When my parents visited a few weeks ago for PurpleStride San Diego, it was clear to my wife and me that the radiation treatment to clean up the leftovers from my dad‘s pancreatic tumor wasn’t treating him well. It sapped his energy. He struggled to eat and digest even the most basic foods. Nothing sounded good to him. As my mom said all to often this year, “his sparkle was gone.”
This morning, I got to see that “sparkle” return thanks to the wonders of the iPhone and video messages.
Today was my dad’s last day of radiation treatment. (And there was much rejoicing!) He’s looked forward to today since he first learned he would need radiation. IU Simon Cancer Center’s radiation treatment facility has a “rite of passage” that all recipients of radiation take part in upon completion. As the plaque pictured to the right explains, the patient gets to ring the bell signifying successful completion of the regimen, and the staff and family help them celebrate their accomplishment.
While we hoped to avoid radiation altogether, after his margins came back showing cancerous cells his doctors chose to go ahead with a chemo/radiation treatment regimen to try to clean everything up. We would much rather put this thing to bed than have it revisit in the future. Grudgingly, my dad started radiation about six weeks ago.
As he’d worried, it was not a pleasant experience.
Every day, he made the trip to the hospital for just a short time for the treatment, also receiving chemotherapy every Tuesday. As the treatments progressed, his energy waned, and his desire for food whittled away to nothing. My mom did her job to make him eat as much as he could, and there were certainly trials associated with it as the radiation made things more difficult; consider the effect of radiation on already-stressed digestive system recovering from major surgery to remove his pancreas.
The emotion was clear in Dad during their visit: he was not happy. Even with just a few weeks left in his radiation regimen, his spirits were as low as I had ever seen them. Encouraged by his family that just a few more weeks of short-term suffering were worth it for the possibility of more years of his “new normal”, and understanding this evil as necessary, he pressed forward.
Over the past week, Dad’s been battling blood sugar issues as he adapted to a new “automatic” insulin pump that promised to help regulate his blood sugar. For various reasons, the pump was over-compensating for his carbohydrate intake. His blood sugar crashed dangerously low several times, resulting in two trips to the hospital including an overnight stay earlier this week.
As a “total panc” – his new official title post-total pancreatectomy – his battle with insulin-dependent diabetes is different from most others; his body is sensitive to different types of drugs in different ways than other diabetics. There’s a “learning curve” for all involved. For now, he’s off the pump, and back to multiple injections every day.
It’s not as convenient, but at least it’s reliable!
They hope to figure out the pump, and start him on it again in the near future. Without question, it’s the more desirable long-term solution.
He will continue chemo for another four weeks, through the first week of December. He is scheduled for a CT scan to check for masses and abnormalities shortly after the chemo ends. We pray for a clean bill of health. Such a report won’t mean we’re through it all, but it’ll be a leap in the right direction: a reprieve from what will be nearly a full year of rigorous treatments, surgical procedures, and unexpected hospital visits at odd hours.
But today is a day to celebrate and show our appreciation to his treatment team!
So, go on Dad, RING THAT BELL!
Special thanks to my sister Keely for the video and the commentary!