Sunday, January 11, 2009

Road Worriers, Part 2

Part 1 here.

December 25: Brewster, NY

One of the good things about being up north for Christmas was the snow that we had tried to avoid on the drive in, but could now enjoy since we had reached our destination. In Brewster, there were still several inches of ice and snow on the ground. After breakfast, I went outside with Alex (and later, my brother-in-law's brother) to build a snow bridge which then served as a crossing point for many dinosaurs Alex had brought on the trip (and a few Santa had dropped off). We also had a fun snowball fight with my niece and nephew - who have grown a tremendous amount in the seven years since I had seen them last. It was fun watching the two of them and Alex and Sammie try to tire each other out throughout the day.

Later that day, I went to the hospital with another of my sisters and my niece and nephew. I would have driven the truck to the hospital with everyone in tow behind my sister, but it was out of gas - it made it up the mountain, but would not make it down.

At the hospital, my sister seemed to be in slightly better shape, but I had found out more about what had happened in the previous week. In addition to the platelet drop, the doctors had found cancerous cells throughout the body, including in the bone marrow. She had suffered several small strokes earlier in the week, which had caused the slurred speech and poor motor skills shown earlier in the week. Her blood chemistry was completely out of whack, and that was the biggest focus at the moment for the doctors besides making sure Jill was comfortable (for which she was now also taking morphine.)

There were a lot of us at the hospital that night - many family, many friends. My sister was in OK shape to receive them. She was even trying to eat some melon while I was there.

Now, in my family history, there have been many cases of people who have been hospitalized in near-death situations. With both parents and grandparents, we've seen ridiculous cases of recovery or at least short-term postponement. In my sister's case, we were not sure if the improvement we were seeing was the first step in a long recovery or preparation for something else while seeing everyone on Christmas Day.

Unfortunately, it was the latter. My sister passed away on December 26, in the early hours of the morning, as a result of her long fight with inflammatory breast cancer. While she was among the 40% of people who are able to survive past one year with the disease, she was not able to beat it in the end. Her platelet counts, which only surfaced as troublesome twice before, were the trigger that forced gaps in the chemotherapy which allowed the cancer to spread. The condition is actually called ITP, for Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura. It spread throughout the body and forced the eventual wackiness of the rest of her blood chemistry and all the other symptoms which surfaced.

December 26: Brewster, NY > Boston, MA

We had been planning on going to the hospital before we left town for NYC and Boston in the morning. However, when Kim came in to tell me the news, we stayed around the house until late in the afternoon to do what we could do.

For me, it meant I ended up washing dishes. I don't know why. I hate doing dishes. I think I was just trying to focus on doing one thing rather than letting my mind race all over the place. The way I found out about Jill that morning was eerily similar to how I found out my mother had passed away, when I was 16 – go to sleep, expecting to still see them in the morning, even if they aren’t completely well, and find out upon waking up that they passed in the night. I don’t know if it’s easier than being at their bedside, as that has never happened, but it isn’t an easy thing to hear regardless of the situation.

I honestly don't remember too much else about the day. I was pretty much in a state of shock throughout the entire day. Jill was one of the few who took care of me and helped me out during high school and college when things were rough with my parents (including when my mother died) so it was all a bit shocking. I basically was in a stunned daze from everything that had developed over the past 96 hours.

The kids played some more with their cousins during the day as well, which might have been good for all of them to some extent. We also started making plans to return over the next few days for the memorial service. My sister was going to be cremated, but it was also decided to try and find out what the cancer had done in order to fight it in other cases in the future. The spread was very quick over the last few weeks, and hopefully some more answers and information could be gained in further research.

The service was set for Tuesday, December 30, with the exact place and time to be determined over the weekend once everything was finalized. We left for Boston around 4:30 in the afternoon, and took about 4.5 hours to get there.

The truck was all right and we got there pretty smoothly, while we also ran through some last-minute items we might need for the next few days. I think I slept that night, but it felt like I blinked and the morning had come. Obviously, it was not very restful.

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