There are some phrases that are widely understood when one talks about a cancer journey. When someone says “in treatment” or “currently fighting,” it’s understood that the cancer patient is in active treatment and battling hard to beat the beast of cancer and become cured. When we hear the words “hospice,” our hearts break knowing the cancer patient is actively dying. And on some cancer journeys, there is an in-between period, or transitional period, called palliative chemotherapy.
Palliative chemo is defined as “...chemotherapy given in the non-curative setting to optimize symptom control, improve quality of life, and sometimes to improve survival” (Roland & LeBlanc, 2016). “Survival” refers to how long a patient can live with their tumor; this can be months, a year, if they are lucky, maybe a couple years. At some point, the cancer will become smarter than the chemotherapy and can spread quite invasively, and this is typically when someone moves into hospice care. Speaking on a personal level, there are so many different emotions that are present during this transitional period.
Quite frequently, I feel sadness; soul-crushing, breath-stealing sadness. And I am angry.
Our daughter has endured a shunt placement, an eight hour tumor removal surgery, radiation, and is currently on her eighth chemotherapy drug, and yet her cancer Keeps. Coming. Back. Listening to a doctor tell you that your child, no matter how much they have fought, and continue to fight, can no longer be cured and will eventually succumb to their disease...those have been the hardest, most heartbreaking words to hear thus far on this journey.
So, what do you do when things are completely out of your control, and as one of our nurses accurately described this transitional period: "You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop"? You make the conscious choice to live. There will be a time to grieve, but right now we focus on the time left. One of the major goals of palliative chemo is quality of life; for Mackenzie’s dad and I, this means we want to see her smile as much as possible. We sit in the sun and enjoy the warmth on our legs. We go fishing and catch (and toss back) as many fish as we can. We cuddle puppies and play with cute babies. We’ve traveled and rode roller coasters with Mackenzie that leave her squealing (and me cringing LOL). We say “I love you” and focus on making others smile, because it’s true that people will remember you for how you made them feel.