Cancer Sucks! I should know... – Bravelets

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Cancer Sucks! I should know...

Posted on January 25 2015

Cancer Sucks!  I should know...
I wrote my story almost a year after my dad passed away and posted it to facebook and then in 2013 I had the privilege to share my story with my mother at our Relay For Life of Oregon Fight Back Ceremony. Here it is again, I hope it inspires you to purchase a Bravelet, support our Relay For Life team and fight back against cancer!

Cancer sucks! I should know….
July 31, 2011 at 3:41pm

It was a year ago this week when my mom stopped over to my home to inform me that my father, James Brower, had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. My first thought was shock, a sort of “Excuse me? Did I just hear you correctly?” moment. Because I was silent she continued with details. My mother explained through her tears that all the tests the doctors had been doing over the last two months to see why he had been so fatigued and in pain was not because of possible heart disease as we first thought, but because multiple tumors had grown and spread from his pancreas to his liver, lungs and lymph nodes. I had questions. What about a transplant? Can they remove the tumors? I didn’t know anything about cancer, in fact, I’d never even heard of Pancreatic Cancer!

For the next four hours I researched on the internet everything I could on Pancreatic Cancer, and what I found was no more reassuring than my mother’s tears:
-Pancreatic cancer is the 10th most commonly diagnosed cancer and the 4th leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

-Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all the major cancers: 94% of patients die within five years of diagnosis and only 6% survive more than five years. 75% of patients with pancreatic cancer die within the first year of diagnosis.

-Unlike many other cancers, the survival rate for the disease has not improved substantially in nearly 40 years. Since 1975, the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer has improved only from 3% to 6%. In fact, pancreatic cancer is the only one of the top 10 cancer killers that still has a five-year survival rate in the single digits.

-It is estimated that 43,140 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010 and that 36,800 will die from the disease.

-The number of new pancreatic cancer cases and the number of deaths caused by the disease are increasing – not decreasing.

-Symptoms include: pain (usually abdominal or back pain), weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), loss of appetite, nausea, changes in stool, and diabetes.

-The disease is often diagnosed in late stages due to the location of the pancreas in the body,the absence of definitive symptoms, and the lack of early detection methods. In fact, 52% of patients are diagnosed when they have advanced (metastatic) disease that has already spread to other organs.

-There are currently no curative treatments for pancreatic cancer. Research in this area is desperately needed.

My father’s doctor was optimistic. He liked my dad’s attitude and personality. He basically told him that it was his job to fight the cancer and my dad’s job to stay healthy. Never the less fear is a strong emotion and we all carried it around with us. My father never showed me his but I knew it was there. He feared for time. My brother has just had a son not nine months ago, my parents’ first grandchild. I was getting married in April, and they were planning to make the trip to Jamaica with us. Plus, there were all these things he felt that he had to do: sell the sail boat and jet skis, gather insurance policies, contact the funeral home. He was a planner and didn’t want to burden my mother or us if things didn’t work out. Imagine it. You’re suppose to be staying positive and having this attitude of “I’ll beat you, Cancer.” but all the while, in the back of your head, you can’t stop thinking about your long list of things you should have done and need to do now.

The chemo didn’t help. Due to some complications he didn’t start his treatments for a couple weeks and when he did the chemo hit him hard. He was tired, but sleepless, weak, but not hungry and in pain all the time. Sometimes, I think he took a lot of his strength just to show that he wasn’t any of these things. We called those good days. But then a couple days later his body would have something to say about that and you could just see our optimism wasn’t enough.

Jared and I agreed to move the wedding up to October and to do it here in town. Honestly, putting together a wedding in two months isn’t as hard as you might think it would be and it definitely gave me hope, like a short goal for my dad to make it too. Does that make sense? It also allowed me to think about something else other then the dread and agony I was suffering from knowing that my unrealistic dream of my father living forever, just wasn't going to happen.

There was a week, maybe a week and a half, when I thought things were going to be okay. I look back now and see how naive I was being. I had one goal in mind. I wanted my daddy to walk me down the aisle and after that I didn’t have any plans or goals. I’m not saying I thought the worst. I just figured the next step would be to get through to the holidays. It was the idea of baby steps that I thought would get us all through this for as long as we could. I think with that mind-frame I wasn't able to see what my dad, mom and maybe everyone else could see. That he was dying and that he probably wouldn't make it the holidays, let alone my wedding.

Labor Day weekend my brother and his family came up to visit. He had decided a week or so ago to use the Christmas present Jared and I had got them, a gift card to JC Penny’s for a photo session. I had bought it with intent that they would use it for pictures of Bryce, my nephew, but instead they wanted to have everyone sit in for a family photo. Looking back I think it was the greatest gift any of us could ask for, because less than a week later my father passed away.

