Well, the last few months have been difficult, to say the least.
I had settled into my job, I had started my business, was just about to get it out there, and mum gets diagnosed with an aggressive, metastatic lung cancer. So, my partner and I quit our jobs to move back to QLD so I could care for her.
She wanted to stay home for as long as possible, and I had arrived at the right time. It was before dawn, on Monday the 3rd of October when I arrived at Roma Street train station, Brisbane Queensland. I’d left Melbourne, Victoria Saturday evening. It was a long trip, but I knew it was probably the last time I’d be making that trip. I’d done the long haul several times to visit mum in the four-ish years I’d been living in Melbourne, May 2016 being the last time I visited. I think she knew then, she was becoming short of breath, couldn’t get around as easily.
I caught an early train to Nambour, and two big bags of clothing in hand, arrived on Mum’s doorstep. I was shocked to see the condition she was in, so frail. She had 24/7 oxygen by means of nasal cannula. The small machine she was hooked up to made constant Darth Vadar like sounds, took a few weeks to get used to. At that point she could still shuffle about by herself.
And so my caring duties began. She had already had one chemo session, that went alright. The second one was rough. Really rough. And the medication she was on to combat the chemo side effects were just as bad. She couldn’t lie down flat, that would send her into a panic because she felt she couldn’t breath properly. She already suffered from quite a bit of anxiety. The first CT scan she had she fought the hospital staff, but they got it done. The second scan she went in for, I was with her for that. She did much better.
The results of that scan showed that the cancer had spread to her back. She already had it in her right lung, there was a tumour pressing on her trachea. It had already spread to her liver, rib and adrenal gland. The doctor was surprised that she had no pain, but prescribed her liquid morphine anyway. She took it for awhile, but stopped because it made her fuzzy in the head, and constipated her really badly.
Mum was resistant to things that were supposed to help, I think partly due to her nature and partly due to the illness. She’d only take less effective laxatives, mainly because they were easier to take than the movicol she was advised to take. She wouldn’t use the shower commode on wheels, though she would use the toilet chair and bucket my friend gave us. She wouldn’t have showers in the shower chair, nor baths on the bath board, she would allow Bluecare to come and give her ‘bird baths’ sitting on the shower chair in the bathroom. She refused the in home hospital bed, wanted to stick with her decades old, really sinky bed. She wouldn’t take the nutrient loaded liquid meals the nutritionist gave her, she eventually would only eat a teaspoon of lactose free strawberry yoghurt. She just couldn’t eat or drink anything. I had to maintain a balance of what mum wanted, and what she needed.
She declined steadily. Everyday seemed like there was one less thing she was able to do herself. She went from being able to shuffle about, to shuffling about with great trouble, to needing the wheelchair, being able to shuffle about in the chair herself, to needing to be wheeled around. She would eat and drink less and less.
After the second round of chemo, she had an appointment with the Oncologist to see how she was going. He would have liked to have put her on a more aggressive chemo regime, but all treatment had to be stopped. It was doing nothing but causing side effects. It was far too late. So all we could do was make her as comfortable as possible, until the end.
While all of this was going on, my two half sisters were losing their father. He passed away weeks before mum did. They lost both of their parents, within weeks of each other, weeks before Christmas. Mum had left my father when I was 2, so I had lost him a long time ago.
The last time I put mum to bed, I knew it was for the last time. I knew it. The next morning I was surprised that she had made it through the night. My half sister from Melbourne had come down and was visiting that day. The other one was also helping out, it was really hot, the usual QLD weather. So it happened that the three of us were there, together.
Tess and I were trying to make mum comfortable in her bed, but it was hard because it was so soft, and she refused to sit in her chair in the lounge. Tess had been a nurse years back, the same as mum. So I was glad to have her help. Amanda had gone out to get an air cooler, as she refused to use the air conditioner my friend had given us. Amanda had only just gotten home, mum became unconcious. I instructed Amanda to call an ambulance, while Tess and I tried to keep mum’s airways open, holding her head in the right position. She was still breathing. The ambos arrived, and asked to see mum’s End of Life Directive. (Mum had that drawn up earlier. It tells the hospital/medical staff what she wants done in the event that she is in a vegetative state, unlikely to recover) Mum had it set up that she was to receive no treatment to extend life, except for painkillers. The ambos were convinced that their treatment was going against her wishes, though continued treatment. She came to with their oxygen mask, and was responsive. The decision was made to take her to hospital, I went with her.
There was some confusion about the Health Directive (It IS a large wad of paper) We worked it out later that the ambos had skipped to the vegetative state part, and skipped over the part that she was to receive all treatment otherwise. As her Enduring Power of Attorney, I was happy with how things went, and explained that to the other two. I don’t think we did anything contrary to mum’s wishes. There was just no way she could stay in that hot-box, not doing anything would not have ensured her comfort.
She was admitted to emergency. Everyone else eventually caught up with us, along with my partner. We waited while palliative care arrangements were made. We’d been in contact with Dove Cottage throughout this, mum thought she might eventually need to go into care, and that was the place to go. Though she had changed her mind, and wanted to stay at home, that just was not possible. So we had to see if/when a spot for her would be available. Until then, she could stay in hospital.
While she was concious in emergency, she seemed to agree with what was happening, though she could only nod slightly and murmur. They gave her some morphine, and she went to sleep. Eventually they took her to a ward, in a private room.
There wasn’t anything more we could do, so we spent some time with her and then made our ways home.
I went home and got drunk. Seemed the thing to do.
Next morning on the 25th of November, I think it was about 5am, I got a call from the hospital saying that mum had passed away within the last half an hour.
My partner and I got up and ready, then went to see her. The other two were already there. It was over. She passed away peacefully, she never woke up. We spent about 5 hours with her, seemed like a long time. We each had a moment alone with her to say goodbye. I thanked her for everything.
Being the executor of her will, I’m handling those things now. Mum was cremated on the 29th of November, I’m taking care of her until the family can come together again and scatter her ashes. She wanted to be scattered over the water, and so I thought we could do that at our favourite fishing spot, at dusk. She passed away while the sun was coming up, so I thought it would be nice to say our final goodbye when it’s going down.
It’s incredibly surreal to hold the ashes of the person who gave birth to you.
I’m working on getting back into Southern Star Woodworks, I’ll be able to reopen for business in just a couple of weeks. I’ve got lots of plans. If I keep busy, maybe things will be easier.