Links to Colon Cancer Sites

And Testimonial From Caregiver

by Laura Kidder

Martha Ellington

12/24/36 - 4/10/01

    I love clichés, but my least favorite is the one about the ostrich sticking his head in the sand, because I have lots of painful, personal experience with it.  We all make mistakes during life and usually have chances to redeem ourselves, or have second or third chances to make the mistake right.  My mother, the ostrich, made a serious mistake and sadly, paid for it with her life.  I am writing this to encourage others to take all precautions with the fragile, precious commodity we sometimes take for granted:  Our health.

    When Mom began showing some of the symptoms of colon cancer, she tried to put the blame on more innocuous causes, such as hemorrhoids, or something she ate.  She even hid her problems from her doctor and me, and used the excuse that she was afraid she would find out something bad, and didn’t want to know if she had cancer.  Since she was not getting better, and in fact, began to show signs of anemia, I insisted that she let me take her to her doctor so that I could question him myself.  After he examined her, I was astounded to see him scribbling a prescription for antibiotics and advising her to go home, drink plenty of fluids and consume the course of penicillin.  I took him by the elbow, ushered him out in to the hall and told him to go back and take another look at her – there was no way a 10th or 11th round of antibiotics was going to heal her if they hadn’t already.  By the time she finally confessed to the doctor her true symptoms, the cancer was advanced, and he sent us immediately to the cancer hospital in Houston.  She was admitted that night and taken to surgery the next morning for tumor removal and a colostomy.  

    For the next year, Mom dealt with the awful, horrible problems associated with a colostomy bag, and no longer felt comfortable swimming or sitting in a hot tub.  Mom had always been an outdoors person and loved to ride horses, work in the garden, water ski, barbeque, swim and play basketball.  Now she had to adjust to a completely different, stagnant lifestyle.  She endured rounds of nauseating chemotherapy and so many needles that I wanted to cry just watching her suffer while being pricked repeatedly, and the nurses found it increasingly harder to get into her veins.  The tumors got worse and she wound up having to drag a tube and bag around which was inserted through her back, into her kidney, for many, many months.  The worst part of it all was not just the endless pain caused by the growing cancerous tumors in her abdomen and colon, but the loss of her quality of life.  She lived in my house with me and my kids, and every morning we got up tense, dreading bad news, but desperately hoping for a report that today, she felt human.  Mom would have four bad days and three good ones, with the bad ones gradually outnumbering the good completely.  She had to be hospitalized several times, and sometimes for as long as 18 days at a stretch.  Depression set in because it seemed obvious to her that she had nothing to live for, although she fiercely refused to believe that the cancer was NOT going to kill her.  Because of the depression, I tried not to cry in front of her, but some days were tough!

    One beautiful spring day, Mom decided she might be able to eat if I drove to the local Chinese food restaurant and picked up some soup for her.  I was eager to get her to eat, because she had lost so much weight that she no longer looked like herself and in fact, resembled a scary skeleton.  I drove to the pharmacy and walked in the front door to pick up her numerous prescriptions, and I had to walk by a beautiful Easter display.  I was barely able to pay for her drugs before I had to literally run out of the store, gushing tears, recalling that my mother loved to buy  beautiful flowers, candy and kids’ Easter baskets for her friends and family, and knowing that she would never go Easter shopping again.  From there, I went to the Chinese restaurant to pick up her order, and literally had to run out of there crying so hard I that I couldn’t see, when the overhead intercom played a song that was popular when I was a child and lived with her, during her healthier days.   When I got home, I was appalled to find her in the driveway, bent over in pain, holding her stomach and trying to lessen the pain caused by the biggest tumor.  She was dragging the kidney bag in her other hand and looking like she was really, really weak.  She was headed toward the barn and it was a long, long walk for a sick person.  Mom hadn’t been out of the house for about two weeks, and I had to pull myself together to ask her what she was doing, and if she needed help.  She sadly replied that she missed the horses so badly that she was trying to go see them, but she realized that she was too weak and had to turn back.  She said she didn’t need any help, and I was glad, because I pretended to have several things to do in the car before I came in the house to bring her the soup, and I allowed myself the luxury of an uncontrollable half hour of agonizing, hard, non-stop crying, a virtual nervous breakdown.   For about a year, while watching her health and strength deteriorate, I would have no control over my crying, and would break down anywhere, anytime and in front of anybody, which was terribly humiliating.  I felt like she was already gone, and in fact, it was her loss of quality of life that I was mourning. 

