Is this a tree?

Is this a tree?

I would not call this a tree. I would call it a cone. It contains seeds. It is not a tree.

A pregnancy is called an embryo until 8 weeks after conception and then a fetus until birth. It is not a baby, any more than a seed is a tree. Here is a link to a picture of the embryo developing:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_embryonic_development#/media/File:HumanEmbryogenesis.svg

It’s a bit difficult to call the embryo a baby.

After 8 weeks (10 weeks from the last menstrual period) the developing pregnancy is called a fetus. It cannot survive outside the womb. A term pregnancy is 37 weeks, and the due date is at 40 weeks. The earliest survival, certainly not natural, is around 24 weeks. This takes heavy intervention and technology, a premature infant on a ventilator for months. There is risk of damage to the eyes from high oxygen and risk of spontaneous brain bleed and cerebral palsy, because the newborn can weigh half a pound. Once born, the fetus is termed a baby.

This is important from a medical standpoint and pounded into us as physicians. WHY? Because in a trauma situation, the life of the mother comes first. In Obstetrics and Family Medicine, the life of the mother comes first. In Oncology, the life of the mother comes first. My sister was diagnosed with stage IIIB ductal breast cancer at age 41. She was engaged and it turned out that she was pregnant. She wrote this essay on her blog, Butterfly Soup:

The hardest loss of breast cancer.

She had an abortion and chose chemotherapy, because it was her or the fetus. If she had chemotherapy pregnant, at that time she was told that it would probably kill the fetus or cause terrible birth defects. If she held off on chemotherapy for seven months, her oncologist thought she would die. She had a very very aggressive cancer and she already had a daughter who needed her.

She lived until age 49, with multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, gamma knife radiation, whole brain radiation. And she lived until her daughter was 13. Without the abortion, her physicians thought she would have died when her daughter was 7.

My ethics in medicine are that patients have autonomy. I would NOT have wanted my sister to choose to refuse chemo and try to bring a baby to term while dying of breast cancer. However, it was HER CHOICE, not mine. It was private and no one else’s business and how dare people make moral judgements about another person’s medical choices. I give my patients CHOICES. They can choose not to treat cancer and go into hospice. They can choose surgery or refuse it. They can choose to treat opioid addiction or refuse. They may die of a heroin overdose and I grieve. I try to convince them to go to treatment and I give them nalaxone to try to reverse overdoses. I refuse a medication or treatment that I think will harm my patients, but my patients have autonomy and choices. That extends to women and pregnancy as well.

It is NOT a baby in the womb, however emotionally attached people are to this image. It is an embryo first and then a fetus. And in a car wreck, the woman comes first and the fetus second.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: explain.

Sorrow

I used to stop by more

but the people were less and less

the interactions faded to grey

I didn’t feel loved

I used to be ok with that

not feeling loved

not feeling valued

but now I want to be loved

And I am loved, to my surprise

as if a little love

has opened longing

so that I want more love


I want to be loved and feel loved

I send everyone love

even those who have been mean

and the incessant downvoters

and those who have me blocked

or don’t answer or ignore

or leave the catbox when I show up

I send love to you too


but now that I have a small crack

of love in my life, like the sun

shining on a crack in concrete

the seed stirs in sun and water

and grows

written 12/26/17. I wrote this about another writing site. It is falling to bits, like a old building not maintained. It makes me sad, because it is where my sister used to write. She died in 2012 and I still often miss her.

On death and feelings

When my mother was dying of cancer, she did not want us to cry.

So we didn’t. We had her at home in hospice for nearly six weeks and we did not cry. Almost.

My sister called me. “I started crying today, at the kitchen table.” My mother was in another room in the hospital bed. “Everyone left. No one stayed with me. Everyone left.”

I didn’t cry but when people called to say how were things, I couldn’t speak. I sat there with the phone, silent. Because what I wanted to say was my truth and I knew very well that that was not what they were calling to hear. So I did not speak.

After my mother died, time passed. I felt…. many things, but the strongest one was “I wish my mother had let me cry.” We did what she wanted. But I wanted to cry.

