Elderly and cancer. Your experiences?

Discussion in 'Community' started by Neserk, Aug 20, 2004.

  1. Neserk macrumors 6502a

    Neserk

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    Jan 1, 2004
    #1
    My 85 year old grandmother had a lumpectomy. She has emphesyma (my grandfather smoked early on and they burned coal for years, she never smoked). Now they want to do a mascectomy and either chemo or radiation.

    She isn't in good health. It seems that the cure might be worse than the disease. Or a no-win situation. Anyone been through this?
     
  2. rhpenguin macrumors 6502a

    rhpenguin

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    #2
    Yes with both my mother a few years ago and my grandfather currently (both had/have way different types of cancer). Its a really awful situation either way you cut it. In my mothers situation, the chemo just seemed to make things tollerable (except for her loss of hair and appetite) for her in her last years whereas with my grandfather the type of chemo seems to really be helping things (except for the few days after the chemo where he is sick as a dog).

    It all comes down to whether or not the chemo will just prolong life or actually improve the quality of it in your grandmother's last days.

    Hope this helps...
     
  3. Doctor Q Administrator

    Doctor Q

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    #3
    I'm very sorry to hear about your grandmother.

    I know people who have had chemo and people who have had radiation+chemo. For most of them, chemo was hard. Radiation was hard on some and no problem for others. I don't know why. I've talked to patients who were instantly nauseous and weak, and others who didn't feel anything and could eat before and after radiation.

    Given your grandmother's age, you are correct to consider the quality of life with and without these treatments. If her physician is a good one, he/she will discuss exactly this issue. Is your grandmother able to participate in the discussions about these choices?
     
  4. jsw Moderator emeritus

    jsw

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    #4
    I'm also very sorry to hear about your news, and agree with the above comments. It is very likely no-win, as you said, and the important thing is quality of life unless one way can provide a real likelihood of longer life. Also of importance is the risk of surgery - for an elderly person in poor health, such surgery is often very high risk. I would be curious as to what wdlove would advise.
     
  5. Neserk thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Neserk

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    #5
    Thankfully, yes. She has said when she was intially told she had breast cancer that she would not have chemotherapy. They had said they wouldn't risk a masectomy because they didn't want to put her out. Now that part has been reversed, which is very confusing. From what I know, and I know very little about this, it seems that she is more likely to die sooner from being put out than from the cancer. I'd think chemo or radiation would make more sense to try and stop it. But I'm not the one talking with the doctors.
     
  6. Neserk thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Neserk

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    #6
    Not that I have any say in the matter... but I'd be curious too. I'm confused. (See above post).
     
  7. emw macrumors G4

    emw

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    #7
    I've always been told that in general it is not advised to perform surgery that requires general anesthetics on older patients due to the risks of heart failure or other such problems. I do not, however, know the risk percentages - if they think that the surgery could realistically improve her survival rate/longevity by a significant amount, then your grandmother may decide the risks are worth the potential rewards.

    It is important, however, that she gets all of the facts, and potentially a second opinion.

    My wife's aunt was in her late 70's and in only moderate health when she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Due to the risks of surgery, and the fact that the doctors felt chemo would work effectively, she stuck with the chemotherapy. She survived an additional 3 years, and until the last 3-4 months or so, the quality of life was pretty good.

    I know this isn't a lot of great information, but I guess what I am trying to say is that chemotherapy can be fairly successful without the risk of surgery.
     
  8. Doctor Q Administrator

    Doctor Q

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    #8
    You might suggest that she talk to an anesthesiologist directly about the risk from being "out" during an operation. Knockout drugs may or may not be a bigger risk than other choices, and getting an opinion from an expert in that area might remove some of the confusion.
     
  9. Neserk thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Neserk

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    #9
    I talked to her on the phone a few minutes ago. She is pretty non-chalant about the surgery. Said she never had much breasts anyhow. Gotta love my grandmother. Also said she won't need a prosthesis like my mom has, for the same reason.

    Said she is doing pretty good considering the condition she is in (that was her joke). We then had the same coversation from a few weeks ago where she told me she got the picture I sent her of my step-son and she thought he looked about 6 (he is 10).

    *sigh*
     
  10. Stelliform macrumors 68000

    Stelliform

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    Oct 21, 2002
    #10
    Sorry to hear your news Neserk. It is a bad time for grandparents right now. My wife's grandmothers are both having trouble. One is having multiple strokes and the other just broke her second hip.

    My grandfather passed away last fall. He was diagnosed with cancer in the spring. He was in his mid 80's and still fairly active. He decided against aggressive treatment. He tried a few minor things, but nothing major. He remained active for several months until the last few weeks of his life. Only around 4 weeks elapsed from the time that he started really showing symptoms until his death. Hospice was wonderful. If I had a choice I would go the way he did. Enough time for everyone to say their goodbye's but a very short time of suffering.

    I hope the best for you and your family.
     
  11. Neserk thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Neserk

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    #11
    Thanks everyone. I decided to fly out there now. I leave on the 30th of August and will be there before and after her surgery. I had been planning on making a trip in October but feel that with her risk for the surgery I don't want to wait.
     
