Short answer: she had a stroke, caused by brain cancer.
Long answer (watch out, it's really long):
On August 19, 2011, at 1:30 in the morning, my dad heard my mom screaming his name. He was awake, heading to the bathroom, but he says he would have heard her anyway. She screamed, and screamed, and said she was in pain everywhere.
So he called 911, and she started to lose control of her body. After a few minutes, she was slurring her words, and having a hard time swallowing. My dad turned her on her side, so she wouldn’t choke on her own saliva. By the time the EMT’s got there, she had lost consciousness.
As the EMT’s put my mom in an ambulance, my sister came home from her friend’s house. She saw them putting our mom in the back on a gurney. My dad was letting out the dog, from where he had barricaded her so she wouldn’t try to protect my mom, and get in the way of the EMT’s.
Somewhere in this craziness they intubated, putting her on a respirator.
When my mom got to the nearest hospital, with my dad and sister not far behind, they took a CT scan. They looked at the scan, saw the massive bleed in her brain, put her back in the ambulance, and sent her to Redwood City, where the best neurosurgery team is. By the time my dad and sister got the hospital, she was already in surgery.
She got into surgery at about 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning. She got out of surgery at about 8:00am. So four hours, four hours of them operating on her brain.
The surgeon came out to the ICU waiting room after she was in her room, and told us everything. And man, do I mean everything. He gave us details full of medical jargon and somewhat grotesque images. I mean, do you really want to picture a chunk of blood and tissue the size of one and a half fists pushing her brain to the right side of her scull, or think of them putting a piece of scull back onto her head, and then pulling the skin back over the scull, and stapling it all together? (Oops, now you have gross images in your head. Enjoy!)
The surgeon talked with us about her recovery – how we wouldn’t really know for about a week whether she would mentally be there, or whether she would just be a physical shell of herself, a vegetable. My dad said that she didn’t want just survive as a vegetable – if that happened, we were going to pull the plug. (Thank you Jesus, we knew in about a day that she was mentally still there.)
And the surgeon talked with us about why. Why she, a healthy and fit 56-year-old woman, with low blood pressure and absolutely no symptoms, had a stroke. And the only real reason he could give us was a tumor.
And so we waited. We waited for five days, Friday to Tuesday, to find out whether it was cancer or not. We saw her improving, we were excited and amazed with how quickly she was progressing, but we knew we were missing a part of the story, and we could only get so excited until we found out whether there was a tumor, and what kind it was.
And there was. There was a tumor. There is a tumor. And it isn’t benign. It’s cancer – a type of cancer categorized as a Glioblastoma. It’s a type of brain cancer that is really attracted to blood vessels (hence the stroke – the bursting of a blood vessel caused by the cancer) and it never goes away, not even with surgery, chemo and radiation. The average lifespan of someone with this type of cancer, and with chemo and radiation, is one year. Maybe a year and a half. And so my mom is now labeled as “terminal.”
My mom hasn’t decided if she wants the chemo and the radiation yet. She had cancer before, 15 years ago, and the treatment was horrible. She may not want to go through that again. And we’re not sure how much the treatment will affect her quality of life. But she has decided to do rehab, so she can be more mobile, take care of herself a little, and hopefully even speak, or at least be able to express herself more.
And so we wait. We wait, and see what my mom decides about treatment. We wait, and see if she can speak again. We wait, and know the tumors will come back. And so I say my long goodbye, waiting until she’s gone.