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This summer was the best and worst of my life

by Olivia Rocha

 

Oliva and Grandpa

William John Groulx
November 25, 1952 - May 19, 2018

February 2018: I am a first-year health science student that has survived her first semester of university. This year, has thus far, been the most stressful experience yet. New school, new house, new city, and new friends. A new way of life. However, I didn’t know yet just how much my life was about to change.

One afternoon I was at home, or rather the house I then had to call home, when I received a phone call. To my surprise, it was my mom. I answered, excited to hear from her and to hear how my family was doing at home. Unfortunately, she wasn’t as excited as I was for this phone call. I heard hesitation and fear in her voice. She updated me on the outcome of my grandpa’s doctor’s appointment. At this time, he was just getting over having pneumonia. However, his symptoms were not getting better, but actually worse. At this appointment, he was given the results of his chest x-ray and abdominal ultrasound taken 2 weeks prior. His doctor revealed the discovery of a large mass located just above his left kidney. At this point, his doctor said more testing will be required in order to clarify specific details of the mass. A few weeks went by and the results from the other tests were in. The mass was continuing to grow and at a rapid rate.

March 6, 2018, my grandpa was scheduled for surgery to remove the mysterious mass. Doctors remained unsure as to the extent of the mass and were unable to predict the outcome of the surgery. Seven hours and thirty-seven minutes after I hugged him and said “good luck” as part of a potential final goodbye, I finally saw his name listed under recovery. He was out of surgery and had lived to tell the story. A 65-year-old, 50-year pack-a-day smoker with many health conditions, including Emphysema, survived over seven hours under anaesthetic. All I could think of was how miraculous that was. When I finally saw him, I was so happy and he, with tears in his eyes, was astounded that he came out of the surgery alive. However, despite the increasing happiness in the room, his surgeons were not smiling with us. We were told that the mass was more aggressive than they had hoped for. The surgery ended up being extremely difficult and meticulous. They removed the mass and its macroscopic entirety. With it, they had to remove his left kidney, left adrenal gland, spleen, left half of his diaphragm and all surrounding tissue. They continued to say things like, “We cannot guarantee he is microscopically clear”, “He is lucky to be alive”, “We do not have the pathology results in yet” and more things that were hope-suppressing. For the next six weeks, he went on to recover well and start to feel back to normal. We, as a family, were finally starting to see the light at the end of this dark tunnel.

April 20, 2018, the night before my final exam of the semester, my grandpa was taken to the hospital by my mom as he was coughing up blood, experiencing shortness of breath and was in severe pain. They ran every possible test and by looking at the surgeon’s face, she knew the news was bad. Six weeks ago, nothing could take away the fact that he was alive, recovering well and getting back to normal. Nothing. Nothing, except for the pathology results. Six weeks ago, all of the macroscopic evidence of the previous mass was removed. Six weeks later, there were masses on his right kidney, right adrenal gland, lungs, heart, spine and the remaining half of his diaphragm. The diagnosis: Metastatic Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma (A.C.C), Stage 3. The prognosis: terminal. This specific type of cancer was like no other. In addition to A.C.C being one of the rarest types of cancer, it is also one of the most aggressive, incurable, and has one of the lowest rates of survival. We were then told to begin preparing ourselves and start making arrangements as they gave him, at most, two months to live.

April 21, 2018, after having been up all night without being able to concentrate on studying, I was determined to pull myself together. I crammed for 3 hours straight that morning and I wrote my final exam. I was determined to do well and to do well for him. It was the best exam I wrote all year. As soon as that exam was finished, I gathered some of my things from my aunt’s house where I now lived and went home. From that day on, I spent all the time I could with him. I stayed with him every day in the hospital. We talked, played cards, watched T.V., ate lunch and so much more together. I helped him in any way I could. For two weeks, I would wake up every day, carpool with my mom as she worked nearby, and stay at the hospital until she came to pick me up. By this time, my grandma, who lives in Sudbury to take care of her eldest sister, had come home too. We both would go together and spend the day with him and we had a blast. I felt almost like a child again having been able to spend so much priceless time with the both of them.

After the two weeks of this daily routine, he was able to be discharged and we brought him home. We had all the necessary hospital equipment shipped to our house. We set up his room similar to the one in the hospital and began palliative care at home. My grandmother and I were his primary caregivers during this time, as my parents worked full-time and my sister was only eleven. We had help from some Nurses, Supportive Care Workers and many other health care professionals a couple times a week. My family was the biggest support. We all were going through this together, we all stayed strong together, and we all fought this battle together. Together, we all stood by the man who always stood by us. Together, we were there for him, as then he needed to depend on us. While he was home, we, as a family, did everything we could to help him be comfortable and know that he was not alone.

As time went on, his functionality and quality of life decreased rapidly. He went from doing everything on his own to needing everything done for him. Closer to the end, he became paralyzed on his left side and was unable to walk. He started being unable to eat and slept most of the time. I noticed his personality slowly drifting away and the loss of him continuing to creep up on us. He did not want to play cards, he did not want to talk, my jokes were no longer funny, and nothing made him smile. He was home for only two short weeks, and through that short period of time, the man I knew my entire life, my rock, my best friend, and my biggest fan, was now gone.

May 19, 2018, at 3:47 p.m, William John Groulx passed away at home with those who mattered to him most by his side. It was this day that my mom, dad, younger sister, aunt, grandma and myself, lost a person that could never be replaced; a man that could never be forgotten, for his strength and courage still amazes me. Even when given an impending death sentence, he was determined to fight and to live. When it came to the end, he was surrounded by what mattered most to him: his family. He was at home, the place he loved the most. He always lived to the fullest and regretted nothing. He will forever be missed and loved.

Hearing news like my grandpa’s diagnoses or losing someone important in your life is devastating at any time, let alone during the exam season. News like that of my grandpas can contribute even more to stress and concern. I found courage in knowing that my grandpa would want me to do my best and work hard to achieve my academic goals, regardless of the situation. Finding support in close family also helped me through the exam season and through the journey that was ahead.

I have shared the story of our battle against cancer, not because we lost, but because of our bravery, strength and determination. In the end, we won. When tragedy struck, we were fearless, and we persevered. Though he has passed on, my life and those of my family continue. I hope to inspire those who are hurting to not give up, don’t lose hope, and stay determined. Once the worst has happened, you can do anything. Never stop fighting.

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, Love leaves a memory no one can steal” 
- Irish Tombstone