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When Death is in the room

November 12, 2013

Friends, I have been absent from the blog for a long time time.  Partly because I have been very sick, partly because I had nothing to say about being quite so sick.

I know you have been praying, sometimes because my sister posted “please pray”, sometimes because you just had me on your heart and prayed, lots of times because that is just what you do.  Everyday. You just pray for me.  To give you the whole story of what we have been through in the last couple months, I need to go back to August. It seems a long way, but Chris says I am not very honest about my condition, I say, I just try to focus on the good things.

So, back to August.  I was working full time and that wasn’t working what with the weekly all day trips to Vandy, getting drugs and blood and what not. I dropped a day a week from my work schedule and for a few weeks it worked.  It took the pressure off.  I wasn’t having to spend evenings at home making up hours I had lost during treatment because treatment was not conducive to work. I required drugs and sedation to not vomit all the way through.

Then the vomiting and sweats spread from just treatment day to everyday.  There is nothing more professional than spending half of a VP level meeting in the bathroom chucking whatever stupid thing you thought would stay in your stomach through the morning.  I am not sure if you have ever heard me vomit.  It is not a dainty, feminine thing.  It makes me think that actual body parts are going to emit from my mouth.  I can’t vomit softly. I am not sure I can do anything softly.  So there I was, telling my account manager that I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t finish the day on this project we were just getting started that relied heavily on my nursing experience, that I was out.  Great timing.  I felt horrible.  Physically.  Emotionally. Professionally. This project was going to be the most interesting and involved project I had been on to date and I had to let it go.  So I took short tem disability. I left miserable and it went downhill from there.

We spent th next few weeks continuing the treatment and declining physically.  I spent all day on Monday at Vandy, mostly in the infusion department getting study drugs and anti nausea medicine and blood  transfusions. We watched my lab work decline as my liver enzymes went up, my blood count went down, and everything else went sideways.  I spent the rest of the week constantly medicating against the vomiting and fever and chills. Mostly the vomiting.  I got to a place where I was living on Popsicles and Pringles. They gave me Phenergan that I could rub on my wrist because I was unable to keep it down and too weak to put it elsewhere it might be beneficial.  At that point I spent a weekend in the hospital. This was the same week that my oncologist had the conversation with Chris and I that it was not the medication that was making me so sick, it was the melanoma. It had overgrown most of my abdomen and there were no more treatment options.  Our new goal is keep Mareeka comfortable, he said.  So the weekend hospital visit was to try to get some big gun IV meds in me and pump up my fluid volumes.  Oh, yeah, in the meantime, my liver slowed down fluid processing and I developed ascites in my abdomen that made me look about six months pregnant and made it very difficult to breath and even harder to eat.  They would take care of that while I was in the hospital, too. So the brand new doctor who had never done this before got to drain my abdomen.  I told him from the get-go that I was going to run my mouth.  I was an ass.  I would like to blame the drugs, but it really was just me being unfiltered.   And rude. Chris called my family and several close friends to the hospital because they needed to hear the prognosis from someon other that us.  They tanked me up, I was discharged. Not much changed at home except Chris took off work and I had a drain placed. They placed a semi-permanent drain in my abdomen that let us drain the ascities as often as we needed to help me breathe. About twice a day.  The other significant change was that people started showing up. Not just dropping by and leaving food, but staying the weekend, cooking the meals and feeding them to my family and doing our laundry.  

This precarious balance of trying to sustain me with popsicles and draining large amounts of fluid lasted about three weeks. Then over the weekend Chris went to play soccer and when he got home, I couldn’t stay awake.  I couldn’t answer questions.  I couldn’t slow my heart rate down under 155.  Chris and my dad threw me in the car and wheeled me to the ED. I  barely passed through triage and straight to a trauma room. None of this do I remember. What I remember is that they asked me who was president and I said Jimmy Carter.  Chris says that isn’t even true.  They asked, I did not respond. I woke up three days later in the ICU totally oblivious. Hannah was there and I could barely sit up.  Don’t worry, it gets worse.

I was still reeling with vomiting, now mostly wretching because nothing was really going down, but I kept trying.  The situation came to a head when one afternoon, shortly after lunch, I was having more wretching only this time accompanied by the worst pain I have ever experienced. I am pretty stoic, I can handle pain pretty well.  I was grunting and groaning just under a scream, it hurt so bad.  

An ascites drain, a few milligrams of Dilaudid, and some Phenergan later, I was able to be still long enough for a CT.  Turns out one of the tumors in my abdomen was located right where my stomach meets my intestines and it had all but blocked passage of anything out of my stomach.  Enter the vomitting and inability to maintain my fluid and electrolyte balance, which was my most critical and pressing problem.  We were failing on two fronts.  There was nothing left to do to reduce the size of the tumors and we were also failing on the “keep Mareeka comfortable” goal.

Enter the Melanoma oncology fellow.  Right in the midst of the wretching and moaning and draining. I mean, like a shadow, he popped in the room in the midst of the worst of it. “We have some new information”  See, between the time Dr. S gave us our new goal and this day, he had sent my tumor to a specialty lab that marks DNA.  Out of the 700+ lines of DNA that were reviewed, 7% of them had a bRAF mutation.  There is treatment for bRaf mutations.  There is targeted chemo for bRAF mutations.  We could take the bRAF chemo and see if it can be effective against such a small amount of mutated tumor.

Let’s see, take a new drug that might do something beneficial or take no drug and count the days.  Seems like an easy choice.  Yes, please, bring me the drugs.  The simplicity of two little pills taken twice a day was just icing on the cake.  So, that afternoon, I took all the anti-vomit drugs, took the whopping doses of pain meds and then took the chemo.  It stayed down.  Later that night I took another dose and slept all night.  Two doses later I was eating small vollumes of liquid and soft foods and having no vomiting and being discharged from the hospital.

We made the trip home.  I was so weak, Chris had to help me up the three stairs from the garage into the house.  I started with 3-4 four ounces of soup and soft food and short walks–to the end of the sidewalk, around the house three times. I have gotten better everyday. I have almost mastered a mile. It’s the hot, pukey feeling that stops me. I think now that it is cooling off, I will go further. This week, we might get a little exercise in the pool.

So there you have it. Death was in the room. But Death did not win. I asked myself yesterday in the shower, why didn’t I die? I am a nurse. A critical care nurse. I have been on the professional end of that situation and I wonder. It was easier for my body to die than live, why didn’t I die? Why? Because I said so! Because for almost two years I have been saying, “I will not quit, I will not fail, I will not die, I will not suffer loss”. Because for almost two years, everyday my father says ” She will not die but live and declare the works of The Lord”. Because we believe in a God who does not lie and whose word will not fail.

Death may not be in the room with you today, but is there something that you need to say out loud? Where do you need to apply some persistence? Don’t accept things that aren’t aligned with what God says is possible for you. Start using your mouth. Don’t believe me? Don’t wait until Death is in the room to try it out!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2013 1:15 am

    God is an awesome God! Continuing to pray for you every day! I will continue to agree with Tom and everyone else and say, “Mareeka will NOT die, Mareeka will LIVE and declare the works of the Lord!” Love you SO much! Kiley (Marsha)

  2. November 15, 2013 1:54 am

    You speak TRUTH! When believers begin to boldly proclaim the promises of God, He moves in their behalf! May you be blessed, strengthened, and encouraged today, and may you continue to proclaim that YOU ARE HEALED IN THE NAME OF JESUS! Love you!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Rhonda Condidorio permalink
    February 14, 2014 4:21 pm

    Bless The Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.
    Bless The Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies.
    Psalm 103:1-4

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