A Best Friend’s Story

I had never really used the word “catastrophic” before —- and now when I heard the doctor use it I had a new understanding of the level of severity of what we were dealing with. I have to tell you – to this day – I hate that word! You see – I thought the day Rexanna called me and told me she had lung cancer that was catastrophic – I would later find out it was just the beginning.

My journal entries…

April 21st – Rexanna called she has lung cancer – I told her I was on my way. I jumped in my car and headed to Austin. The drive there was a blur – I felt like I was in some sort of crazy dream. When I got to Rexanna’s she already had a house full of several of her girlfriends. The goal of the night was to sing, laugh and have fun! Three of Rexanna’s favorite pastimes! Boy did we sing – from Amy Grant to Gospel! And we laughed too!

From my very first conversation with Rexanna we talked about getting a plan, staying focused & positive and having faith in God. Through all the emotional ups and downs we stayed grounded and focused on that as much as we could. We had a special talk, a fired up discussion and she looked at me and said “we can do this – no crying.” So from that point on – we did our best to stay positive and focused and tried to keep our emotions in check. Especially around everyone else – in the quiet times at night we just were emotionally drained and that is when we spoke of our concerns and fears – in the safety of the upstairs room at our house that she affectionately called “her room.”

When Rexanna found out she had cancer she decided that M.D. Anderson was the best and she wanted to fight so we moved her to Houston. Rexanna & I had fun rearranging the upstairs and making it her space. On May 7th she officially moved in and we began the journey.

May 4th – 1st appt. with Dr. Daniel Karp and his PA, Jan at MDA. This was a strange day – surreal almost. We went in with a list of questions to ask, I took so many notes from this meeting but could not spell half the words! It was overwhelming!

May 5th – I started a BLOG for Rexanna – she really missed being in Lake Travis, at work and the kids and friends. I had no idea how the BLOG would impact us both but daily that was our inspiration to read the messages of encouragement aloud to one another. We even went and bought a new Bible so Rexanna could highlight the verses everyone sent her.

May 17th – The first trip for chemo we were in knots! We stayed positive on the outside but had no idea what to expect. Jan, Rexanna & I loaded up early and headed for MDA. I couldn’t help but think usually when the 3 of us loaded up for a trip we were heading to NYC or a great restaurant – something fun. We were trading in a good bottle of wine for an IV drip. It seemed so wrong that we were going so Rexanna could have chemo. On the way we stopped at McDonalds and each got a Happy Meal (we thought that was a good sign) We wanted everything positive and we found ourselves daily looking for signs of affirmation anything to give us HOPE.

May 31st – we went to MDA ER because Rexanna was having shortness of breath – we found out she had clots in her lungs and she would have to begin blood thinner shots. Rexanna and I were so relieved it was “just” blood clots – our way of being positive! Also on this day we shaved off Rexanna’s hair. Her hair was coming out & just like everything else we wanted it to be positive so we went out in the backyard and I shaved her head; while I shaved Rex (my husband) had the yard blower and was creating a wind storm keeping the hair off Rexanna. We just laughed and had fun. She looked incredible! She was really excited & couldn’t wait for everyone to see her. The only thing that bothered her about no hair was she was worried that the twins would be scared of her.

June 1st – MDA taught me how to give Rexanna her shots (these were the blood thinners). I was so scared but Rexanna did not want to give them – I’m not sure if they hurt her or not – but she always told me that I did good. I never did like giving her the shots.

June 2nd – Reality came a little sooner and faster than expected. We got home from the hospital – but now things were different. We had oxygen tanks, syringes, nebulizer breathing kits, and tons of medicine. Not what you should have in your house!

June 4th – It was a fantastic weekend for Rexanna. Lots of company and the twins came to visit. She was so excited! I was so happy that she felt good, was laughing and enjoying herself.

June 7th – News of no chemo. This made Rexanna crazy! She felt that the chemo was the key to her getting healthy and she made herself nuts on trying to be ready and strong enough for the treatments.

June 8th – What a day for Rexanna! She was overwhelmed by the love and support from everyone back at Lake Travis. Mel came and brought pictures, a video message and gifts from everyone. Rexanna got to see first hand the lives she had touched and how much she was loved by everyone. I have never seen her so emotional – she was really happy.

June 11th – Another great weekend with visitors and Rexanna felt good.

