I remember the young woman, Ella, getting ready to graduate from High School, but now lying in a hospital bed. Her Dad was with her, but no Mom?
I don’t remember many details, but I do remember her coming to our clinic and receiving the standard chemo for ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer in an 18-year-old…we were all shocked, but she had gotten through the chemo with no signs of residual disease for two years. I had known that reoccurrence was likely, but she had gotten a job and was living her life as any teenager would. Now, with her latest reoccurrence, I could see a future of palliative chemotherapy, experimental treatments, and almost certainly hospice care and death.
In the interim, I had learned about Mom. She had died at the age of 29 from breast cancer. Two daughters and a husband left in grief and despair. We were just now learning about the BRCA genes which are linked with breast and ovarian cancer. The Mom may have had one of these genes and likely the daughter, too.
Over the next few years, Ella’s ovarian cancer would respond to treatments and then resurface yet again until there were no new treatments to explore. We tried Platinum Therapy again and then, eventually, hospice. I was not surprised when Ella ended up in our inpatient hospice unit. Both her Dad and Ella’s older sister were unable to provide the personal care that was needed. A few days later, I found out why.
I learned that he was at another hospital with Ella’s older sister, just now diagnosed with advanced cancer. Twice, he had seen the path that this would take, and it was starting again.
I remember his eyes, grief-stricken and overwhelmed, but even more than that…broken…broken hearted…broken as a human being. There are no comforting words – only presence and only as he was able to tolerate.
I don’t know what eventually happened to Ella’s Dad, but we now know how much grief and broken-heartedness can impact our health.