May 31, 2016

Missing Mom

I'm sure it has something to do with Memorial Day being yesterday and my cancer treatment today,  I am missing my mom terribly.  I never wrote anything down the week my mom died. I never wanted to revisit the craziness of that time. Now, feelings are fading and I am wanting to put on paper the events of that week. I want my children to be able to read about the last few days I spent with my mother. I want them to know how much I counted on them and how many things fell into place during such a hard time.

I only wish I had written down sooner.

DEC 12, 2014

I got a text from my sister Kate. "Did Mom leave you a message? I couldn't understand what she was saying/"

The second I saw it, I knew she had had a stroke. (It is one of the symptoms.) I was still in my pajamas. Emmie just happened to be home from school that day so she stayed with Hazel. I put slippers on and walked out the door.

I wasn't really sure where to go but I was driving to my Mom's house. I called her. She answered the phone and from what I could tell, she thought she was making complete sense. She wasn't. Still no idea where she was. (She should have been at work.) I called my friend Michel. She was calming and told me to start at my mom's. Michel then called Orem Police and sent them to my mom's house as well. The police and I arrived at the same time. I walked in and my mom was sitting on the couch with a sweat shirt and shoes on, like she was all ready to go.

When she saw the EMT walk in behind me, my mom gave me a look of total betrayal. I should be happy that I couldn't understand what she was saying. She would have to go in the ambulance and part of me was relieved. I could never have gotten her down the stairs of her condo. Robin, however, was furious. She wanted us to take her. Kate got to my mom's and we rode together to the hospital. My mom was taken to UVRMC in Provo. As usual, Kate drove.

The next few hours were exhausting. Doctors wanted my mom to stay down. She wanted to sit up. They did scans. Her communication was getting worse. She tried to tell us something and couldn't. She tried to write what she was trying to say but couldn't. Her right arm wouldn't work. In frustration she threw the pen and laid back. That would be one of the last times she tried to speak to us.

The ER Doc finally came in and told us she had suffered a stroke but it had happened long enough before that that there was nothing they could do.  At that point, they had to admit her to the 7th floor and watch her. She would start physical and speech therapy later that day. We would just have to wait and see if her speech came back. Once she was all settled in, Kate and I ran home to shower.

When Kate and I got back to the hospital, it was clear the my mom was going down hill. The weakness in her right side was getting worse and coherently, she wasn't all there.  Mom kept having to go to the bathroom. I finally stopped helping her and had the nurses come because I wanted them to know how bad it was getting. I hate to say the were bad nurses, but they were. Each time she got up to go we noticed her right side getting weaker and weaker. I watched her chew a fish oil vitamin, almost pull the nurse over with her because she had to go potty, and almost choke on a crown the nurses bumped out when they were trying to suction her mouth because she was vomiting. Finally, at about 2 am, they took her for another scan. This time a Doctor came and said that her brain had continued bleeding after the stroke. They admitted her to the ICU and there, she slept. Once in the ICU Kate and I ran home to sleep. We got home around 4:30 am and went back to the hospital first thing in the morning. Neither of us slept well. I remember telling Tim I wasn't sure if she was going to live.

DEC 13,2014

On our way to the hospital Saturday, Kate and I went by my mom's house to grab bills so we could keep her caught up. It was so sad. Obviously she had thought it would be an ordinary day. She got up to go to work and never made it.

Mom was awake when  Kate and I walked into her room.  Her eyes lit up.  She was excited to see us. She had so many tubes in her and she still couldn't talk (she didn't even try to talk), but we knew she was happy when we got there. This was big. She had mostly been out of it the night before. We were still thinking that she was going to recover. She would spend quite some time in a rehab center but certainly she would come home. We missed the Doctor that morning but she was alert and definitely knew us.  A step in the right direction.

Tim and Jaxson came and gave her a blessing. At the time I thought watching that would be one of the hardest things I saw during this time. It wasn't. But hard to believe. I watched as Jaxson and Tim walked into the room. Tim was awesome as always. Jaxson couldn't even look at her. I knew it was only because he loved her and hated seeing her in pain.  It broke my heart as I watched my mom watching him.  I'm not sure I could have handled seeing my Grandmother in the same situation. I knew Jaxson was hurting for her. He held her hand and her eyes bore into him. She looked terrible.  She loved him and hated having him see her like that. We stayed late into the night. We left her for a little while Saturday night to get some sleep. Again, I didn't sleep well.

