Monday, September 3, 2007

I still have a hole in my heart and my life.....

...and I'm sure I always will.

In Memory of my darling mother,
Shirley Ann Coffin

October 09, 1945 - August 28, 1997

Looking back......isn't she gorgeous? This is probably around 1970 or so.
(I need to clarify with my dad to be sure.....)

I am loving the bright orange skirt! Way to *rock* the sexy legs Mama!!

Fast forward to the last 5 years I had with her......

....a PROUD mother, with her daughter the Bride. May, 23 1992

Wow! What a day that was!
Fun, enjoyable, overwhelming, FANTASTIC!!!!

And she and I planned the entire thing together!
(with some occasional help from Big Daddy and My Dad.....)

And 2 1/2 years after my wedding, she found a lump in the shower.

She already had a clean mammogram, only six months earlier.

She had a biopsy. It was painful.

The results were bad.....Cancer.
F#)%ing Breast Cancer.

My world was rocked the day I learned
my Mother had Breast Cancer.
Everything I thought I knew was now up for discussion. I was shaken to the core.
This kind of stuff doesn't happen to
my family. It is not supposed to be this way. It's just not.

She had to have a modified-radical mastectomy.
It was hard. It was scary. It sucked. But, she had to do it to try to save her life.
It was a hard hit to a part of her that "defines you as a woman."

And the after-care for this invasive procedure was just awful. She had to wear a drain and the dressings had to be changed frequently to prevent infection. The stitches were so primal looking to me. Stitching her up after she had been robbed of part of her body. But, she allowed me to lovingly help care for her. To sponge bathe her.
To really be there for her. To be at her most vulnerable in front of me.
Complete and total trust in me. Both of us surrounded by unconditional love.

Then, the pathology report came back.

Three kinds of breast cancer......
...two of them were slow growing, slow multiplying.

One was fast growing, fast multiplying.
This is the one that would ultimately would steal away her life.

The cancer had already spread into 3 of the 9 lymph nodes they removed from under her arm.

And once it's in your lymph nodes, it's in your blood.
And that means it can go anywhere in your body.

At first, she was terrified.
And at first, she was so convinced she was dying, she refused to fight.
And I got mad at her. Really upset. And I begged her to fight for her life.

But, she was angry. She was depressed. And she was terrified.
I can understand how she felt, but I needed her to fight.
I needed her. And, I still do. I don't think that ever changes.

Then, we found out my brother and sister-in-law were unexpectedly pregnant.

And a Grandma was born.

And she began to fight. And she fought hard.
Chemo. Really hateful, grueling chemo.
She was sick. Really sick.

Huge Mouth Ulcers, that prevented her from eating, even when she felt like she could.

Then, her hair started falling out in clumps.
(well, she called me bawling and I sped over and helped her comb it all we both cried our eyeballs out. It was just such a sad, sad ritual we shared.
But I'm glad I was there for it.)
...then we had the rest of it shaved off by a friend who was a beautician.)

It screwed up her diabetes. She had to take pills and insulin shots.

It put her into Early Menopause. She was miserable.
And another slap to her womanhood.

She got
Lymphodema from the removal of the lymph glands under her arm.
This caused her arm to swell up huge and hurt and ache. It was miserable. And this wasn't something that was temporary, it was a permanent problem.
And it plagued her until her death.

It was hard to fight, but she did.

And that beautiful baby girl, my niece, was born 8 months later.....
(Think that was a coincidence, NOPE! Absolutely not!!!)

But, the breast cancer kept coming back.
Attacking in different places......

First, in the S/I joint in her hip.

More Chemo.....repeat above hell.

Then, a spot in her chest.

More Chemo.....repeat above hell.

Then, it was a spot in the side of her neck.

More Chemo.....repeat above hell.

Through all of this, she was amazing!
She continued working full-time, because she wanted to.
And when she was sick, she went home. Or she stayed home.

She was very valued at her job. Over the years saving the company she worked for
hundreds of thousands of dollars due to her meticulous work ethics.

And her employers were thankful and they were just amazing in how they helped her and supported her....

