Posted by: Ken Wheatley | September 12, 2009

Broken Record: More Bad News

You just never know when it’ll strike.

Willard called this morning around 6:30 to check on how Sheila was doing, and then I got more text messages from some friends. When I first woke up to Willard’s call I found myself sprawled out diagonally on the king-sized bed with my head on the pillow Sheila had used the night before.

There were dull gray shafts of light that slipped into the room letting me know that it was early, just not how early. And other than the airconditioner, there weren’t any other sounds in the room.

I got up and looked past the shades and saw that the marine layer had cast its usual somber blanket over the sun. The surf was unusually big and pounded the shore with repeated booms.

I turned back to face the semi-darkened rooms trying to decide what to do. I really knew what I had to do. I just didn’t want to do it. Pack.

Last night that didn’t seem like such a big deal. But now it felt like a very heavy task. Something definitely worth procrastinating over. As bizarre as it sounds, I never had to do this. Pack up Sheila’s stuff and put it away in her bags. We were only going to be there for 4 days, so we clearly didn’t have that much stuff. Sheila is a light packer. She had one bag, some toiletries and some clothes hanging in the closet. But it still took me 3 hours to do it.

I started in the bathroom and had to stop after packing her toothbrush, perfume, earrings, and make-up. I was suddenly struck with a deep sense of despair and sadness. I needed a break.

I went outside on the patio and sat in the lounge chair Sheila had occupied the day before. It’s the one on the right side. The green and white stripped towels I had laid over the cushions for her were still in place. I wanted to be where she had been. I sat for awhile and read the paper and watched other couples walking by, runners with their dog, families with their baby strollers, and the breaking surf.

This cycle went on for the rest of the morning until I finally had to check-out. I ran into Patty, the concierge who had been so helpful and empathetic. She gave me a hug and told me how sorry she was that Sheila hadn’t been able to stay.

Shortly after I got to the hospital at 1pm, Dr. B showed up unexpectedly. She asked Sheila a bunch of questions, but I could tell from her body language and how she had just launched into the questioning phase without any of the usual niceties that something was wrong.

In short order Dr. B looked at us and said that she had reviewed the latest CT scans while at home this morning and based on the findings she felt she had to come in and talk with us.

The tumors in both lungs have grown and morphed into a kind of film that’s now blocking at least a third of her lungs. So that’s why she’s struggling to breathe. The “film” is blocking oxygen transfer.

The cancer has also spread to her liver. There are several tumor sites that weren’t there a few weeks ago. Some time ago Dr. B had mentioned seeing dark shading in the liver, but at the time it wasn’t anything she was concerned about. During Sheila’s 13 day hospital stay it was speculated that her liver might be the source of the side pain she was dealing with, but they ruled it out at the time.

It’s apparent that the Alimta she started three weeks ago isn’t working. But we knew there was only a 10 percent chance it would. We always hold out for those small odds. So Sheila didn’t get chemo today like she was scheduled.

There is one more drug, the last one in short list of drug options, that they can try and they’ll start that tomorrow. But it has an even lower percentage of effectiveness than Alimta, so clearly we’re not expecting it to do much.

So the bad news is the prognosis. Assuming this last drug doesn’t work, there’s nothing left to do. No more trials. No other drugs on the horizon. Just palliative care. Treating the pain, not trying to cure anymore. Dr. B thinks Sheila has about 2 months at the most. Surprisingly, Sheila was unemotional when she heard the news. Almost blase. I was more upset. After Dr. B left, Sheila was her usual smiley, affectionate self.

Things were going along okay today otherwise. She only barfed once this afternoon. Her oxygen level was holding steady in the mid-nineties. Then tonight after 8pm her oxygen saturation level plunged into the 70’s and might have gone lower if they didn’t immediately change out her oxygen tube for a mask that delivers a higher volume of oxygen. If she removes the mask her level drops within seconds. And her heart rate is oscillating between 115 and 130. Her heart is working overtime to compensate for the reduced lung capacity.

So they took a chest x-ray and the internal medicine doc is concerned that the pneumonia or infection (they don’t know what she has) must have taken a hard turn due to the sudden drop in her oxygen level.  He’s adding two more antibiotics to combat what infection/pneumonia she has. So that’ll be four antibiotics she’ll be taking. I didn’t know you could do that.

And we’re waiting on something else to address the ulcers that have developed on the roof of her mouth.

Because her pain level is an 8 out of 10 they’ve given her a morphine IV that she can self-administer every 10 minutes.

It’s going to be another long night.



  1. We don’t know what to say at a time like this but just know Marlene and I keep you both in our prayers.

  2. Me too, Ken. My heart breaks for you both. But, I keep hoping for a miracle.

  3. I too don’t have the words…only prayers.
    We too love Sheila very, very much.

  4. Hi Dad,

    Just wanted to send bigs hugs to you both, I wish so much that I could be there with you. I’ll check in with you tomorrow. Love you…

  5. Thank you for letting us share this most precious time.
    Caylynn and Hallie

  6. Ken, I send you so many hugs, and all my love, and prayers for her comfort and peace. I can’t even imagine what you are feeling right now…

  7. Ken, all I can say is I’m so very sorry. It was an honor to know Sheila and it was a pleasure to meet you the other day in the emergency room. We wish you many years of good health.

    Charlie & Maha

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