DECEMBER 14, 2014

I honestly don't remember getting there Sunday morning. I know we went early so we wouldn't miss the Doctor.  It just so happened the the ICU Doc that morning was a man who lived on my street. He had Kate, Jason and I come out to the computer and showed us a scan of my mom's head. The stroke/bleeding had damaged her brain.  Finally, one of us asked what he would do. His words were, "If my wife kept me alive in that condition we would have words in the next life." Wow. That was the first time we realized she wasn't going to make it.  Somehow, the paper work with her DNR did not make it to the ICU staff. She didn't want life saving measures taken but the Dr. suggested that if they put a feeding tube in, they would be able to see if she would improve at all. We were hoping.   When they put the feeding tube in, she was not happy. Kate was her power of attorney and my mom made it very clear that she was furious. The second she gave us "the look," we knew it was wrong. To be honest, we knew before but letting go was so hard.  We walked out and chatted about it. We walked back in and I looked her in the eyes and said, "Do you want me to take you home?" She nodded and unequivocal, "yes." Kate called my sister in Cali and told her to get on her way.  Mom's health deteriorated even with the feeding tube.  Kate and I feared that she wouldn't make it through the night.

She finally said we could let the kids come.  She tried to talk to them. Lifted her arm even to touch Hazel (who was scared to death and would not let my mom touch her).  Only two kids could come back at a time but Jax stayed with her between visits. He was so strong and talked to her and loved her each time kids swapped in and out.  She laughed and smiled for the girls. Those few minutes were so tender.  Not to mention heart wrenching.

I had been saying I would take her home Tuesday or Wednesday as we had preparations to make. That was complete truth. BUT, there was a side of me that was scared.  I wanted to keep my promise but I was scared.  Scared of taking care of her and scared of watching her die.  As, I was walking her out Morgan looked at me and said, "Mom, get her out of here. She HATES it here."  Which I knew. But when Morgan said it, I was forced into action.

My friend Michel's husband is a Doctor and runs a hospice. They gave me a number and said to call. Reluctantly, I called. She would be there to meet me first thing in the morning.  We ran home to shower while Jason was there and came back to stay with her through the night.

DECEMBER 15, 2014

Cami the hospice nurse met with all four of us kids early Monday morning. She was amazing and I would refer to her until well after my mom's passing as, "my best friend." She was perfect and just what I needed. I was still saying maybe Wednesday, if mom made it. Cami called me on my procrastination. Why? Why would we wait? Really at this point I was just trying to pretend it wasn't happening. Funny that there was no way to deny, but I was going to give it a try.

We went in to the Dr. and said we wanted everything turned off we were going to take her home. This was one of the things I will never forget and will probably haunt me for the rest of my life. Her eyes. My mom was scared to death when they came to turn everything off. She wanted it and I just assumed that she was ready to go. But the terror, I am sure of the unknown, when they starting unhooking her hurt my heart.

My mom was transported to my house in an ambulance. I had called Tim and he and Scott emptied out our dinning room and Hospice came and set the room up with a hospital bed and all the equipment that was needed.  We told extended family what was going on and got her all set up. This was one of those times when I felt so much love for my family.  Everyone chipped in and helped however they could.  Kate's friends  set us up with the best food and so many people came to say good bye to my mom. We were given instructions and medications and a few tips to keep her comfortable. It was so overwhelming. It was also harder than I thought.

A few times I was so overwhelmed with dosing. Cami showed up right at the right time.  I absolutely adored witnessing so many good byes. It was a beautiful day of love and support. A couple of highlights:

               *Morgan read the Littlest Angel and all the grandkids sat with mom and listened.

               *We were supposed to wet her gums and lips to keep them moist. One time we did it with diet coke and the second it hit her tummy she smiled.

               *When she heard her cousin Dave's voice she lit up. There was no doubt that she loved him. I may, or may not have lost it on him. I knew he was the one person who could tell me I had done the right thing.  And, he did.

                *She used to give this little old lady named Elayne a ride to church. They were good friends. Elayne couldn't get over here so she asked if she could say goodbye on the phone. Elayne said said a tearful goodbye. She wished she was going instead of my mom.

                 *It was so good for us kids and our kids to see so many people love my mom and to see her as a friend, cousin, teacher etc. to so many.  For sure one of my favorite memories.

                  *I want to always remember how my little family was during this time. Everyone helped. If I just looked at any of the kids, help was offered.

                   *All of the kids spent time holding Mom's hand and talking to her.

I remember thinking Morgan was crazy for taking pictures while my mom was in our house.  Now I cherish each one.

After everyone left we couldn't get her comfortable. We tried everything. That was the worst part. We  agreed to take shifts since no one had slept the night before. I remember feeling like a failure. I wanted to take her pain but I also didn't want her to go.

