Chapter 1 – A Life Changing Experience

Evelyn and Noemi began every morning at Forest Hills Hospital sitting next to Ruth as she wakes us up to another day.  The first several weeks, we would sleep overnight because we were afraid. We’re not sure what we were afraid of.  We just didn’t want to leave Ruth alone for a minute.  The hospital performed so many tests.  We eventually could not even keep up with it.  Dr. Hamdani, who was Ruth’s attending physician would come in 3 times a day to visit with Ruth and the family.  At first, we were enjoying his presence much because he wasn’t giving us good news.  Of course, we know it’s out of his control.  We can now say that he actually became our families best friend.  Every time he came into the room we just didn’t know what to expect next because at first, he talked about finding lesions in Ruth’s upper neck, rib cage, and lower spinal cord.  Then they found out that some type of cancer was metastasizing throughout her body.  He found abnormalities in her blood.  Her kidney was not functioning, therefore they had to put her on dialysis as she was in acute renal failure.  He proceeds to tell us days later that they had found a spot in her pancreas, however they found that it was benign.   They began to perform several other exams such as MRI, Cat Scan, Pet Scan, Bone Biopsy, and a Breast Biopsy.

Thank God for our brother Tony, who was bringing us food, fruits, and bottled water every day because we refused to leave. We were very careful to make sure that our brother was taking care of himself as well. You see, he recently had a triple bypass and soon to have surgery on his leg due to an accident.  We became so overwhelmed with so much medical terminology that we began to shut down.  We just couldn’t take any more bad news.  But we did.  They found a lesion on her left breast with 3 fractures in her vertebrae.  They were talking about radiation or possibly surgery. They also found a lesion on her skull.  We were somewhat relieved when Dr. Hamdani came back days later to say that the origin of her cancer was not breast cancer. The breast biopsy was benign.  We found out that Forest Hills Hospital was consulting with their larger hospital, North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, NY.    This facility has a large Monti Cancer Center and we knew that eventually, they would be transporting her to this hospital.  As they continued to search for answers, they found something in or around her spleen. Every time we spoke with the Physicians they were quite perplexed because so many things were happening all at the same time.  So could you imagine how we were feeling?

I believe by this point we were into mid-May when they confirmed that Ruth had no brain tumor, however, they found in the wall of her skull a spread/lesion. Our other two sisters Mary and Yolanda arrived from Florida with their husbands Abbey and Ben.  They especially came up not only to see our sister Ruth but to give Evelyn and Noemi some relief. Throughout all these results, Ruth was in good spirit.  She was still walking around and we even played games on the laptop. We had so much fun playing “The Price Is Right”, “Wheel of Fortune”, and the best one was “Family Feud”.  It was Ruth and Abbey against Noemi and Mary. Ruth and Abbey kicked their butts. We were surprised that Abbey was killing us with his answers and guess what!  They were the correct answers…..We laughed so hard that they had to tell us to lower our voices because other patients were complaining.

 

One night, our sister Mary decided to stay overnight with Ruth as she was being prepared for further testing the next morning. All Mary remembers was Ruth not feeling well.  She had just finished drinking this contrast liquid for an MRI.  That evening she also had to drink a gallon of this clear liquid which would prepare her for a colonoscopy and endoscopy.  Throughout this night, the nurse came and gave her a pill that would eventually clean her system out.  Within minutes, Ruth became lethargic and her skin color was very pale.  The next thing Mary remembers is that she looked at her with her big brown eyes and said: “I’m not feeling well, I want to go back to bed”.  Mary immediately called the nurse while she watched Ruth’s right hand crippled itself towards her face.  She lost all movement and began to close her eyes. All Mary could do is run out of the room and scream for help.  Our sister Ruth was unconscious and not responding at all.   The nurse ran to Ruth’s room and within seconds she had signaled a rapid response. Approximately, 15 medical personnel came running down the hall to Ruth’s room.  Mary couldn’t even go back to the room.  Truly, all Mary could think of is that her sister was dying and there was nothing that she could do for her.  Mary immediately called our other sister Yolanda not realizing the time, 1:00 a.m.  Mary’s husband Abbey, her sister Yolanda, and our brother in law, Ben rushed back to the hospital.  The medical staff took Mary by the hand and escorted her back to Ruth’s room, where she was laying there saying, it’s ok….don’t worry….I’m ok. All Mary was thinking about is yea right! She is not alright. The nurse was constantly on the phone with Dr. Hamdani and the rest of the medical team.  A neurologist was immediately dispatched to exam her.

You are probably wondering why Mary didn’t call her other two sisters Noemi and Evelyn.  She just couldn’t put them through another horrific night.  We arrived at my Mother’s home around 3:00 a.m. and at 9:00 a.m. that same morning, we were back at the hospital.  A couple of days later, she was taken to North Shore University Hospital for a pet scan.  Dr. Hamdani advised that there was evidence of bone marrow deficiencies and her calcium was high.  They repeated another bone biopsy and bone marrow aspirate.  They found evidence of a rare form of Lymphoma and Leukemia.  At first, they thought it was Myeloma, but later test confirmed positive for A.L.L – Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia B-cell.

Our life changing experience was positive in many ways because “cancer” did alter our views about family, spirituality, work and the future. Don’t get me wrong, cancer isn’t a gift, it just showed us what the gifts in our life are.

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