  12. jefhatfield Retired

    jefhatfield

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    #12

    sorry to hear about your grandmother

    at that age, the cure could be deadly

    when my grandmother was in her mid-90s, she got cancer but he body was so old it was not able to feed the cancer so it didn't spread that fast and would never be likely to hurt her

    she died anyway from the many mini strokes she had for her last five years of her 98 years...getting really really old usually sucks...big time

    i often hear many young people in great health who say they want to live to 90 or 100 but what they don't realize is that the vast majority of these people have a terrible quality of life and many suffer terrible symptoms of getting that old

    too many cannot tolerate strong pain medication and have to endure non stop excruciating pain and that has a negative effect on their overall mood

    many also do not have their mental facilities and cause themselves and others great anguish

    i hope to die before i ever reach that age and cause people around me heartache and suffering
     
  13. Neserk thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Neserk

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    #13

    My first grandmother was in pretty good physical health but not so good mental health when she died. A serious of mini strokes caused dementia. My grandfather (her husband) died, literally, of old age. He wasted away until his body just gave out. He was all there mentally although very depressed. He was blind and mostly deaf (partially from an injury he received during WWII -- partially from age). My grandmother's husband (grandfather II) was the oldest, so far. He was almost 92. He was okay except for when ever he'd get an infection he would think my grandmother was his mother and say all sorts of things I didn't know he knew :eek:

    A college friend of mine had his grandmother die after being hit by a car when she was crossing (on foot) back into the US from Mexico in Arizona. That is the way to go. Old and living life to its fullest! She survived the initial hit but her body couldn't repair itself.

    So the moral of the story is, I don't want to get old. I don't want dementia and I don't want to waste away. I think I'd rather have a stroke or heart attack and go suddenly and unexpectedly when I'm in my late 70's early 80's.
     
  14. cslewis macrumors 6502a

    cslewis

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    #14
    I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother. I lost my Great-Grandmom, Grandfather, and Great uncle to Cancer in the last few years. Hang tough. She sounds like she's too strong to be ill.
     
  15. wdlove macrumors P6

    wdlove

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    #15
    I'm very sorry to hear about your grandmother. A lot has to do with her current quality of life. If her emphysema is very advanced, they may have difficulty taking her off the respirator. This is major surgery and there are risks at any age. The risks are just greater with the elderly. Since I'm not there there is no way that I could really judge. If she is well informed and of sound mind, then it is really her decision. I would imagine that the doctor has discussed the surgery and risks with her. The process of her signing a consent is that she is aware of the surgery and the risks.

    Radiation can affect people differently. The same with chemotherapy. The side effects vary with the type of medication used.

    The most important thing is that you support her in her decision. Family support can make a big difference in out come. You should talk to the nurses involved, they are there, and will able to give you good advice on her care.
     
  16. Neserk thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Neserk

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    #16
    Family support she definately has. My mom and I will be there from the Tuesday before the surgery until the Saturday after. My mom will continue to be there indefinately. I'm sure my aunt will be coming, too. I have 5 cousins who live much closer than I do.

    Thankfully my grandmother is quite capable of making up her own mind with what she wants to do with her body. And she is no pushover. Her doctor (Onocologist) is 79 years old! I think that probably helps. He isn't some young whipper snapper ;)
     
  17. wdlove macrumors P6

    wdlove

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    #17
    The family support that you are demonstrating will definitely assist in a positive out come. Just be sure that you listen to the advice of the doctors and nurses.

    I'm sure that having a doctor her age also makes her feel more secure.

    I don't know about your feelings on religion, but prayer is also very helpful. there have been studies that show a positive effect.
     
  18. Neserk thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Neserk

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    #18
    I returned Saturday from my visit. But surgery was delayed until This coming Wednesday.

    I did find out how they would deal with the emphysema. She won't actually be put out. She will be given an amnesia drug and local anesthestic.

    Thankfully she doesn't have much breast tissue to begin with so it will be less physically traumatic than it could be otherwise.
     
  19. Thomas Veil macrumors 68020

    Thomas Veil

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    #19
    Allow me to add my sympathies to those of everyone else, Neserk. I'm glad to hear it can be done in a less risky way than originally thought.

    And I have to agree with what everyone else said about quality of life. When you get to be in your 80s, you have to ask things like:

    • how's your health overall?
    • how many other things (if any) are wrong with you?
    • will the cure be as bad as or worse than the disease?
    That second question was faced by my father-in-law. In his 80s, he got to the point where they were constantly "putting fires out" with his health. As soon as they got one thing under control, another thing would go wrong. Barely able to hear, catheterized 24/7, unable to control his bowels, barely able to walk, falling down when he tried, visiting the doctor every week, getting daily nurse visits and injections...it was hardly a happy lifestyle.

    My mother-in-law is living with us now and is generally healthy but suffering dementia, which will eventually progress to Alzheimer's.

    My own grandfather was bedridden and sick from the time he was in his 80s until the day he died at 101. He was pretty miserable most of that time. I pray I haven't inherited his longevity.

    Doctors love to tell us about how long we're living, but often it looks like that's not such a great gift. The quality of that life is indeed important.

    You say you've got good family help, and that is wonderful. I know if it hadn't been for everyone pitching in, my father-in-law would've been in a nursing home, and would've died there.

    On a different subject: I wish I had a cheerier thread to say this in, but I really like your Kitty. I e-mailed the link to my daughter, and we both had fun playing with him. I like the way he surprises you sometimes by pawing at the cursor. Nice job. :)

    Best wishes to your grandmother on her surgery.
     
  20. KingSleaze macrumors 6502

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    #20
    Best Wishes

    I had a different type of Cancer. My mother came to visit me. A good attitude is an important thing for the patient to have regarding the whole situation.
     
  21. wdlove macrumors P6

    wdlove

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    #21
    Thank you for the update Neserk. Did the visit and information ease your anxiety about the situation? Since your grandmother is 85, that is a good choice of surgery. Her recovery time will be quicker. Beside dealing with the emphysema, it will also be easier on her heart.

    My prayers go you to you, your grandmother, and family. Please let us know about the outcome.
     
  22. Thomas Veil macrumors 68020

    Thomas Veil

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    #22
    Yeeks. :eek: Sorry to hear you had it...but you're right about the attitude.

    Are you still counting down to that five-year cancer-free goal, or have you passed it?
     

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