December 26, 2014

Hospice came in the early morning hours.  Mom wouldn't wake up and it was confirmed that she was working hard to "go." She didn't leave us until mid-afternoon. We ready the Littlest Angel,  sang a song or two, Hazel finally gave her a hug and then she was gone. As I said, she was in our dining room.  It was so hot in there. I can't even describe the heat. After she was gone, while her body still lay there, the room was so cold. After the funeral home came and took her body, mom's cousin Lexianne was there on the porch. I remember being so happy because I did not like being the adult. I never spoke to her that day. I just saw her and knew that mom was making sure I was watched over.

My mom drove me crazy sometimes.  I hated some of the decisions that she made. I was still mad for some things done/not done in my childhood.  Here's the beautiful thing. In the end we were square. I learned to care for and love her in a way I didn't know I could and she knew it. I am grateful that her last memory of me was my only wanting her to be comfortable.

I have said it before and I will say it again. For what it was, it was good. Everything fell into place. I felt a strength that I didn't know I had as we went through each day.

Miss you Mom

May 17, 2016

So in the end. All cancer is bad.

This is an actual quote,"If you have to have cancer, skin cancer is the kind to get," I would prefer to not have cancer but this is what I thought too. I suppose there is some truth to this statement. There are skin cancers that can be cut out that don't spread below the skin. However, I have nodular Melanoma which is very aggressive and does spread to other places in your body.

In January I noticed something on my back. It was roughly the size of a penny. It was located on my lower back and I couldn't really get a good look at it. My first thought was that I had a bug on my back. I called Ryanne in to investigate. Her response was, "That's disgusting. Get it taken off." I called my Dr's office and the Dermatologist. The Dr's office had an appointment first so I took it and wanted a dermatologist to do a full body skin check.

As soon as I showed our Doctor he knew it was a Melanoma and said it had to be removed that day. I was leaving for Hawaii and asked if it could be done when I got back. The answer was no and I was told to be back for the procedure that afternoon. This was on a Tuesday. The Dr. called Friday. It was cancer. Dr. Corry looked at me and said, "Kari, its serious." I was thinking, "Okay, just cut it out." Tim and I left for Hawaii Saturday and tried to enjoy our trip. It was fun but I had cancer looming over my head. From there, life got a little crazy.

Dr. Corry got me into a great Doctor up at the Huntsman Center.
The next week they took larger margins on my back and removed a few lymph nodes.
The next day they called to tell me that unfortunately it was in a lymph node.
The next week they removed all the lymph nodes from my left arm pit.
We did find out that it hadn't spread to more lymph nodes which was really good news.
During this time I also had full body CT scans and a brain MRI. No apparent cancer. Again, good news.

I started immunotherapy two weeks ago and will continue it for 2 years. I won't lie its not fun but I feel okay. Mostly tired and achey. What neither Tim or I understood is that there really isn't a cure for Melanoma. We sat across from a Doctor that said,  "If it comes back we will keep her comfortable but that is a totally different conversation." So I guess my point is GO GET YOUR SKIN CHECKED. Melanoma is serious and if it spreads it is bad news!!

I have a little side note I would like to go off on for just a second.
All the support, prayers, love, and happy thoughts I have received have made me feel more grateful then I can put in to words. Although I am living with cancer, my entire life is not cancer. I still have a beautiful four year old who has swim and dance lessons. Two wonderful girls in junior high and high school who have everyday events. A husband who is still my very best friend. A daughter home from college who loves to stay busy, and another daughter busier than ever working in Las Vegas. And finally my sweet boy just got married. I am not listing all these things in my crazy life in order to silently scream a cry for help. My goal while stating my every day life activities is to inform friends and family alike that while the concern for my health is beyond appreciated, it is not the only important subject. Asking my high schooler how cheer is going is just as important as asking her about my treatment. We adore your concern, but sometimes (speaking for each family member) we would like to run to the nearby Walmart real quick without have to explain the gory details of my cancer. Simply just saying hi with a quick, "always thinking about you guys," is the sweetest of ways to comfort us in this time. Without sounding inconsiderate of everyones love, from the Hellbusch family, we would like to say we love you all and we love talking to family and friends about not just cancer, but our everyday lives as well.

May 13, 2016

That's A Wrap!!

So, yesterday I photographed my last wedding. It seems so surreal. What started out as a part time hobby really ended up being a full time job. I had thought about cutting back a little over the last couple of years, I just never got around to doing it. It's sad to be done for health reasons. It's nice to be going out on a "high" note. Business has been great, I have worked with the best people, and I have learned so many things over the last seven years.

Working with this couple and Brady's family was so fun. The fact that they were the last wedding I will do only made it more memorable. I am so grateful for "TreasureLayne Photography and the person it has helped me to become. Now to take care of my body and spend time with my family!