Mama Kim Says Good-Bye
February 13, 2013
Yesterday, at 5am, my Mom passed away peacefully in her sleep and ended her year long battle with lung cancer.
Since my blog last Thursday, a lot has happened. My sister Jenni finally got a hospice nurse to come out last Saturday afternoon to assess our mom and try to figure out why she was hallucinating and jerking her arms and body so much. Could it have been the change in the morphine? Was it the additional medication for her cough that they prescribed? It had been 5 days since my poor mom slept, ate, or drank anything! She was barely coherant and couldn't communicate well.
After the nurse saw her, she was able to calm her down giving her more Lorazopam and another anti-anxiety/calming drug in liquid form called Haloperidol. We were so happy to finally see her sleeping and peaceful. The nurse then ordered the morphine pump that would administer the liquid morphine into my mom's body automatically. The nurse was extremely apologetic for the "miscommunication" that occured and that's why the pump never came last Tuesday...last Tuesday as in THEY could have prevented mom from having days without sleep and pain!!! (I don't even want to get started on the rant that I'd like to go on right now...) The pump was to arrive later in that evening.
Another nurse showed up around 11pm. As she looked at the pump and the box of setup equipment in order to hook up the machine to my mom, she couldn't find any needles. Great. So the nurse hopped back in her car, drove all the way to Kaiser in Mission Valley, picked up some needles and was back around midnight. This nurse was spunky and sweet, but I was tired and grumpy. However, I was thankful that she took it upon herself to drive to pick up the needles so that we could get the morphine going for mom. As she calibrated the machine, she tried to console me and mentioned she was a cancer survivor. Of course I had to ask what type of cancer she had in which she replied, "breast".
Breast? ME TOO! And we got to chatting and comparing what surgeries we did, what chemo cocktail we were on, and how many years that we were celebrating! I seriously love meeting fellow cancer survivors...it's like our own little special club. :)
She left around 1:15am and I turned out the lights, and tried to close my eyes. Next thing I hear is my mom starting to moan and squint her forehead like she was in pain. I hit the "dose" button to give her another shot of morphine and waited. It didn't seem like she was in pain, but she was still making those noises. So I gave her some more of the "relaxing" drugs and she finally was in a peaceful sleep by 3am. Here was my chance to get a few hours of sleep!
On Sunday, Marie, who is also Maddox's nanny, came over to now be mom's nanny. (We are so fortunate to have her in our lives!!!) I got her up to speed and me and Maddox took off for the day to run home, get some errands done, laundry, market, and get things ready for the work week...and we were spending the night again at mom's and I needed to pack clothes and lunches. Sunday night was uneventful and me, my sister, Maddox, and my mom all slept through the night.
Back at work on Monday and back to my mom's that night. Tuesday after work I picked up Maddox from school and Kimo (our dog) from my mom's house and brought everyone home. Dinner, bathed Maddox, packed for the next day and jetted out the door and back to my mom's house. Maddox had fallen asleep in the car and so after I put him to bed I went into my mom's room. I knew I was the last one of my sister's to have my "moment" with my mom and I knew time was limited and I needed to let her know my feelings and how much I love her. I turned off the baby monitor that we used to watch her, sat down next to her bed, held her hand, and let the words pour out. I was a little hesitant to even have the conversation with my mom because I felt like she was waiting on me and once I had my moment with her, she would be able to let go. It was something that I knew I had to do that night and not wait any longer.
I talked and cried and laughed with her. My sister came into the room a little later and we sat there reminising. We were also both starving but too lazy to get any food at 10pm so instead we talked about how we were all going to spend Valentine's day together cooking filet with shrimp, rock salted baked potatoes, veggies, and have desserts from Extrodinary Desserts! Yummmmmmmmm.
I felt like I was only asleep for 10 minutes when my sister woke me up at 2am saying that mom was hyperventillating. I jumped up from bed and ran into my mom's room with my eyes half shut. The sound that was coming out of my mom was this gurgling sound like she had fluid in her throat. If only she could cough she could clear her throat! Jenni called the 24 hour hospice number and they advised to give her some of the Atropine drops and another dose of morphine. As we waited for mom to calm down, I googled what that gurgling sound could mean. Come to find out that the gurgling, aslo called the "death rattle" was often made during the dying process. It was extremely nerve racking to watch. I asked if we could suction her mouth, but it was not recommended. We called the hopice hotline again and said that mom was still making the gurgling sound and seemed uneasy. They advised to give another drop of the atropine and another lorazopam pill. By 3:30am, mom was calmer with only a little wheezing. I told Jenni I was going back to bed with Maddox and to wake me up if anything else happened. I laid there for a bit trying to go back to sleep, but tossed and turned. "Chelle...I think mom stopped breathing". I jolted up from bed and back into my mom's room. I watched her chest to see if it would rise...nothing. I checked her pulse...nothing.