My sister got cancer and fought it ferociously. She refused hospice until the last week. I flew down three times in the last two months.

Six days before she died, her friend and I were helping her. “I’m sad!” said my sister.

“Don’t be sad.” said the friend.

“It’s ok to be sad.” I said. “What are you sad about?”

My sister started crying: “I won’t be at my daughter’s high school graduation! I won’t see her get ready for prom! I don’t want to leave her!”

“You won’t leave her.” I said. “You will be there. Not in this form.” I meant it absolutely.

“I want to stay!” she said.

“I know.” I said. “I am so sorry.”

With my sister, I did not do what she wanted. I thought of my mother and that I wished she had let me cry. With my sister, I tried to listen to what she wanted and listen to what I wanted. I tried to be honest with her. She even got mad!

But… I watched her go in the cancer bubble. Where fewer and fewer people were being honest. They were afraid. They did what she wanted. They wanted her to be happy. And she tried so hard….

When I had arrived for the last visit with my sister, she was sitting with my cousin. I hugged her. She was not speaking much. I asked if she would like me to sing something and she nodded. I started singing “I gave my love a cherry”, a sweet lullaby. My sister shook her head, angry and fierce. I studied her. “How about Samuel Hall?” I said. My sister smiled and nodded. I started singing “My name is Samuel Hall.” It is about a man who is going to the gallows for killing someone and he is entirely unrepentant and angry. My cousin looked at me, startled. “I haven’t thought of that song in years,” he said. We both sang it to my sister. “To the gallows I must go, with my friends all down below, damn your eyes, damn your eyes.” That was the right song, angry, resisting, raging. “Hope to see you all in hell, hope to hell you sizzle well, damn your eyes, damn your eyes.”

I flew back to work three days before my sister died. I am told that she was scared when she died. “I said, don’t be scared.” said a friend.

Why not? I thought. Why can’t the dying be scared, be anxious, be angry? Why are we afraid to let them? I would have said, Why are you scared? And I would have said, I am scared too. And sad. And angry.

I told my counselor once that my husband was on the couch, angry, and I had to leave the room.

“Why?” she said.

“I am afraid.” I said.

“Why?” she said.

“I am afraid he’s angry at me.” I said.

“So what?” she said.

I thought, so what? “I want to fix him. I want him to not be angry.” Even if it isn’t at me.

“Why can’t you stay in the room?” she said.

I practiced. I stayed in the room. He was angry, grumpy, acting out. It’s not my anger. I don’t have to fix it. It may be just or unjust. Does it really matter? It is his anger not mine. I can stay present.

A friend said that his friend was dying leaving small children. “He was so angry that almost all his friends stopped visiting.”

A man and his sister are not speaking four years after their father died because they disagreed so strongly about how his lung cancer should be treated.

An elderly woman in the hospital agrees to go home for care with her son when he is present and with her daughter when she is present. When neither is present she will not make a decision.

A woman says to me that she is angry that hospice didn’t tell her which drug to give at the end to keep her friend from being anxious.

I hope that we learn to stay present for the dying and for the living. For all of the “negative” emotions. I see most of my hospice patients want LESS medicine rather than more. As their kidneys fail, the medicines last longer. They do not want to be asleep. They may cry. They may be angry. They may be unreasonable. Why should they be reasonable or nice or peaceful?

We want most to be loved entirely. Even when we are sad or whiney or angry or anxious. Who wants to be left alone when they are afraid? I hope we all learn to stay present.

And when we were alone, in that last three days, my sister said “I’m bad!” I said, “You are not bad. You’ve done some really bad things.” She said, “I’m sorry.” I said, “I love you anyway.” And she lit up like a buddhist monk, like an angel. And we both cried and I am so glad I was there.

Beast Cthulhu and bone metastases

In 2011, when my sister wrote  Beast Cthulhu and bone metastases,  about her breast cancer being a treatable chronic illness, I was so sad…..

….because it was not true, even though I wished it was.