Often, my mom would work from home.
And they had someone bring her files to her house so she could do so,
when she wanted to.
And when she could no longer drive, her employers hired someone to pick her up and take her home every single day. This person also would take her to and from doctor
appointments, when needed or asked to.

All of this was instrumental in allowing her to work up until 5 weeks before her death.


During these 3 years, my Mom and I spent as much time together as possible.
Shopping. Having lunch. Just hanging out.
(this was easy because of the insane tv hours Big Daddy worked
and my dad worked a swing shift, so it was just the girls a lot of the time....)

We were very, very close.

And then, there was the day my first child was born....
mid-June 2007....
We didn't know if we were expecting a boy or a girl.

She had just had chemo again and she was sick and and nauseous and had
a mouth filled with sores from the medicines that were supposed to help save her life.

She should have been in bed. But, she wouldn't leave my bedside.
And she was one of the first to hold our Son after me and his Daddy.

{The expectant Grandma}

During the time when she was in remission the oncology specialist recommended a procedure to attempt to put my mom into permanent remission.

And, when my oldest Son was 5 months old, in November 1996, my mom decided to have the "stem-cell" transplant that the oncology specialist recommended,
as a last resort from the metastasizing cancer that was ravaging her body and
just kept coming back for more, time and time again.

This was a very invasive, risky and procedure.
It was extremely expensive. (like over $100,000 - and that was
mostly as an outpatient, 11 years ago)

At that time, it only had a 30% chance that it would be successful.

Once mom made the decision to go forward with this. I freaked out. I was so terrified that the "toxic chemotherapy" to prepare her body for the stem-cell transplant would kill her. I was completely overwhelmed and I could not deal with it. So, my Grandma (my dad's mom) came to "nurse" her thru it at home.

For a long time I was disappointed in myself and ashamed that I could have let my mom down by not "being there" for her. But, I did have a 5 month old nursing baby to take care of, as well as, being all-consumed by my fears. I was hard on myself in relation to the decisions regarding this entire procedure. It was a horrible time in my life. And I felt so bad. I wanted to take care of her....but I just couldn't. I could not watch her be that sick. I just couldn't bear to see it. It was too frightening to me.

She and I later talked about it and I apologized for letting her down. But you know what, she said she knew I wouldn't be able to do it. That's how well she knew me. And that's why she had previously made arrangement with my Grandma before she ever began making arrangements to have the procedure done. Wasn't she great?! She knew my strengths and my weaknesses and she accepted me regardless.


First, she had to get shots for 4 days or so to stimulate the production of the stem cells.

Then, the stem-cells had to be harvested. To do this, she had to take medicine to force the stem cells from the bone marrow into the circulating blood. This procedure can cause aching in the bones from the growth of the cells. It also causes flu-like symptoms both before the harvest and after.

Then, they have to collect the cells, which requires being hooked to a machine, which filters the blood, removing the stem cells and replacing the blood back into the body without those stem cells. This procedure takes hours and it takes several days (Four days, I think.) to harvest enough stem-cells to do the stem-cell transplant.

Now, as bad as that part is, that was the easy part.

Once they have the cells, they must attempt to rid the body of cancer cells.
Read: feed you poison until you almost die.
(I'm not trying to be a smart-ass....this was an actual possibility listed as a
"side-effect" of the stem-cell transplant process....Death. This procedure was brutal!)

So, in 3 days, my mom received the equivalent of
6 months worth of chemotherapy drugs. Yes, you read that right.
They literally take you as close to the brink of death as medically possible...
...without actually killing you.

It's called Cytotoxic Therapy.

Therapy, my ass.
And toxic, well, that's right on the money.

And 11 years ago, in 30% of cases, it could completely eradicate
cancer cells from my Mother's body.

And it was our only hope, so we did it.

By we, I really mean she. It was her decision. But dad and I went to every information-filled appointment with her. Met with every doctor . Every oncologist. Every cancer specialist. And she asked for our advice.
But, it was always her final decision.

