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Posts Tagged ‘Together We Will Win’

Caregiver Spotlight: Karen McWhirt

I Would Never Want to Be Anywhere Else On Earth

Caretaking Through Testicular Cancer: A Mother’s Story

Karen McWhirt and Ian DrazickAt 19, my son’s stomachache led to a CT on his abdomen, which led to his Stage IIIB testicular cancer diagnosis. Ian hoped his story would help others. I share these pieces of Ian’s story with the same hope.

Cancer Diagnosis / The Worst Phone Call Ever

The doctor called with the CT report. As he elaborated the details, I fell to my knees. I suddenly couldn’t breath. I felt as if the news had sucked the life out of me. As the doctor continued I clutched the arm of a chair and tried to stand but I had become too weak with shock. I could not believe what he was saying.

 

As I sobbed and gasped for breath, I crawled along the floor with the phone in one hand, interupting the doctor, “No! No! Not Ian! No! There’s a mistake! Not my son! No! No! It can’t be true!”

 

But it was true, and our lives changed in that very moment.

 

Cancer Treatment / Change in Personality

Ian had loved being in the center of the action. He made any event seem like a party with his funny antics and outgoing nature. Once Ian started cancer treatment he often was not in the mood for conversation. He usually didn’t want sound around him at all. He was miserable with nausea nearly every day for three months, which made it difficult for him to tolerate noise, light, and motion. He tried to cope by asking us to silence our cell phones, keep his room dark, and move about slowly and quietly in our house or his hospital room.

 

Cancer Care / Difficulty Sleeping

Ian felt grateful for doctors, nurses, and aides who worked quietly in his hospital room. He never slept well. He appreciated low voices and minimal noise from doors closing and general clatter because it all woke him from his light sleep. He told me that sound and light seemed more intense than normal.

 

Cancer Treatment / Paranoia

The pain medications caused Ian to feel paranoid, so he wanted me always near him. He sometimes woke startled from a light sleep, grasping my hand and looking at me as he tried to figure out where he was and if everything was okay.

 

Cancer Care / Cancer Treatment / Write it Down

I kept a treatment journal for Ian every day– details from conversations with every doctor and nurse, medical procedures and medications’ purpose and side effects. This helped us keep track of answered questions, review and track progress, and reference our notes and questions during appointments with Ian’s doctors. Ian tried to keep a journal but he only wrote two entries.

 

Cancer Care / Stay Prepared

We kept an extra pillow and blanket in the car for driving to his appointments, and a plastic bag in case he needed to throw up. I always carried items for Ian in my purse— bottled water, earplugs, his music and headphones, hard candy, dried fruit, chewing gum, and occasionally a package of Pop Tarts, one of the few foods he could eat without throwing up. We kept his duffle bag ready with clean clothes. There were several times we were instructed to take him to the Emergency Room where he would sometimes be admitted to the hospital. We never knew what would happen, so we tried to prepare for anything.

 

Cancer Caregiver / Be Organized

At home, Ian’s 12 medications were in his bedroom with doctor’s instructions next to them, and a thermometer, hand sanitizer, and doctor’s emergency numbers. I logged Ian’s temperature from 2-4 times each day and rated his symptoms and side effects as they did in the hospital. Persistent chest pain, headache, signs of internal bleeding, or slight fever meant a trip to the ER.

 

Cancer Care / Keep Comfort Items Nearby

 

Cotton swabs— irritation from brain radiation treatments made Ian’s ears itch.

Trash basket near the bed— Ian sometimes could not make it to the bathroom to throw up.

Dried fruit snacks, Lifesavers candy, chewing gum to help fend off nausea or bad taste in mouth.

Extra pillows and blankets for Ian. I also kept a pallet of blankets for me to sleep near Ian.

Favorite personal pillow and blanket for hospital stays. Ian said it felt better to have something from home with him.

Warm or cool washcloth to place over eyes or forehead— soothing for stress, anxiety, nausea, headache.

Quality Aloe Vera gel to soothe dry skin from radiation.

Ice pack to soothe headache and radiation burn.

Gentle peroxide mouth rinse for mouth sores caused by chemotherapy.

Soft toothbrush for sensitive gums.

Box of Tissues— Ian sometimes had nosebleeds caused by chemotherapy.

A pillow under each knee— to ease pressure on lower back. Ian’s lower back and hips were painful from the neupogen injections and the large tumor in his stomach that pressed on his back.

Heated blankets and an extra pillow during treatment at the cancer center helped Ian relax.

Loose-fitting clothes and house slippers for hospital stays.

Stretch arms and legs each day, using isometrics when possible. Sometimes Ian was too weak to get out of bed, so my husband, Mark would lift and stretch Ian’s arms and legs for him, and sit him up to stretch his back. Ian said it felt good.

 

What to Say to a Cancer Patient / Cancer Patients are People, Too

Ian appreciated the way his nurses spoke to him as a friend instead of a patient. If he had questions about his health or treatment, they answered him. But if he didn’t ask, they talked to him about his life, his interests, not his cancer. Ian appreciated that more than any of them may know. He also appreciated a nurse who was skilled with a needle —whether starting IV’s, accessing his port catheter, drawing blood, or giving injections. Ian’s doctors also took time to listen to Ian’s concerns and get to know him as a person. Good oncology doctors and nurses do make a difference in their patient’s lives, even if their patients don’t live to tell them.

 

It bothered Ian when friends and family questioned him about his cancer or what chemo and radiation felt like. Ian lamented, “There is no way they could ever understand this unless they have to go through it. There’s no way I can explain it to them. I wish they would stop asking me.”

