportive of my decision to breastfeed when some people in our family were not as supportive, she constantly told me how proud she was that I was doing it.  That always meant a lot to me!

In November it was like deja vu , Paula went for another cat scan over to Hopkins and the tumour had returned once again.  Although this time the cancer had spread and Paula had a spot of cancer on one of her kidneys and two more spots on her lung.  This was not good news.  The doctors didn't think she was strong enough to undergo another surgery to remove the tumour.  Instead they suggested she do an experimental treatment.

Paula wanted to get through the holidays and not have to worry about being in and out the hospital because of treatments.  In late January we planned a family vacation to Arizona to visit Daniel's younger step sister, Kim and her husband. We had an amazing time and no one mentioned the "c word', we didn't know then, but that would be the last time we would all be together.


In February Paula started an experimental treatment, a few weeks into it her body couldn't take it. Her doctor suggested she stop it. That is when we knew there was nothing that would make her better and the cancer would take over her body.  For the rest of 2010 Paula continued to live her life, she watched Cecilia a few times a week for three hours a day while we were at work. She spent lots of time with her family and her friends.  We made sure to visit frequently and we still continued those family dinners we started years ago when Daniel and I moved into our first house.

Paula was an amazing grandmother, I know she treasured those afternoons she had with Cecilia.  They would read books, take walks, go shopping together and sing songs.  I am so grateful she was able to do that.  Paula was Cecilia's world and her eyes brightened every time Paula walked into the room.  In November, Paula became a grandmother for the third time when Kim, Daniel's step sister in Arizona gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Asher.  Paula was determined to go see that grand baby so Ernie and her bought an RV and after the beginning of the year they would take a cross country road trip to see Asher, Kim and Brian.

Christmas 2010 was a little more emotional then usual, we all knew that this would most likely be Paula's last Christmas Eve {with Daniel's mom's side we always had our Christmas on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas day}.  My favorite present that Cecilia was one of those books from Hallmark where you can record your voice. Paula had recorded her voice to "A Night Before Christmas".  When Cecilia opened that gift I teared up and when we read it later that night after everyone had left, I lost it with my baby in my arms.  The last thing Paula said was "Merry Christmas, Cici! Sweet dreams and remember Mom Mom will always love you!" {Tears are rolling down my face as I write this.}

Side note: Daniel fell in love with the name Cecilia before we even knew we were having a girl.  When we announced it to Paula she said "We can call her Cici." At the time I hated Cici, but after she was born that nickname stuck and everyone calls her Cici now, including myself.

The of Christmas 2010, while I was cleaning up from Christmas lunch with Daniel's dad's side Daniel got the phone call that his mom's lung collapsed.  She was admitted to the hospital and emergency surgery was performed.  Luckily they were able to inflate her lung, but I think that is when it hit me that her time with us was limited. The week before Daniel's birthday on January 8th, Ernie and Paula took off on their cross country road trip in their RV. We had a party at our house and to say that night was emotional would be an understatement.  We knew Paula's health was quickly deteriorating and we didn't know if she would even make it back here.


Paula and Ernie had sold their house and was traveling in their RV, a dream of Paula's. She wanted to be able to say she put her feet in the Pacific Ocean, she wanted to visit the Alamo and New Orleans. She had friends in Florida and North Carolina she wanted to say one final goodbye to. Unfortunately, their trip was cut short, Paula did to go to Florida and North Carolina, she was able to hold Asher for the first time while visiting Arizona.  It was in Arizona that her condition worsened and she told Ernie she was ready to come home.  Their three month trip turned into three weeks.

Paula and Ernie came home and stayed at a friend's house a mile from us.  Paula looked as if she aged thirty years in three weeks.  I knew her time with us was short.  She was put on Hospice immediately after returning from the trip, no one would tell us how long she had, although Paula and Ernie had an idea.  Paula was so sick a day in March that she was unable to come to Karra's third birthday party and on April 17th it was questionable whether or not she would be able to come to Cecilia's second birthday party, but luckily she made it.