(For instance, mom was offered Tamoxifen as a trial. But, at that point, the side effects they listed were really scary. And she decided not to take it. We supported her in this decision, because some things thought to be "side effects" were pretty darn bad.

And within a year of my mom's death, they were calling Tamoxifen the breast cancer miracle drug. And if mom had taken it, it may have saved her life.
But, of course, we didn't know that then. At the time, we made the best decisions
we could with the knowledge that we had at the time. But it still sucks knowing that Tamoxifen could have possible changed everything.)

The actual "transplant" part of the stem-cell transplant.

So, after all of that, they have to put the cells back in. "The transplant" part of this.
So, about 2 days after the last killer chemotherapy treatment, they give you back the "stem-cells" they harvested from you previously. This is done intravenously. These "stem cells" have been frozen and have a chemical added to them to help preserve the integrity of the stem-cells...and you can even have side effects to the chemical.

During and after the transplant process, the patient requires constant medical support. They need transfusions of platelets and red-blood cells. They need antibiotics to prevent viral, bacterial and fungal infections. (this is a threat for 3 months following the procedure - the reason we requested our Son's
immunizations be the "dead" virus type, rather than the "live" virus type.
Otherwise, they couldn't be near each other.)

In addition to all this fun stuff, the patient is dealing with the complications of the horrid, high-dose chemotherapy treatments they have just gone thru.
(meaning all those horrible symptoms listed about times like 100!!!)

My mom also developed Mucositis, which is when the cells inside the mouth and cells inside the intestinal tract are destroyed by the high-dose chemotherapy. This causes mouth pain and ulcers, abdominal pain, diarrhea and infection. IT WAS AWFUL!!

In about 2-3 weeks, there is usually evidence of the old blood cells dying off (making you prone to bleeding and infection) and the new cells multiplying.

After the entire process, it takes an average of 9-12 weeks to recover. And even then you can be weak, experience loss of appetite and wide ups and downs in emotions.

By Spring, we knew the procedure had failed.

She had another bone scan and they found cancer, again.

We were all devastated.

And the next visit to the oncology specialist brought more bad news, there were brain tumors. Lots of them. Somewhere between 9-15 brain tumors.

Honestly, I wasn't surprised.
I had seen some faint examples of my mom "who remembers everything" forgetting things I knew I had told her. Also, some strange ramblings that weren't like her. Or, seeming to not recognize someone she knew..something she NEVER DID before.

But, the worst part of all.....there was nothing left they could do to treat all we could do was wait and pray for a

The doctor said she'd have about a year.

So, I discussed with Ike my desire to have another baby. And being the loving man he was, he agreed we could try. This decision was made on a Monday, I got pregnant on Friday. (a one time deal) We were ecstatic when we found out --and we were also a bit shocked, after all, it was a long-shot. My mom was overjoyed!!!

But, alas, I miscarried 2 weeks later at my 10 year class reunion.

And again, I was devastated.

(but looking back, it's all for the best....I know I could not have made it thru the death of my mother while being pregnant, based on how horrid my pregnancies are.....)

This is my mother and my oldest Son, right after he
turned 1 year old, in mid-June. They were so bonded.
And as she became more sick (July 1997) and we had to bring in a hospital bed for the living room to aid in her care with hospice, Logan would toddle over to her bed and shake the rails until she would awaken. She'd ask for him to be put in the bed....eventually only calling him "baby" rather than his name.....and they would engage in a form of "baby talk." And somehow they seemed to understand each other. It was bittersweet.

And this is one of the final pictures that she and I have of each other (and Logan, of course.) I can't believe how sick she looks.

Again, she has no hair. This pic was in late-July 1997.

(She was really sick during this period. Although, she wasn't being treated with chemotherapy, she was still very ill. A side effect of the brain tumors were that they were pressing on something that caused my mother to experience vertigo (dizziness, leading to nausea and vomiting) whenever she would try to look at you. If you moved at all, she would be sick. It was horrible. She was suffering and I hated it.

This whole time, we thought we had about 10 months with her. Little did we know, she was dying. I had no idea.

