Those of you that have been following Gail’s journey know that she has been battling breast cancer for 2 years. April 12th, 2018 cancer won. She passed away peacefully in a hospice center with her boyfriend and daughter by her side.
I’ve been procrastinating finishing this blog because I fear I won’t do Gail’s memory justice, but as Gail’s daughter and the person that knew her best, I hope that I’m able to capture her spirit. As you may have picked up in her previous posts or other blogs, we were very close. She has had a roller-coaster ride of a life and I’m blessed to have shared 27 years of that with her.
Gail was a woman that loved with more devotion than anyone I’ve ever met. She was selfless and caring, often to the point of her own suffering and she inspired many with her incredible faith and strength.
Gail wrote previously about strength coming from how you handle your body failing you. I vividly remember the day she told me the cancer had spread to her lungs. It was Christmas eve and she calmly played the audio recording of the doctor giving her the news. She answered every question we had and managed not to cry while I blubbered like a baby. I had prepared myself for that inevitability but it didn’t make the reality suck any less. She held me and reassured me that it was okay and she wasn’t scared. I thought that was supposed to be my job. In that moment she had so much bravery and I was in awe of her.
Gail’s nickname was “the google queen.” If she didn’t know the answer to something she would research until she was educated on the topic. Naturally, when she discovered there was cancerous fluid in her pleural cavity she did her research and discovered there was only a life expectancy of about 4 months. In our experience doctors and nurses were reluctant to give timelines. Having seen that mortality laid out in front of us was a hard pill to swallow. Even faced with that, she made decisions based on a hope that she was could still be healed.
Gail wanted this blog to be the raw, honest truth about her journey through cancer. In honor of that, the rest of this post is going to lay out some of the details about the last two weeks of her life. If this is where you want to stop reading, I don’t blame you. I will tell you what I told her friends and family that wanted to see her during this time; “It isn’t pretty, in fact, it’s painful to see. If you prefer to remember her as you knew her, I respect that.”
March 15th- Gail went into the hospital to get blood work done. She told the doctor she no longer wanted to do the chemo as the side effects were insufferable, She still wanted to do the keytruda and switch to more natural medication. The doctor accepted that she no longer wanted to continue chemo but was surprised at her desire to continue treatment.
March 24th – She texted me from the hospital saying that she was done and didn’t think she could do it anymore. They discharged her that night and we tried to get her settled in at home.
March 25th- She asked me to get the hospice facility to pick her up. We had a nurse come in to evaluate her and he ordered Morphine for the night and an ambulance to pick her up the next day. (maybe it was the morphine but she still was still her goofy self, as pictured to the left)
March 26th – We admitted her to a hospice facility. The next couple weeks were spent with family and friends making their way to Georgia to spend time with her in her final days.
March 28th – She texted me early in the morning that she needed me. When I arrived she told me the nurses had overdosed her and she was dehydrating to death. Some of you may not know this, but Gail can be very controlling. Her being unable to keep track of her medications was causing her to panic. Everything was fine, but this was really the beginning of the delusions.
March 30th – She stopped eating. When she wasn’t in a dream-like state she would often ask me to overdose her. Saying things like, “make the decision”, or “let it be over”
April 2nd – She really began to hallucinate. I don’t know if it was the drugs or nearing the end, or both. She would slip in and out of reality, often waking up and asking random questions. Some questions I would just play along with, but others I would have to tell her she wasn’t making sense. As the sci-fi lover that she was, she referred to the hallucinations/dreams as her “alternate reality”.
April 6th- She stopped drinking and talking and would only moan/grunt, making gestures with her hands occasionally. It would mimic things like texting, cross-stitching, and eating. I even caught her dancing for a second! 🙂
April 8th – She was mostly slumped forward and no longer moving much. The position appeared extremely uncomfortable but she would fight anyone that tried to lay her back.
April 9th- This was my birthday. I brought dinner to the facility and we sat together as a family as our tradition goes. She gifted me the most beautiful birthday present by managing to utter “happy birthday”. I asked for some alone time with her and played some of her favorite Casting Crowns songs that we used to sing at the top our lungs during road trips. I took this time to tell her what an amazing mom she was and thanked her her making me such a strong person.
April 11th- I went to see her after work. She was in a more comfortable position but was moaning with each breath. When I touched her hands they were so hot it was almost uncomfortable to hold. The nurse took her temperature and it read 103. From what I’ve read, it’s quite common (especially in cancer patients) for them to run a fever as they are approaching death. I tried to apply a cold compress to her forehead but she would become distressed after a minute or so. I had read that often people will wait to pass until their family is gone so I decided to give her a night alone. Leaving that night was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I knew there was a possibility that it would be the last time I saw her but I desperately wanted her to be at peace.
April 12th – The hospice nurse called me at 4:00am and said she could no longer read vital signs and that it would likely only be a few hours. I called Gail’s boyfriend and headed to see her. When I arrived, she looked the same as how I had left her the night before. Her breathing was shallow and she still moaned with each breath, except now her hands were cold to the touch. I asked the nurse if she could give her more Morphine around 5:30am and she complied. The moaning stopped. I started to get hungry around 7:00am and was going to leave to grab some breakfast but my husband said he would go. As Gail’s boyfriend and I sat on either side of her, I timed her breaths per minute…7. As 7:30am rolled around I continued to watch her chest until it no longer rose. We sat for a few minutes waiting to see if it would rise again, but it never did. Her lips slowly lost their color and we said our final goodbyes. I made a point not to see them put the sheet over her or put her into the car as that isn’t the last memory I wanted to have of her.
In her final weeks I was reminded of Christ’s final moments on the cross. Even Christ cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me!” when he felt abandoned by His Father and the exhaustion from the suffering his human body had to endure. Despite Gail’s faith and strength she experienced moments of terror and abandonment. There came a time when she was tired of suffering, tired of fighting. She just wanted to be with her Father in peace and I take comfort in knowing that she no longer has to deal with the pain of this world.
I’m sorry this is not the happy ending we all hoped for but your love and support made it so much easier for her. Thank you all for joining her on this journey.