The perils of being the doctor sister.

It was clear that her cancer was progressing. Yes, she could request to continue treatment. Yes, they would keep treating her….

….but it wasn’t working.

The hematologist-oncologist chooses the best treatment first. Chris Grundoon was 41 and very strong and healthy so they hit the cancer as hard as they possibly could. Chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation therapy, a second degree burn on her chest wall. It was stage IIIB to start with. Cancer is staged 0 to IV. Zero is “carcinoma in situ”, cancerous cells that have not even invaded their neighbors. Stage I is very local. Stage IV is distant metastases. Stage IIIB of ductal breast carcinoma means multiple lymph nodes, but not the ones above the collarbone, and no cancer in bone, brain, lungs or liver.

She had two years in remission.

The cancer recurred with a metastasis above the collarbone. The cancer had morphed as well, as it often does. Most, most, most of the cells were killed… but those that survived… were different. Now she was estrogen receptor negative, progesterone receptor negative and her2 negative. All genetic markers which help decide which treatment is best and how to target the cells. More and more are being found.

Our mother died of ovarian cancer. I went with her to her oncologist only once. My mother said that her CA 125 was rising, and of course she could do more treatment if she needed to. The doctor said something positive. I followed her out of the room. Once the door was shut I said, “My mother is talking about another clinical trial! She can’t do that, can she?”

“No,” said the oncologist, “Of course not. She is too advanced. But we will treat her for as long as she wants.”

Whether it works or not. Because she wants to be treated. In spite of diminishing returns.

My sister passed her five years from the day treatment ended. So technically she is in the five year survival group even though then she died. When she was diagnosed, the five year survival for her type of breast cancer and stage was about 5%. It had improved to 17% by 2011.

Her oncologist told her “I am referring you to hospice.” in the spring of 2012. She went to San Francisco to talk to another group about a clinical trial. But it was too far and too late. She refused hospice until about two weeks before she died. Fight to the end, she was willing to fight even when the oncologist said, “You are dying.” She had promised her daughter and promised her husband.

I saw her three times in the last two months before she died. She seemed angry to me on the last visit, glittering, knife edged. I tried to sing a lullaby, but she wanted something else. “Samuel Hall?” I guessed. She smiled and I sang it. My name is Samuel Hall and I hate you one and all. To the gallows I must go, with my friends all down below. Hope to see you all in hell, hope to hell you sizzle well, damn your eyes, damn your eyes. Then she trusted me to be present whether she was angry or sad or confused or once even happy, glowing, transported, transformed….

Some people do not go gentle. That is their right. It is their death, not ours, not mine.

The photograph is from the memorial here… My father had end stage emphysema, on steroids and oxygen, and I was hospitalized with strep sepsis the weekend of her first memorial in California. We could not go. Many people from our chorus Rainshadow Chorale came and we are singing the Mozart: Requiem Aeternum. My father died fourteen months later.

M is for mourn

M is for mourn. We mourn for losses. Mourning is part of being human and we have to give grief room and space. How can we love and feel intimacy without also feeling grief and mourning?

M

I wrote a poem the day my sister died. I had flown home four days before, after seeing her in hospice, 7 years of cancer. I flew home the day before her birthday. My birthday is three days after hers. She died the day after my birthday. It has now been four years.

An apology, a love note and a remembrance

I step outside into a fine mist rain.

I am enfolded in cloud.

The dog still wants to be walked.
The cats want their treats.
The bunny rattles her cage.
The fish will want feeding at the usual time.

My heart lies stunned in my chest.
The dog does not pull.
I walk measured.
He waits.

The rain comes harder.

I hope that where you are, is joy.

The crows harsh caws comfort me.
I answer.
They watch from the tree tops as we circle.

I am enshrouded in cloud.

We are back to the house.

I try to remember.
I have the birds.
I have the trees.

We go in.

first published on everything2.com with other poems for her here: http://everything2.com/title/An+apology%252C+a+love+note+and+a+remembrance

I don’t know who took the photograph. Probably my grandparents.