I always believed that somehow, someway she would be fine. I was waiting for our miracle. And I still thought it would come.
She had to be fine. I needed her to be fine. I had to believe.

The best thing was that during this time, we really talked. We had great conversations. We shared all those things that you want to say, but often don't.

She told me she was worried about how my MIL treated me.

She told me she was concerned about my health due to all the weight I had gained during my pregnancy with Logan.

She told me a million times how much she loved me and how proud she was of me and what a great mother she thought I was.

All of this meant so much to me......

She also shared the coolest "dreams" she had recently had.
She told me that she was "ready to get her diamond dress" and that they were "getting the big white house ready for her." I believe she was actually getting so close to death that she was seeing into Heaven.....seeing HER FUTURE!!!!

(She has never owned a "sparkly dress" that could be described as a "diamond dress" and she had never lived in a "white house." I know she was describing Heaven.)

In early mid-August, Big Daddy and I had a trip planned to see his sister in Idaho with his parents. I was very apprehensive about leaving my Mom, but she assured me I should go. After all, the plane tickets were expensive and non-refundable. And, my mother-in-law would freak if I decided not to go, and my mom knew my MIL would "punish" me for ruining her plans, so she eventually convinced me to go.
And eventually, I agreed that I would.

(How sad is it, that while she is on her death bed, literally 2 weeks before her death, she's worried about me and the fact my mother-in-law will be difficult and not too understanding if I ruin her plans and the punishments I'd receive for it if I did!!!)

Before I left, I went to see my Mom.
In a flippant, joking way, I said, "Don't you go anywhere while I'm gone."
(ummm....she is bedridden...she hasn't been actually been anywhere in weeks...)

(and yes, I cope with most things with humor)

Little did I know, she'd take this flippant comment to heart....and half-way thru my trip to Idaho, my dad called after Mom had a particularly "bad" day......

...and he asked, "What did you say to your Mom? She keeps saying it's time for her to go, but she can't because you told her not to."

(Now, at this time, because of the brain tumors, she often said things that didn't always make sense to us.....)

At first, I didn't realize what she was talking about. I mean, the comment was seriously so flippant (and completely about my fear she'd die while I was gone...)
I didn't really even remember saying it. But after my dad's phone call, I realized what I had said and what she was doing. And I felt soooo guilty.
But, in my heart I KNEW, she was waiting for ME to come home.
It was her time to go Home and she knew it.

I was home 2 days later, on Monday night. And I rushed from the airport to her bedside.She couldn't believe I had dyed my hair blonde (a coping distraction while in Idaho.)And when I got home, my brother was there. (after my mom's "bad day," my dad called my brother and asked him to come home for support....and it was a good thing my mom had the meltdown, because it was the only reason my brother was home the week she died. Otherwise, he would have been at home in Nebraska.)

On Tuesday, I shared with my brother my suspicions about Mom knowing it was time. Thanks to the Hospice people, we knew it was important to give your loved one "permission" to go. So, on Tuesday night, my brother and I sat with our Mom and shared old times. Old Memories. Confessed things we "thought" she didn't know. Found out "she did know." Told her everything we loved about her. Then, we gave her "permission to go," letting her know that we loved her, that we didn't want to let go of her, but we knew her body was betraying her and we didn't want her to suffer any longer. And we meant it. And she knew it.

The following day was Wednesday, a day that we had quietly arranged for some church ladies to come sit w/ mom so we could go to the Funeral Home while my brother was still in town to make "the arrangements," when we could all be involved in doing so. Some of it was already decided, for my Mom had filled out a questionnaire about her desires for her funeral. So, we went and chose a casket. We chose the scriptures. We chose the music. We chose flowers. It was sad and weird feeling. Sort of like a betrayal of my Mother, planning this and she's still living. It was HARD. But, I am very thankful that we did it, for we had no idea what the next 24 hours would hold. But the decisions were made before the emotions took over. Thank God!

