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ask: How can you help someone with Pancreatic Cancer?

By Anonymous
 
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My ex-mother-in-law, whom I am very close to has been a survival of pancreatic cancer for over 4 years and a true miracle. However, she has become more and more tired, cannot eat anything other than ice cream and keep it down, lost more weight. Her family has disconnected themselves from her and myself and one of her friends are the only people who look out for her. I fear we are losing the battle here as now she is walking with a cane to maintain her balance. Her energy is extremely low...what can I do at this point and are these signs of her nearing the end? One of her doctors wants her to go to see another doctor for a possible transplant, but she is 68 years old and doesn't want another surgery and her first time they denied her as a recipient anyway...any input you can share with me would be greatly appreciated. As I do not have the names of her doctors to talk with them directly...though she has said there are no signs of cancer, but her counts are very low.

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Diane Porter

Wow, that's a complicated situation. Your former mother-in-law is so blessed to have the support of you and your husband, and I know you feel blessed that she loves your children so much.

In terms of pancreatic cancer, here's a University of Maryland description of the stages it can go through:

http://www.umgcc.org/gi_program/pan-stages.htm

Unfortunately, that's more of a technical description, and from what you say, I'm not sure her cancer ever spread to another place. Here's a similar page that is a little less technical:

http://www.ehow.com/how_2033533_stages-pancreatic-cancer.html

And here's a page with some information on gastritis, from the Mayo Clinic. Gastritis can certainly be the reason that she can't keep food down:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/gastritis/DS00488

Be sure to note the blue links on the left side of that page that say things like "causes" and "treatment." Treatments tend to focus on neutralizing the acid in a person's stomach and treating any underlying infection. Does it seem like this is what her doctors are working on right now?

Here's one more good reference on gastritis:

http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec09/ch121/ch121b.html

I know it's tough to not be able to gauge how someone is doing, for real. But I'll tell you something -- even if you had access to everything the doctors said, you might not have a better idea. And that's because you are right when you say that every individual is so different. My husband's aunt was in the hospital weeks ago with unexplained bleeding in her stomach. For various reasons they couldn't find what was going on. She went downhill, and then further downhill. Family gathered, for fear that they were about to lose her, and a conversation even revolved around hospice care.

Turns out now she is fine, the bleeding stopped (they still don't know why), she's out of the hospital and continues to recover. Medicine is still such a mystery sometimes.

Probably the single most important thing for your former MIL is her will to live. If she is not tired of the fight, if she is working with her doctors, if she cherishes her independence, and if she wants to do more in life, she will do better than if she is fatigued, weak and not motivated to work at getting better. You can't change how she feels; you can just be there for her, which you already are doing, very well. You can encourage, you can support, and you can make her laugh. You can speak of the future in a matter-of-fact tone. And you can keep bringing those amazing grandkids around, because it sounds like they are some of the true joys in her life.

July 8, 2009 - 9:00am
Diane Porter

Anon, thank you so much for your question. And welcome to EmpowHer. We're so glad you're here.

I can tell what a good soul you are by the questions you ask and by how you have stood by your former mother-in-law through this illness. I'm so sorry that it seems as though she is not doing as well now. When we are close to someone who's suffering, we suffer too. I can tell that's the case for you.

Why has her family withdrawn from her? She IS a true miracle to have beaten pancreatic cancer for four years. Are there issues in the family surrounding her illness? Or is it just a dysfunctional family that can't really handle what's going on?

Do you think that her health going downhill is due to them withdrawing from her? Does she seem depressed about it?

Do you have more of an idea of what "counts" she is talking about? I am assuming that it is some sort of blood cell count but it's hard to tell what it could mean without more detail.

There are lots of things that might be going on here. First, of course the cancer could be recurring, which is something that she must have on her mind even though she says there are no signs. But even if that is not the case, she's clearly got something going on with her stomach or digestive system, or she would be able to keep food other than ice cream down.

So nothing else stays down? Not even broth, ginger ale, crackers? The normal things that soothe a troubled stomach?

If she thinks that there are no signs of cancer, does she tell you what her doctor says about why she is going downhill?

If there isn't anything medical that she wants done, and if she's not able to eat well to get nutrition or to exercise much, it sort of starts an avalanche of other symptoms. The lack of nutrition makes her weak. The weakness makes her fatigued. The fatigue makes her not want to do anything. That can turn into depression very easily. Depression makes you withdraw, and not be able to function well. And then you take another step downhill, and feel even worse. See how they all can be linked?

You are doing exactly what you can do -- you are there for her. You are giving her support and you are close to her, and she knows that. She knows she's not alone, and that's a huge gift.

Does she take herself to the doctor, or does someone go with her? Is there any chance she would let you or her other friend go with her to an appointment and help her ask questions and take notes?

July 6, 2009 - 9:36am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Diane Porter)

Ok, many years back when her own mother was failing she was there for her and at times apparently seemed mean as her own mother was fading so her children (my ex-husband and sister-in-law) felt as though she was the cause of her mother's illness, it was actually her diabetes that was killing her, anyway, it started from there and have since lost all communications with her. She treats my daughters' as if they were her own grandchildren and my son is her "real" grandson, however, her daughter has a son that doesn't know who she is...her one sister and two brothers do not really speak to her much either, not even any little bit of help. She drives herself to doctor appointments, the store, etc. and doesn't ask for much help, though we have helped her on ocassion when asked...she just likes us to visit so she can see the kids. We all went to the hospital over Mother's Day for a visit as she had to have her stomach drained, this happens often, as fluid leaks into her stomach and swells it and sheh as to have quarts taken from her stomach...as well as, major swelling in her legs where they become very "hard". She has blotches on her face (veins showing through), the doctor wants her to go into the city to be looked at for a possible liver transplant but she feels she wouldn't make it through. She has GASTROITIS so perhaps that is why she can't keep anything down. She doesn't seem depressed, persae, just extremely weak...there have just been times where I thought we would loose her and she has kept strong. She is in and out of the hosptial often and without having someone there with her to really hear the doctors, it's such a myster as to what is going on...I know it's different for everyone, I was just hoping for some sort of sign to know what stage she is in and how best I can be of help. My husband and I love her dearly and wish we could make this all go away for her, reality...we know we can't. Thank you for your support.

July 6, 2009 - 1:27pm
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