 

Cancer Palliative Care

When Ian was admitted to the hospital for the last time, he was so very sick. He needed help moving around, walking to the bathroom, or turning over in his bed. He couldn’t eat. I held his mug to help him drink water. When he couldn’t have water, I placed a sponge swab in his hand, wrapped his fingers around it, helped him dip the swab into ice water, and guided his hand to his mouth to quench his thirst. I held the waste basket for him as he vomited or coughed up blood. I pulled the blanket over him when he was too weak to do it for himself.

 

In the days when testicular cancer was taking him from us, I washed his face, hands, legs and feet with a warm washcloth every day. I often swabbed his mouth with a cool damp sponge swab, and smoothed lip balm on his lips so his skin wouldn’t become dry and cracked. I held his hand, and I kissed the tears that leaked from his eyes as he lay too sedated to respond.

 

Cancer Caregiver / Be Quietly Present

Of all the ways we tried to help Ian fight his cancer battle, one thing made an impression on me more than anything else— how Ian valued my being quietly present with him when he felt his worst. Ian taught me that it isn’t necessary to say anything at all. The best thing to do is be present and listen, be patient, and be comfortable in the silence. It wasn’t normal for him to want his mom constantly by his side, but he thanked me almost every day for it.

 

Ian would say to me, “Mom, I don’t know how you do it, but thank you so much for being here with me. I could never get through this without you.”

 

And my reply was often the same, “I would never want to be anywhere else on earth, Ian. I love you more than everything.” I always will.

 

Karen A. McWhirt

Author of Together We Will Win – What Happens When We Don’t Talk About Testicular Cancer: A Young Man’s Story

Together We Will Win What Happens When We Don't Talk About Testicular Cancer Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Together We Will Win Down With The Cause

Did the post title confuse you?

Well, we have posted about them before but now they are together on Ian’s Episode: Together We Will Win on The Ordinary Guy Network.

 

Take the time to listen to Karen McWhirt, author of  Together We Will Win and Jon Lewchenko, founder of Down With The Cause are together as they talk about testicular cancer. It was a great interview that hits home as to why testicular cancer awareness is so important. Listen today and then tell the young men in your life about testicular cancer tonight.

 

Also, be sure to check out Karen’s book, Together We Will Win and Jon’s organization Down With The Cause.

 

To learn more about Karen and Jon check out our previous posts: What happens When We Don’t Talk About Testicular Cancer and Are You Down With The Cause.

 

Remember, talk to the young men in your life about testicular cancer.

 

 

 

What Happens When We Don’t Talk About Testicular Cancer

Together We Will Win: What Happens When We Don’t Talk About Testicular Cancer. A Young Man’s Story.

“This awe-inspiring and gut-wrenching story of Ian’s battle with testicular cancer is a must read for anyone with a young man in their life. Readers will gain a personal understanding of cancer and its treatments and find it unimaginable that information on testicular cancer isn’t required education.”

 

I included this quote because it was the endorsement I wrote just after I finished reading the manuscript. Friend and author Karen McWhirt gave me the honor of reading her manuscript before the book was published.

 

Reading the book prior to publication was a huge responsibility and who knows what I would have done had the book not been an incredible creation. I know you can’t exactly tell a friend that you don’t like their book but as a mother who lost her son to testicular cancer I knew that Karen could handle the truth if I didn’t like it.  Fortunately, the book was so incredible that all I could do was spew accolades Karen’s way. She was even kind enough to publish a copy of a personal email I sent her inside the book. Her relationship with her son, Ian Drazick, reminded me at times of mine with my own mother.

 

Ian was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer at the age of 19 and after a short 4 month battle he died at the age of 20. Karen was his mom and his caregiver the entire time. Before he died, Ian asked his mom to write his story, “…so other guys will know, and they won’t have to go through what I’ve been through…” he said. Karen told Ian she would share his story with others and fighting through the bad days and painful memories she kept her promise.

 

Written in Ian’s voice, Together We Will Win, captures the true experience of what it is like to battle advanced testicular cancer, face intensive chemotherapy and endure exhaustive radiation treatments. Based on the journals Karen kept, you will experience from the early stages of diagnosis trough the last days of life what testicular cancer can do to a young man’s life.

 

Ian dreamed of a time that testicular cancer was talked about as much as other cancers so that other young men wouldn’t be diagnosed at late stages like him. Dreams are very powerful things and while Ian can no longer do it on his own his dreams can still come true. Read Together We Will Win and encourage the young men in your life to do the same. What happens when we don’t talk about testicular cancer shouldn’t happen to any more young men.

 

In the interest of testicular cancer awareness Karen has generously created a book donation program to offer a copy of Together We Will Win to libraries around the world. The program also offers the ability for you to donate a copy in your name or in the honor of a loved one to your local library.

 

On a more personal side, I met Karen in February 2008. I had been trading emails with a mother in the UK that had lost her son to testicular cancer. This mother was doing a lot of education in schools about testicular cancer and I wanted to learn from her because for some reason it is very difficult to get into high schools to talk about testicular cancer in the U.S. She told me that there was a lady in Kansas that was trying to do the same thing and that perhaps I should contact her. I fired off an introduction email to Karen and the rest was history. Karen has been a personal mentor to me countless times and her strength as a mother is simply amazing. Ian’s story and Karen’s strength have greatly impacted my life. I can’t explain how a young man I never met and a mother I have yet to meet face-to-face can influence my life so much. All I can say is that it has happened.

 

This summer, to celebrate my 5 year Cancerversary, I traveled to Wales to do a memorial trek up Mt. Snowdon to honor those young men that have died too early from testicular cancer. On that trip I felt it was my duty to honor Ian and Karen by taking a banner with Ian’s name on it to the top of Mt. Snowdon. I also wanted to do it to show Ian that his dream is still alive and that other guys will know and other guys won’t have to go through what you did Ian.

Together We Will Win

 Thanks for Reading,

 

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