When we returned home, we learned that Mom had not awakened. And she didn't the whole rest of the day. She was in a coma. And that night, as we all sat by her hospital bed in the middle of the living room, I could swear her breathing was irregular.
(but we still had months with her, right?) My dad insisted I was wrong. After a while, everyone agreed she was breathing weird.

So, I freaked out and called the Hospice people, who sent a nurse to check her out.

The male nurse confirmed when he got there, that our Mother was indeed dying. And we could expect it in the next few days. Although, in my heart I already knew it, I was stunned. I stayed by her side most of the night, kissing her and loving her. Sometime in the early morning hours, I decided I should probably go home. And I did.

When Logan was up the next morning, I got up and called my dad to check on mom.
He assured me she was fine, but still in the "coma." The Nurse was there to give her a bath and they were getting ready to get her the Morphine and other meds she needed.

So, I hung up the phone and got into the shower.

As soon as I turned off the water, the phone was ringing......

....when I picked up the phone, it was my dad.

He only said, "She's gone."

"WHAT DID YOU SAY?!" I screamed.

He said again, "She's gone."

I was stunned.

"How? You said she was fine."

He said, "She was."

Apparently, after he and I hung up, he went to the kitchen to get Mom's medicine before her bath from the nurse. (My brother was down the hall brushing his teeth.)

She had always said that she wouldn't "go" with any of us around, because it was just way too hard to go then. And that's exactly what she did. As soon as both of them were away from her side, she quietly slipped away.

And nobody knew for a moment, until the nurse walked up to her bed, to start her bath and she noticed she was no longer breathing.

So, 10 years ago today, I buried my Mom.

My friend.

Part of me.

Here I am at her grave on her birthday in 1997, a month after we buried her.

Obviously, this was after all the tears were shed. The memories of her always make me smile.

I know this is a mega-post, but I rarely ever talk about this in detail and that was most of the story. I miss her and I love her. She was one of the finest women I ever knew. She wasn't perfect, but she was still awesome. And if I can only be half of the woman, wife and mother she was, than I am doing great.

Some of you knew her. The others I wish you could have.
She was a kind, loving, Godly woman.

Lastly, I want to share something with you -- the tribute that I wrote for my Mother for Christmas in 1996. It took me 7 months to write it and get it exactly how I wanted it. I read it aloud to her on Christmas. It was one of the best, easiest and hardest things I have ever done. And I'm so glad I did.......

My Mother, My Special Friend

You always told me you had a special place for me in your heard as your firstborn. Today, I want you to knew you have a special place in my heart, because you are my mother and my special friend.
I want you to know how much I love you.

All my life, I thought you were the most beautiful woman I had ever known. As a child, I always thought you looked pretty and I knew I had the prettiest Mom. Now that I am older, I realize that you are not only pretty on the outside, but more importantly, on the inside.
You are loving, kind, gentle, kind, faithful and generous.

Mom, you have always made me feel special by the way you treated me. It sure makes me feel good when you call me Sanna, your special "pet name" for me.

Mom, you have always worked hard to help provide for our family and give us special things. Many times you sacrificed things for yourself to give things to me and Randy. You always told us you wanted us to have everything you never did. Thank you for
being so unselfish.

Mom, thank you for praying with Dad for the man who would one day become my husband. Look who I was blessed enough to receive.

Mom, thank you for always having delicious, home-cooked meals on the table everyday. Gathering around the table each night was an important time for our family. We prayed together and shared the events of the day. I think that special time together helped to make our family so close.

Mom, some of my favorite times with you were our "secret shopping trips." It was so fun to spend the day together. We always got so excited when we found a great sale! We shopped for just about anything: clothes, shoes, housewares. Do you remember when we were shopping for a dress to wear to my Senior year Christmas Formal? We found that light blue dress and we couldn't figure out what was wrong with it! Then, I turned around only to find the bust darts sticking out of the middle of my back. We laughed so hard!! Then, we purchased that dress. It turns out it's really pretty when worn the right way. We didn't realize it then, but we were practicing to shop for the ultimate dress, my wedding gown. Do you remember when we found it? You cried as soon as you saw me. And we knew it was the right dress. So, we called daddy to have him come see it and he was speechless. Thank you to you and daddy for paying for my wedding. I felt like Cinderella and
I don't think I've ever seen a wedding as gorgeous as mine!