    Mom began to experience terrible, horrific bouts with nausea and we were told it was caused by the tumors blocking her bowels.  We took her into surgery and the doctors removed the largest mass, but afterwards told us that she probably only had six weeks left.  That was in September, and my poor mother was so sure that she was going to win this battle that she clung to life all the way to April – about six months longer than what the doctors predicted.  A few months earlier, she had surgery to implant a device in her vein near her shoulder to facilitate chemotherapy, and of course, it began to malfunction and quickly became useless, as well as causing discomfort.  Obviously, she wasn’t suffering enough, because she fell and broke her hip, but could not have surgery for it and consequently, no relief.  Now she had the pain of the broken hip to contend with, as well as the growing, consuming cancer.   

    I rented about eight movies every other day from the video store, and her whole life consisted of lying on her back and getting lost in the movies.  Her all-time favorite was “Lonesome Dove”, and she, like many fans, was in love with Gus.  Mom became completely bedridden, having to be helped onto the toilet, and she had to be bathed.  How terrible it was to see someone so proud lose most of her dignity.  During the last week of her life, none of the pain medications was working and she begged for relief.  All of her waking moments were filled with pain, and there was no longer any quality of life at all.  The tumor in her bowels had grown so big that it was once again blocking her bowel, and she was too weak to survive surgery again.  If she was awake, she was nauseated and retching.  She couldn’t eat or drink anything, because it would swell her abdomen immensely and cause terrible pain, so she was literally starving and thirsting to death.  The last day that she was lucid, she grabbed my arm and begged me for some water.  I had to inform her that she could never drink or eat again because it would cause her such incredible pain, and that we were going to have to sedate her to make her comfortable.  She nodded as hard as she could, agreeing to the sedation, but I had to inform her that once it was started (subcutaneous), she would never wake up again.  Upon hearing this, she burst into tears, but I don’t know how, since she was so dehydrated from lack of nourishment.  The pain became so strong that we hooked up pumps to pump the pain medication into her, and I think the only way she dealt with it was to convince herself that she was an exception and would wake up later.  We kissed her, told her we loved her and said goodbye to her.  (She was blessed with a wonderful hospice nurse.)  The hospice people told us that she wouldn’t last but a few more hours, but they didn’t realize how strong her will to live was.  She lasted two more days, and in the last 2 or 3 hours of her life, we put the “Lonesome Dove” video in, hoping that she could hear it.  Seeing ol’ Gus on the screen was pretty much emotional suicide for me.   

    We had a memorial service for Mom about three days later, and I could not believe how exhausted and mellow I was.  I dreaded giving her eulogy, but I knew she would have wanted me to.  I stayed up all night and wrote it the night before the service, agonizing the whole time about how in the world I was going to keep from falling to pieces at the podium the next day.  The next morning, I was very peaceful and calm while getting dressed.  I put on her favorite cologne and gathered her pictures to be displayed, even calmly listening to the Mom’s favorite country artist, Vince Gill, sing the song which I had selected to be played at her memorial.  Amazingly, I was able to deliver the speech, which was a humorous recap of Mom’s experiences, as she would have wanted it, and the people sitting in the chapel alternated between bawling and laughing.  I never cried the whole time, and in fact, had the only dry face in the gathering, even when Vince Gill crooned the tear-jerking “Go Rest High On That Mountain”, which moved everyone in attendance to tears again.   Apparently, I had done all my hard, agonizing grieving while she was alive and suffering.  I had always heard that death was to be celebrated, and in this case, it marked the end of my poor mother’s long, painful battle, and I knew she was in a much happier, comfortable place.  


Don't procrastinate -- get checked.  Colon cancer is curable when caught early.  Check out these websites for information on tests, cures and advice.

Colectoral Cancer Website

New Colon Cancer Test Shows Promise

Confronting Colon Cancer

Healthopedia -- Colectoral Cancer









High school




The Power of Holding Hands
  By Rabbi Harold Kushner

     I was sitting on a beach one summer day, watching two
children, a boy and a girl, playing in the sand.  They were
hard at work building an elaborate sandcastle by the
water's edge, with gates and towers and moats and internal
passages.  Just when they had nearly finished their
project, a big wave came along and knocked it down,
reducing it to a heap of wet sand.  I expected the children
to burst into tears, devastated by what had happened to all
their hard work.  But they surprised me.  Instead, they ran
up the shore away from the water, laughing and holding
hands, and sat down to build another castle.  I realized
that they had taught me an important lesson.  All the
things in our lives, all the complicated structures we
spent so much time and energy creating, are built on sand. 
Only our relationships to other people endure.  Sooner or
later, the wave will come along and knock down what we have
worked so hard to build up.  When that happens, only the
person who has somebody's hand to hold will be able to

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