Give it to me straight how long does my mom have to live?

  1. She is seventy two and a former long term smoker. She went to the doctor for "bronchitis" and he prescribed a round of antibiotics. These failed to resolve her condition and he sent her for a chest x-ray this last Wednesday. It revealed an anomaly near the apex of her left lung. She is to go in for a CT scan next Wednesday, but I suspect the the worst (she has shortness of breath, upper back pain which she has had for some time, and generalized weakness espcially upon exertion). I suspect something like small cell carcinoma with Horner's syndrome. How often do chest X-rays give a false positive for lung cancer? Also, why do you think the doctor hasn't ordered a biopsy or sputum cytology test (she has top of the line medical insurence)? Also, why do you think the doctor hasn't ordered additional antibiotics since she still exhibits signs of respirtory infection (without regard to cancer being present).

    My mom is our primary child care provider for my two year old son and my wife is not keen on the idea of using any other day care provider(We are both full time BSN students making it on part time work and student loans). I'm trying to decide if I should notify school that I will be "suspending" my studies or if I should try to go at least one more semester.
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  2. 12 Comments

  3. by   deespoohbear
    Roland,

    I am not sure if anyone here can answer all your questions about your Mom. I hope all goes well for her and your family.

    I certainly wouldn't put your schooling on hold yet until your Mom has a more definitive diagnosis. Plain chest x-rays can be hard to interrupt sometimes. The doctor probably hasn't ordered a biopsy yet until your Mom has her CT results back and to make sure a biopsy is warranted. You wouldn't want your Mom to go through any unnecessary tests, and especially ones that are uncomfortable. In regards to the antibiotics, your Mom may have chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or COPD that may not be helped by antibiotics. Even your Mom does have top of the line insurance, Medicare will most likely be the 1st payer, then her private insurance. Take one day at a time, and don't make any decisions in haste. Keep us posted.
  4. by   Youda
    Having an aging parent in declining health is so very difficult. I'm so sorry your Mom and your family are having these problems.

    Cancer is the first thing that comes to anyone's mind when there are already high risk factors and symptoms. But, from what you said, a diagnosis hasn't been made, yet. There are several different things which give the same kind of symptoms, so hang in there and don't make any major decisions until the doc finishes his/her workup and you really know what's going on.

    Please keep us up-to-date. We'll keep you and your family in our prayers.
  5. by   Q.
    Hi Roland,

    I think Deespoohbear had an excellent post. The questions you are asking are best answered by a physician. The most any of us can do is speculate, just like yourself.

    There are risks involved with biopsies, etc, so your doc is probably going a more conservative route until it seems necessary to take it a step further. By the sound of things though, I certainly wouldn't put off your studies. Don't make decisions in haste, just wait and see here how this all turns out. It sounds a little early to know for sure.

    I hope everything works out for you and your mom.
  6. by   mario_ragucci
    My mom got cancer in 1992. I asked myself the same question, and did alot of reading to try to find out.

    If i asked the question and a doctor would have said 7 years, 10 months and 23 days, i would have really, really, really cried. My mom went through it all, and the cancer went into remission, but she died anyway in 1999.

    Heh, I remember reading the survival rates and life expectancy data for cancer, mortality rates, and my mom did well. Only 15% lived passed 7 years with that cancer. Life and love sem so endless, its a perception that does end, however. My mom has not spoke to me in almost 4 years and it still hurts.
  7. by   Tweety
    One day at a time.

    I wouldn't be making any big decisions until I had most of the facts from the MD. But I would seriously think about alternative childcare. It could be a funny situation where your child is what keeps granny motivated. But on the other hand with feeling bad, running to doctors, and perhaps hospital stays, chemo, etc. Granny may not be up to the task of the child.

    Time will tell. Best wishes to you and your family.
  8. by   Tweety
    Mario, sorry about your mom. I'm sure there will always be a part of you that will miss her.
  9. by   NurseWeasel
    I was the primary caretaker for both my grandparents who both died of cancer within the past 4 years. Grandpa was first, and boy was I frustrated when nobody would give me an answer as to "how long", clear up to the final few months. I know that loved ones can be gone in an instant for many reasons (accidents, heart attacks, etc), but watching someone suffer you want to know how long it's going to last. I wanted ANSWERS. Guess what? Every patient is different and they couldn't give me one. With Grandma I'd been through it before so I was able to relax a little and just enjoy the gift of however many days / months I was given.

    Some things to consider:

    If you're pretty sure you won't aggressively treat the potentially bad results of a test (cancer, for instance), why do it. It only costs money and is a hassle to the patient. Certain people at certain ages decide it isn't worth the fight any more. That's what both my grandparents decided. They'd lived a good life. They knew they were loved, I knew I was loved. They'd watched many friends go through chemo and radiation and decided it wasn't worth it for them in their situation. Actually, Grandpa did fight fairly aggressively for the first year, but when that wasn't working he finally just said enough was enough.

    If your mom is in bad shape, should she really be keeping track of a 2 year old? Please don't be offended, I'm just saying it's something to consider. I have no way of knowing her current health status or your family's situation. If she IS "that bad", she needs to concentrate on her own health. If she ISN'T that bad, don't put the cart before the horse with a cancer 'sentence' until it is inevitable. It may well be nothing to get worked up over. Anomaly's happen, and they aren't all cancer.

    Have you considered switching doctors or at least getting a second opinion on the current situation? If it was my mom we'd be finding another doctor to address the fact that she's still really sick and not being treated for it.