Mom, thank you for always being my biggest cheerleader. You've always stood behind me and encouraged me to do my best. Once, during a particularly hard time in college, you sent me a card with the poem, Never Give Up. Did you know I still have that card and
I read it when I get discouraged.

Mom, thank you for not giving up in your fight against breast cancer. You are one of the bravest women I know. I know how hard it's been on you and I am so proud of you for not giving up. I'm very thankful for every day you and I have together. I am glad you were able to be at Logan's birth. I want him to know you and love you like I do. Keep fighting because I can't imagine my life without you.

I love you very much!

My love always,

(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to be one. All info regarding medical precedures in this blog post is an accurate representation of my memory of my mother's story, based on the information I can remember. I can not guarantee the 100% medical validity of this information. It's been between 10 and 13 years ago that all of this occurred. I only share this information in an effort to share my feelings about this life-changing experience with you. Furthermore, it kinda pisses me off I even have to type a disclaimer like this on such a personal and emotional post. However, if I don't, some idiot will take my word as the God's honest, 100% reliable medical truth and then try to sue me later. you can't.
For my friends and faithful readers who know better, please ignore this disclaimer and feel free to post your comments.)


Kerry said...

Beautiful post Roxann, beautiful.

*** hunzer *** said...

Wow Roxann. What an absolutely emotional, beautiful post. I'm so sorry about your Mom. It's evident how much you love her. Hugs!

sherry said...

I had to stop before reading the Tribute as I have tears in my eyes, I'll come back to it. Your mom sounds wonderful, I'm sorry she's not here with you now, but I know you'll see her again one day.

mandy said...

That was beautiful! And a tear jerker. I'm gald you got some good times with her before she past! And like Sherry said, you will see her again the very very very very distant future!

Anonymous said...

Sigh...I think I wish I hadn't read this. The biopsy was we wait. I'll let you know. Luv ya, ~~J

FlipFlop Mom said...

Girl .. you need a WARNING LABEL on this one.. DO NOT READ WITHOUT TISSUES!!!

Absolutely beautiful... you are one of the luckiest girls in the world!!!!

Karen said...

Another thing we have in common. Angels on earth as mothers. I am sure you are the person you are because she blessed your life. Now, she is in heaven watching all you've achieved and I'm sure she's very proud of you and the mother you've become. I never want to think about losing my mom, and your post made me really miss her so many miles away...

Elizabeth said...

Roxann,I agree you need a tissue disclaimer, I read it while at work and had to go to the bathroom so people didn't ask me what I was crying about!
It's so beautiful how you're able to put all your emotions into words with such care.
You have some really great memories of your Mom and I agree that she's watching down on your family every day.

Stacy Armstrong ~ Come on in, The Studio is Open ~ said...

This took me a few days to read, cause it made me cry. That was a beautiful and heart felt post m'dear!! I know your Mom is smiling down at you. She must be so proud to have a daughter with such devotion. HUGS!!

Nikki said...

I couldn't even imagine. Just from reading this post I learned that your mom was incredibly strong, loving, fun, supportive, beautiful - exactly like you. Thank you for sharing your heart like this - it made me feel how truly amazing the relationship between a mother and daughter can be and how precious the time you share is. I pray everyday for my momma - my best friend. I just can't even imagine...

Cindy Roland said...

Well, I am in tears. What a wonderful tribute to your beautiful mother. I can see where you got your strength and your positive outlook on life. I am so sorry that she had to suffer the way she did. Cancer is a terrible terrible disease. She was a real fighter, most people would have given up long before that. God Bless you, she left a legacy behind and her name is Roxann.
Thank you for letting me know her a little better.

Anonymous said...

Roxann, I came to read about your post on Facebook and have spent the entire afternoon reading your blog. You are an amazing woman. Thank you for sharing about your mom . . . a beautiful love story. - Love ya, Aunt Shari

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