I turned to Jenni and said, "let's just keep her here for a few days and when she starts smelling we can have them come take her..." Jenni chuckled. I was kidding... but seeing her lying there I just wanted to cuddle her. I guess I just didn't want her body to go anywhere because then it would REALLY make it final.
Jenni called the hospice hotline again and told them that mom had stopped breathing. They told us that a nurse would be out shortly. We sat there on both sides of my mom's bed, holding her hand. Even though I knew she was no longer with us I still kept checking to see if she was breathing and if she had a pulse. I guess something inside of me was just hoping she was still there.
The nurse came and pronounced her deceased. We called the funeral service that we had arranged and they sent out their representative, who happened to also be my mom's good friend. Maddox woke up around 7am and I had a little chat with him explaining that grandma was sleeping and wasn't going to wake up anymore. I held him as he said good-bye and that he loves her. We dressed her in the ao dai (Vietnamese dress) that she wanted to be put in once she passed. Jenni painted her nails and we put on her best shoes. She looked AMAZING. She's looked so beautiful throughout this battle with lung cancer, even the nurses couldn't believe how great she looked.
Each of us had a private moment with her and they carried her out on a gurney. The house felt so empty. Her room was seemed desolate without her there. She was so full of life and so fiesty...I miss her fiesty. Me and my sisters needed to get out of the house so the three of us went to brunch and had mimosas.
Today, the three of us are together hanging out at the house. The house that my mom bought back in 1989 when we moved here as a family from Chicago. Jenni will continue living in this house and we will care for it as our mom did and would want.
Life is short. Embrace it. Live it.
I now have a PhD in Vampire
February 6, 2013
Latest update on Mama Kim and her battle with lung cancer.
I really haven't blogged about my Mom's condition since February of 2013...which is really weird since I love to post and blog.
Well, as of last night, I got my PhD in Vampire. Yep, that's right. Vampire.
My sister has been spending nights with my Mom and she's also 6 1/2 months pregnant. A few days ago, she texted me and my other sister that she needed help at night. My Mom is now on a higher dose of morphine, can't get out of bed to use the bathroom, and has started to hallucinate. I told her that I could spend the night last night but wouldn't be over until after my girl's dinner. Well, at girl's dinner, I get a call from my sister that my Mom fell and she couldn't get her up. I rushed out of dinner and to my Mom's house as fast as I could, stopping off at the market to grab a package of Depends.
When I arrived, my sister managed to get my Mom back into her hospital bed. Then she explained to me the new morphine shedule which I put alarms into my phone. Since my Mom can no longer get out of bed to use the bathroom, I helped her put on her Depends, arranged her sheets, got her water and waited until 11pm arrived so that I could give her the scheduled medication. I mean...when I look at this alarm schedule, I just shake my head.
Meds administered and I turn out the lights. "Shelly???" I hear my Mom call out. I roll over to check my phone and it's now 1:30am. I get up, she has to pee. I place the bed pan under her, wait with my eyes half shut, help clean her up, wash the bed pan, put it back, then hop back in bed. I swear it was only like 20 minutes later when I hear her fidgeting with the remote that makes her bed go up and down. BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ! "Mom! What are you doing?"
Another few minutes go by and I hear her mumbling in her sleep. My sister told me that she was hallucinating and talking in her sleep. She did this all night. Morphine is such a cray-cray drug!!!
2:30am - She calls out for some Ensure. Which I am HAPPY to get for her because she literally only has a total of 2-3 bites of food in a 24 hour period.
3:00am - Alarm goes off. Time for her to take her meds. She has to pee again. Bed pan, wipe, clean. Lights out. But this time she continually chats with herself. I can hear her answering questions, giving instructions, and at one point singing.
I think I managed to sleep from 3:30am - 5:00am...well, in and out sleep. My Mommy ears hear EVERY LITTLE THING...every movement.
5:30am - She has to pee again, but this time also goes #2. Going #2 is a miracle for her and relieves a ton of stomach pain for her.
