On Feb. 12, amid a snowfall she wanted but never saw, my 72-year-old mother lost her three-year battle with ovarian cancer.
It wasn’t a fair fight.
In her case, my mom faced a stealthy enemy: Only 15 percent of ovarian cancers are found at the earliest stage, where the five-year survival rate is an encouraging 89 percent. Doctors found my mother’s cancer at stage IIIC, where the five-year survivor rate is just 35 percent.
My mom had weapons in her fight against cancer – surgery, chemotherapy and a drug trial. But they proved inferior, even harmful. My mom was OK with the hair loss, embracing the headscarves and wigs that are telltale signs of cancer treatment. But one chemotherapy regimen literally blistered the skin off the soles of her feet; the pain was so great, she could not bear to walk.
My mom’s cancer, like many others, was relentless. Within a year of her diagnosis and treatment, a scan showed no cancer. But a year later, the cancer was back and spreading. My mom debated whether to fight or surrender, ultimately deciding to continue her battle. But the cancer was simply too strong, and a few weeks ago, my mother’s doctor told her she was losing the battle.
The doctor did offer one more treatment option, but he said it had just a 20 percent chance of denting her cancer and an 80 percent chance of wrecking what health she had left. My mother said no, and the doctor recommended hospice.
But even in hospice, even when my mom had conceded defeat, her cancer wanted more. On the first day of hospice care, the nurse estimated my mom had about two months to live. A week later, after my father had trouble rousing my mother from sleep one morning, the nurse said she maybe had two weeks left. As her cancer would have it, it was 10 days.
My mother enjoyed life, relishing time with family and traveling often with the Ole Ladies, a group that included her sister and cousins. But cancer robbed my mom of so much more living; she won’t see the last two of her grandchildren graduate from high school, and she will see none of her great-grandchildren grow up.
I know medicine has made great strides in the treatment of cancer, and survivor rates are climbing. But too many people are still losing battles with cancer. It’s time for a cure.