June 14th – Chemo day. We always had a huge load of stuff with us when we went to the hospital. We had movies, computer for Blogging, and lots & lots of food. We were always on a mission to find the perfect snack and something that tasted good to Rexanna. The drama for Rexanna in chemo treatments was getting the IV in – it was really hard to find strong veins; once a vein was found we tried to make the rest of the day fun.

June 15th – Rexanna called this her official “pajama day” she was so weak; I was beginning to really worry. I was staying upstairs around the clock now with Rexanna – then around 9:30pm she started getting horrible abdominal pains! It was bad – we tried everything to get them to subside and nothing worked. We were both really scared – but she refused to go back to the hospital. All night she was in the recliner and I was awake at the bed – I was afraid to sleep. I knew Bertha would be awake in the middle of the night working on her classes – so we emailed and texted all night long. This is the first night that it ever entered my mind – the doubts…I wasn’t sure if she was going to make it.

June 16th – still more pain & now no appetite. Rex went to the store for us and bought everything he could think of she might like and that was on our “approved” food list – nothing seemed to work. I was calling Sheri and talking to her – Rexanna was just not good.

June 17th – we went to the ER unit. This is where this story began. Rexanna & I were in an ER room and the doctor came in and said that Rexanna had a “catastrophic” event. She had a perforation in her colin. They could not do surgery so now we needed to see if it could heal on its own. We were reeling – still I don’t think everything sunk in to us – actually not sure we completely understood what he meant by catastrophic. It was a long night – we were up all night in that ER room.

June 18th – Rexanna had been moved to an ICU unit. Sheri (Rexanna’s sister), Patsy (Rexanna’s mom) and I were with Rexanna when the doctor came in. She basically told us they had done all they were going to do. No more treatments, no more anything. I must have asked 50 questions and she just kept saying no – nothing they could do. My mind was racing – it was almost like I was floating above the room watching myself ask all these questions. The doctor kept saying do yall understand? I wanted to scream – understand what? She never said the word dying. But she did tell us that we needed to start calling family and friends and if they wanted to see Rexanna they needed to come before the end of the week. We then went into this little conference room – Sheri, Patsy, family, friends (I really was frozen in a zone of survival so I don’t know who was there.) But I had to tell them what the doctors said. I remember lots of crying and I just walked out and back to Rexanna. The night was horrible. I wanted to be at the hospital with Rexanna. I wanted to make sure she was okay and not alone. Instead I was at my house calling people telling them they needed to get to Houston if they wanted to see her. Our house was crazy – people, family, friends – cell phones going off – everyone in conversations. I felt like I was in a frozen zone. It was taking every ounce of strength controlling my emotions.

June 19th – What a day – we were still in the ICU unit but the visits came constantly throughout the day. I know Rexanna was tired but she loved the visitors – she loved seeing her friends. I just kept thinking – I wonder what is going through her mind. She heard the words – have her family and friends here before the end of the week. Did she still have hope?

June 20th – We were now in the hospice unit. I will never forget this morning as long as I live. It was the worst morning and most special one at the same time. Sheri had asked me to talk to Rexanna about her wishes for when she passed. How do you even start that conversation! I did not want Rexanna to think I had given up hope – I was beside myself. I know God was with me during this conversation because we talked for almost 2 hours – it was like time stood still. Rexanna had been going in and out sleeping – but she was wide awake and alert the entire time we talked. Rexanna told me all she wanted and gave me a checklist of about 10 pgs. of her specific wishes. That was the last time I got to be with Rexanna by myself and talk to her. The last thing she said to me was “I love you – no crying.”

One day while we were watching TV – Oprah quoted Maya Angelo “When you are in the middle of a crisis…the first thing you do is Stop and say Thank You. Because whatever is on the other side is always better.” Rexanna is on the other side and she is definitely better now.

It is hard to explain but those 2 precious months with Rexanna in Houston were the shortest of my life and the longest of my life. I could write pages on everyday and our adventures. Even in the midst of all that was happening Rexanna was always concerned about everyone else, she was worried about others at the hospital who did not have the support she did, she was worried about Sheri & the twins (who would tell them how to survive middles school?), she was worried about her mom (who would take care of her yard?) – she always had a one liner of concern about someone. I kept a list of them all. She was amazing through it all staying strong and positive. She did what she set out to do – she fought a good fight . We kept saying God had a plan – we just didn’t expect His plan to include her dying. I miss her everyday but through this foundation — her memory and wishes will live forever.