6:00am to 6:30am - I laid in bed watching my Mom talk to herself while making hand gestures like she's signing papers, sewing, pretending to eat. I could tell one conversation was her telling things to Maddox. I laid there thinking that there is no way my pregnant sister could do this every night with my Mom. No way. And to think that she has been doing this for my Mom night after night for the last few weeks!!! :(
I finally get out of bed to get ready for work. I walk into my sister's room and ask her how she slept. She said she slept through the night and didn't even get up to go to the bathroom. Today, our little sister is caring for my Mom and spending the night with her and I have the weekend. I told my sister that we would need to get the spare bedroom ready so that the nights I have Maddox and can spend the night, we will do just that. I know what it was like to be in your third trimester and alone. You need SLEEP and the last thing she needs is to try and lift my Mom in the middle of the night by herself.
This morning, on the way to the office, I grabbed myself a tripple shot of my non-fat mocha from Starbucks. During my drive I couldn't help but reflect on last night. We are born and our parents spend the first 12 months tending to us, changing our diapers, feeding us in the wee-hours of the night, waking up every time we cried out. Then we grow up, have kids of our own and pass down what was done for us. Then we will get old...some of us will die suddenly, some will die slowly of plain old age, and some of us will die from disease which is painful. We revert back to our infant years...needing our children to care for us, change our diapers, feed us when we are too old and weak to do it ourselves, and care for us in the middle of the night.
The circle of life. Life is awesome but cray-cray at the same time. Embrace it, live it to the fullest, have no regrets.
Until my next update... #livelife
Here's a recap to get you up to speed from my last blog to last night...
Back in February, her lungs were filling up more frequently and so she was getting the thorocenthesis more often, which is very painful. She finally succumbed to receiving chemotheraphy which she started on April 18, 2013. She did 6 rounds of chemo ending in August 2013 - which, of course, wiped her out. Her CT scan in August showed that although the liquid dramatically was reduced from producing around her lungs, the cancer had metastasized to her liver and more nodes were showing up in her stomach.
We tried to find alternative methods - like the special fruit from Vietnam that was suppose to help cancer patients, but her cancer was so far advanced that alternative medicine didn't seem to work. The doctors suggested going through another cycle of chemo but with a stronger medication - Taxol.
I was given Taxotere when I went through breast cancer back in 2006. Let me tell you something...that shit is no joke. The side affects are painful. I remember being on a ton of pain meds because my feet hurt so badly that I could barely walk to the bathroom. My boyfriend at the time use to help carry me to the bathroom because the pain was like walking on a thousand needles times a million. I was 30 at the time...my Mom is 67 and I was weary about how her already frail 5'2" 105lb frame was going to be able to hold up. Needless to say, after 2 rounds, she called it quits.
So that's where we are today. In September 2013 my Mom couldn't take the pain and being bedridden for weeks. I was extremely upset (although I probably didn't show it) because I am a firm believer in Western medicine. My sisters, on the other hand, are more holistic. They tried to explain to me that this is ultimately her decision to make. So there it was...she entered hospice care in her home.
October and November of 2013 seem so far away, even though it was only a few months ago. Me and my sisters split up the week and the times when we would take turns caring for our Mom. At Thanksgiving, she was well enough to walk downstairs to have dinner with us, but only for about 20 minutes or so. At this point, she was able to still get up and do things for herself from time to time. During this time, my sister (who lives at home with my Mom so that she has someone around) found out she was pregnant with her first child and I could tell that my Mom was excited. I too was ecstatic because we have a really small (immediate) family, just me, my son, my two sisters, and my Mom. Now, we were going to have an new addition and a cousin for Maddox!
In December, I could tell the cancer was taking its toll on her mind and body. Even though she was spending more time laying in the hospital bed that was placed in her room and using the oxygen machine more often, Maddox always brought a smile to her face!
My Mom and Maddox: 12/6/13
My Mom is the strongest FIGHTER I have ever known. I am lucky to have an ounce of her strength and perseverance. She is also a socialite and the one person who always told me to be grateful for what I have and to help others when I can. Her friends at the Vietnamese foundation that she is affliated with asked her to come to a special dinner where she was the guest of honor. They brought her up on stage, talked how she was fighting lung cancer, and applauded her as a WARRIOR.
Me & Mom (in her HOT WIG) : 12/19/13
That was the last time she left the house. Since late December, the cancer has spread even more to the point where she needs 24/7 care.