Easter 2011 Paula helped Cecilia find Easter eggs even though she was wheel chair bound at that point.  She made sure Cecilia had a very special Easter. We had a great Mother's Day with Paula too, even though she was bed ridden by this point she still allowed Cecilia to cuddle up and read a book with her.  The weekend following Mother's Day was race weekend in Dover. It was the weekend NASCAR came to town and since I am not a big NASCAR fan (but Daniel is) I went away to visit a friend western Maryland.  It had been months since we last hung out and she needed girl time.  I had planned on staying the entire weekend, but after spending Friday night there something was telling me I needed to come home. I called Daniel and he told me everything was fine and to stay in Frederick.  I still had that nagging feeling though.  Mid morning on Saturday I packed my things up and Cecilia and I headed back to east and boy am I glad I did.

That evening Cecilia and I went to visit Paula, she was able to hold a conversation wtih us, but I could tell she was tired, because she kept falling asleep.  We both gave her a big kiss and told her we loved her and headed home.  At 5:00 am Sunday morning our phone rang, it was Daniel's step dad, Paula was in a coma like state and wasn't repsonding.  Daniel rushed over there and stayed there, she eventually woke up, but she couldn't speak.  The Hopsice nurse said she had a stroke. Paula didn't want anyone to see her like that even Daniel, but Ernie insisted that Daniel be there so Paula eventually agreed.  Finally on Monday morning she said I could stop by on my way to work.  At that point she was still coherent and awake, she squeezed my hand and listened to me talk.  I talked to her about Cecilia, told her about our night and before I left I made sure to tell her I loved her.

Getting through that week was hard, I went to work on Monday and Tuesday, I needed to keep my mind occupied and Daniel told me to go..... I  constantly checked in with Daniel who stayed at Paula's house most of the time.  On Wednesday, I left work early when I was told she wouldn't make it through the night. That night I took a video of Cecilia before she went to bed.  In the video she said "I love you mom mom. Sweet dreams" I still have it on my phone and everytime I play it, I cry.  I played that video for Paula even though she was "sleeping" the nurses said she understood everything going on. I kissed her good night and went home.  Daniel stayed the night and at 1:40 am he called to tell me she had passed.  I cried and cried, I couldn't go back to sleep at that point.

It wasn't until the next day that I realized Paula had passed on our fourth wedding anniversary.  Daniel and I had been so busy with everything else we forgot about our anniversary. It was his suggestion though that we still celebrate. We went to dinner at Texas Roadhouse, which one of us Paula's favorite places.  The mood was somber that night, but we still manged to laugh a few times.

A few days later Ernie gave us each letters that Paula had written before she passed.  In my letter she asked me to take care of Daniel, because she knew her death would be hard on him.  She also said to keep her memory alive with Cecilia and to constantly tell her stories about her Mom Mom Paula.  She told me I was a great wife to Daniel and amazing mom to Cecilia, which meant a lot coming from her. She did tell me that she knows a marriage is hard and she knows Daniel and I both ave our faults, but she knows that if we work hard enough our marriage will last forever.

Not a day goes by that I don't think of Paula.  She had such a huge influence on my life, even though she was in it for only six short years. Cecilia had never asked for Paula, although when I show her pictures she knows that's Mom mom. However, just this past weekend Cecilia said "I want to see Mom mom." and I told her that we were going over there later {I thought she meant my mom}, she looked at me and said "No mommy, that mom mom." and pointed to a picture we had of Paula.  Tears started running down my face and Cecilia asked "Mommy, what's wrong?" and I couldn't tell her. How do you explain to a two year old that her Mom mom is in hevean? Every night before Cecilia goes to bed we pray and we ask God to take care of Mom mom and every night she goes to bed I give Cecilia huge hug and kiss from her grandmother.

I don't understand cancer, I don't understand death and I don't understand why it always seems to happen to the best of people. I have made it my goal to support cancer charities and to actively fight for a cure. This year for the first time I will be participating in Relay For Life.  I always thought cancer would never touch me or my family, but it did.  Cancer doesn't discriminate, it can happen to anyone.


One of my favorite pictures of Paula & Ci


Ernie, Cecilia & Paula Christmas 2009

Christmas 2009

Last picture as a family 2010 (in Arizona)

Mom mom with her girls

Ci with all of her Mom mom's (Paula, my mom & Daniel's step mom in the back) on her 2nd birthday


Even though Paula's eyes are closed I love this picture from the Delaware State Fair 2010

1 comment:

Tessa said...

Wow. I just read this story at work, and I now have tears running down my face. Unfortunately, cancer has also touched my family (my dad and brother in law) and I know what a mix of emotions it brings with. The highs you feel when you receive good news and the unspeakable lows when the news is not so good. I'm so sorry for your loss. This was a very moving tribute to her.