Yesterday, I took Cap in for his monthly visit to the Leukemia Doctor. The news was not good. Less than 2 months after his last round of chemotherapy, and his white blood cell count is way up…almost as high as before the chemo. Usually, the chemo treatments keep his leukemia in check for about 5 months, which gives him plenty of time to recoup, regain his strength, and enjoy life for a good period of time before the next round shoots him down again.
After his last round of chemo, Cap developed Congestive Heart Failure…a common and treatable ailment. Seems his “heart murmur” caught up with him in his 83rd year, with leukemia, skin cancer, and diabetes. The chemotherapy seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the saying goes. Either one of these ailments is treatable and manageable, but together they are presenting a tough challenge. We treat the heart issue and his diabetes gets out of control; we treat the leukemia and there is too much strain on the heart. We can’t do surgery on the skin cancer because the leukemia has left him anemic and his platelets are too low, prevent his blood from clotting quickly (excessive bleeding during surgery).
So we choose to wait it all out for a month, and see how Cap does with regaining his strength and endurance from his heart issue, which put him in the hospital for 5 days earlier this month. He can now walk, with his walker, out to the mailbox (down our long driveway and across the street)…it takes him about 5 minutes. Then he sits and rests for about a minute and comes back in (all this with either Frank or me in tow). The Physical Therapist said he should do that twice every day and increase the distance by one house every week. Cap is a fighter and he looks forward to his walks. He says he doesn’t want to die yet...he’s got more living to do. “It’s just a shame to cut a man down in the prime of his life.” Cap commented on the way home from the Leukemia Doctor.
The news hit me hard. I can see the prognosis, but don’t need to drive it home with him. Who knows how long he has? It could be a few years. What is the balance between the drive to live and the acceptance of death? When will he choose to stop his treatments altogether? What is my role in helping him through all this? It’s way too early to even be asking these questions, much less answer them. But the end-of-life scenario keeps playing itself out in my mind.
Cap will be a teacher for me, this I know for sure. He will teach me about fighting for life and about accepting death. I will see, one day, his shift, and then his release. And Cap, Frank, and I…the little family that we have created…we will all do it with dignity, grace, tears, truth, and most of all, with love.