    I say this with a because a certain person in my family is notorious for this... again, don't take it personally, it's just something to consider. Don't let a little medical knowledge convince you that you know what's going on (and it's never good, lol). It's tempting, I know. But there's a fine line between being proactive in your health care (or that of loved ones) and jumping to conclusions. I think this particular person in MY family has had every life threatening disease known to man. And it only gets worse, the more medical knowledge they obtain, lol.

    You do need to be assertive and make sure that *someone* is paying attention to signs and symptoms, but don't assume it's bad until you're forced to. Take the opportunity to make sure wills are in place and that people's wishes are known (for you and your family as well as your mom and other people). Tell your special people JUST how special they are, every chance you get. One day, you'll run out of opportunities. Make the most of life while you can.

    I wish you and your mom and your family all the best. I send you healing white light and prayers for peace, on wafts of cinnamon incense.
  10. by   mattsmom81
    HUGS ((((Roland))) and I am praying for the best for your Mom...still a chance this may be an empyema or something other than CA but hope for the best, prepare for the worst is my motto too.

    Always good to look ahead (options for childcare or look into LOA's at school) but wait for the scans to make definite plans...they will tell you more. My Mom didn't need a lung bx...the scan was conclusive for CA. Let us know how it turns out...I'm keeping your family in my prayers.

    Lung CA mets to the liver easily...if it's positive in her lungs they will CT the liver. Depending on how invasive and extensive the prognosis will vary.

    My Mom didn't survive her lst bout of chemo with lung CA/liver mets. She lived about 2 weeks from her lst dx of CA.

    My Dad had CA of the bowel with liver mets. He lived 5 years from his dx of colon CA, and 1 year after the dx of liver mets...with chemo.

    It's a rough disease and we'll be hoping for the best for you.
  11. by   bagladyrn
    Roland - Our family has recently been going through a similar situation. My aunt (age 74) was diagnosed with small cell carcinoma. After surgery, chemo and complicated by a heart attack mid tx (but not related to tx), she is now showing NO cancer and is slowly recovering, still in her own home, with family members there daily. I know this is a dark time for you, but wanted to let you know that there can be good outcomes - Hang on to hope!
  12. by   Roland
    1. Until, now my mom has been in nearly perfect health.

    2. She doesn't have a will, and has substancial debt. My wife and I pay $250.00 per month in rent to live at her house (we lost our house when our previous mortgage business folded, this occured shortly after my son was born). If she dies we will likely be homeless unless the home is placed into something like a "living trust"(this is a touchy subject with mom). We are kind of "in a race" for at least ONE of us to graduate from school we just didn't realize that the reaper was so close upon our tail. My wife thinks I should drop out of school and work nights, then watch our child during the day while she is at school (I guess I would sleep when she came home from clinicals before going back to work). I think we should utilize day care until we both graduate, but she believes that day care is tantamount to child abuse (I don't necessarily disagree it's just that I believe that long term poverty might be even worse for our son). We both have 4.0 GPA's with the goal of going on to become CRNA's. I'm thirty three and she is thirty one.

    3. From what I've read on Medline ect, the untreated life expectency for extensive small cell carcinoma can be measured in weeks. Treated it's from eight to ten months on average with maybe 10% making it to two years with the latest protocals.

    4. There are numerous factors affecting prognosis such as whether or not the cancer is "mixed" (non small and small cell) and weight loss at the time of diagnosis. Thus, I would think that a biopsy would be required to FIRST establish if the cancer is small or non small, and then to determine if it is the mixed variety.

    5. I can see holding off on the biopsy but why not get the sputum cytology? From what I've read its relatively inexpensive and has good diagnostic value not to mention low risk to the patient.

    I realize that I'm paranoid about doctors, I just don't trust that they always have what's best for the patient in mind. Unfortunately everyone in my family has always used this doctor (who has survived long term cancer himself ) and my mom would follow him into hell. I espcially believe that with older patients they are more inclined to "let nature take it's course". On the other hand as someone above pointed out, a couple weeks of chemo CAN be more deadly than the disease. I witnessed this when my father died from osteosarcoma at age seventy three. He lived for eight months with no treatment with fairly moderate pain. However, he was dead within three weeks of their last ditch intensive chemo regime.
    Last edit by Roland on Nov 23, '02
  13. by   Sleepyeyes
    Gee roland, it might not be cancer.

    This past year, I had a CT scan that showed lots of tumors in my lungs, and I had a couple of rounds of antibiotics that didn't seem to help my shortness of breath. PET scan was positive for growth. So I thought I had Stage IV cancer.

    Well, biopsy showed I had sarcoidosis. So .... you should be concentrating on getting a diagnosis before you make plans; otherwise, you're wasting energy worrying.

    PS One of my daughters had just started school when I thought I had Ca. I told her to stay in school. So your mom might have something to say about all this too. OK? ((((prayers for your family))))
  14. by   Q.
    Roland,
    There isn't much that can be done until the results of the CT scan are known.

    As far as the rest of your family situation, I think it's wise to think of possible scenarios, but ultimately, you may need another option for child care. I know daycare isn't always the best option, but there are reptuable places around. Does your college campus offer daycare? What about a nanny? If your mother's health is failing I'm not certain placing the burden of childcare on her is entirely fair. I'm also not sure that you working nights and watching your son during the day is good for you either. If one of you HAS to quit school, then whomever is closer to graduating could continue in school, or whomever has the highest earning potential at a job now could work full time. Just some options. But just take one day at a time.

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