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Remembering my mother after renal cell carcinoma

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junemother.JPGBy June Stokes

June Stokes was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in April 2000. She was told she had 12-18 months to live. June has been cancer free for 11 years, and hopes her experience will offer comfort and peace to those who are beginning their journey with (or after) a diagnosis of cancer.

On Oct. 3, 1988, my mother Ruby Mae Laird McArthur celebrated her 80th birthday. She was short in stature, had the prettiest white wavy hair and enormous soft brown eyes.

She never spoke unkindly about anyone; she always looked for and found the good in people.

About three weeks after her birthday, she was standing by the sink and suddenly leaned on the kitchen cabinet to keep from falling to the floor. "I'll be fine, it is just one of my 'weak spells.'" she said.

Mom was reluctant to go to the clinic in Lecompte, La. "I don't want to bother the doctors," she said. I insisted that she needed to let her physician, John Luke M.D., examine her.

After we arrived, I watched as Dr. Luke examined her abdomen. When he put some pressure on her left side she screamed in pain. Dr. Luke looked at me and said she had a mass on her left kidney.

He asked us to come back the next morning to let David Carlton M.D., see her. 

After Dr. Carlton examined her, he told my dad and I she had a mass the size of a grapefruit on her left kidney and it was causing her "weak spells."

After the CT scan, she was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma on Oct. 26, 1988.

Her urologist, Leo Lowentritt M.D., said surgery and chemotherapy would not accomplish anything.

I asked him what he would do in our situation. Dr. Lowentritt said, "For her sake, keeping her pain free would be the best option."

With this treatment plan, he said my mother would live about three months.

If my mother were younger we would have gone all over the United States to find a place where she could be healed. It was not meant to be.

She was in the hospital for four days that October. After she came home, I drove to Glenmora (a town in Louisiana) every evening after work, and stayed on the weekends.

My family and I took turns spending the night so she could be comfortable, and a sitter took care of her during the day.

Bringing church to her

Throughout her life my mother was active with United Methodist Women and never missed a Sunday going to church.

She always said the week started off right if you could spend Sunday in church. But, by the time Sunday morning came, she was always too weak. This realization was painful for her and that broke my heart.

On Saturday evenings, we would sit in the swing on the back porch, and she would look wistfully over the yard saying, "Well, I don't believe I will make it to church tomorrow but maybe next Sunday."
 
In late November, my sister-in-law who lived in Alexandria, La. -- but was moving to Houston -- had a garage sale.

I discovered a small record player and an album of old hymns.

I took the music and record player to Glenmora, and I plugged it in near the couch where Mama stayed most of the time.  

She smiled and sang along because she knew all the words to each hymn. Her face was beaming and she looked so peaceful. 

"June, I couldn't go to church, but the church came to me," she said.  "Now, I can listen to my favorite hymns. It's like having church every day, not just on Sunday."

Her final days

With our entire family at her bedside in the hospital room, she passed away peacefully on Jan. 20, 1989.  A radiant angel had gone home to be with her Savior.

Though our grief was unbelievable, we knew it was time. She had lived almost three months, the amount of time Dr. Lowentritt had said in her prognosis. 

All of us believed and thank God for the 86 days she lived after her diagnosis

He had indeed been merciful.

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