I’m not sure what exactly happen. After the photo shoot my parents went camping and visited with two of their oldest and dearest friends (both Andy and my godparents) and the pictures of that weekend show that my dad was having an amazing time. Then a couple of days later my mom calls me while I’m getting ready for work and says that she’s taking my dad to the hospital because he’d been in a lot of pain since the weekend. I decided to only go to work to get my computer so I could work while at the hospital. When I finally got to the hospital I already knew that he was being admitted and was directed to his room before he and my mom had even got there. When they came in I saw my mother first and her expression was of obvious worry, but then I saw my dad’s face. I thought maybe he was drugged up or something so I cracked a joke about his mouth being open and his staring off at nothing. My mom corrected me, “No, Honey," she said. " That’s how he’s been for now for awhile.” I had never seen him this way. It was a quick reality check that said things are not okay and that its time to fear the worse.

My father’s doctor met with them later that day and explained that the chemo had not been helping and that there was nothing more for them to do. His doctor apologized. Can you believe that? That will always stay with me, a doctor in his line of work, I just assumed they had to learn to turn off that part of their emotions, but he apologized for being unable to do more for my father. And in true Jim Brower form he told his doctor that it wasn’t his fault, that they had an agreement in the beginning, and that it was his body that just couldn’t fight anymore, that couldn’t stay healthy, that could keep its part of the deal.

We took him home that night because that’s where he wanted to be, in his own home, in his own bed and around his friends and family. It was my mother, the RN that cared for my father around the clock and Hospice was there to assist with anything we needed, anytime we needed it. We called my brother to come home and my father’s sister. Then we called friends and other family members and then they called other friends and family members and so on and so on. These wonderfully amazing people sent cards, called, visited and brought us food, all with the message of love and prayers for my father and support to the rest of us.

The day my father passed away was unexpected, and while I’m not ready to write all the words to describe it I can say that we were all there, with him, and it was scary, emotional and perfect. My father’s family, my mom, brother, aunt and I, surrounded him talking to him and sharing our love while he passed on to a new beginning, one where he gets to be with his parents and best friend and watch over us, guide us and protect us.

I know in my heart this is true because I use to have a fear of death and soon after my father died that fear just evaporated. I think it’s because I now know that when I die I’ll see him again and that is extremely comforting. Also because I know that when I die I will still be able to look over the ones I will have left behind on earth.

Jared and I still kept the wedding date we had moved it too, and were married on a gorgeous October afternoon at Olander Park in Sylvania, Ohio. After the ceremony our photographer took us down to the lake because the water had receded and she thought a few pictures on the beach would still look like we had gone to Jamaica. While we walked the shoreline I noticed a small sail boat on the lake and as it sailed closer to us I took it as a sign and that my father had been there with us the entire time. I look for these signs on occasion. They’re reassuring, comforting to me. It’s how I know he’s with me and one day we’ll see each other again.

I decided to write "My Story" because in the aftermath of my father's death I've gone through a lot. One of those things was deleting many people from my facebook page. At the time I wasn't comfortable with the idea of close friends and family posting sentiments on my page and other not-so-close-of friends knowing my father's and family's business. In February, though, that changed. Right here on facebook I received a message from one of Clay High School's alumni pages promoting The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life in Oregon. I did a little research on the organization and the event and then had one more of those "WHOO" moments when I read that the American Cancer Society is the "proud sponsor of birthdays" and that that particular day was in fact my father's birthday! I immediately signed up to be a part of the Relay for Life in Oregon and created a team page, called TEAM BROWER. From there I recruited 32 team members of friends and family. People who knew my father, loved him and wanted to show their support in the fight against cancer joined the team and traveled from all over to take turns in walking an 18 hour relay at Clay High School's track starting Saturday, May 21 at 1:00pm up through closing ceremonies the next morning at 7am.

It was exhausting, wet, emotional and the BEST FEELING EVER! I could just keep writing and writing about my first Relay for Life but what I would rather do is tell this part of my story to all of you in personal.

For this year's Relay for Life of Oregon I decided to join the committee and I'm asking all of you who took the time to read this to assist me with the following:

If you belong to a church group, have a child on a sports team or part of an after-school group; if you own or operate a local Oregon business or know someone who does please speak with them or contact me so that I might offer a presentation on what Relay for Life of Oregon is and why we, the committee, would absolutely love for them to join the event or volunteer committees , support us with donations or become a sponsor and create a team to come out and help our community celebrate those who have won their battle, remember those who lost their fight and fight back in honor and in memory of all who have been affected by this treacherous disease.

I truly hope to hear from you all and thank you for your time.


Erica Brower-McElmurry


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