Mary’s Story: A Family’s Journey With Cancer

by Sue Stedman (Author), Jim Stedman (Contributor), Matt Stedman (Contributor), Anne Stedman Herwick (Contributor)

This is a unique diary, principally written by Sue Stedman (mother) about her daughter’s (Mary) cancer journey. This is a sad, heart-breaking story that kept me awake, on certain days to read up to 2.30 a.m.

This was what happened ….

  • In early July 1986, 22-year-old Mary went water skiing with some friends. She fell several times. The doctor suspected she had a hematoma (a localized collection of blood outside the blood vessels) in her leg.
  • Mary underwent an operation. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a low-grade malignant tumour of a type that particularly afflicts young people and she had a 60/40 chance.
  • The type of tumour Mary had was so rare, they would have to call around the country to get some consensus about what treatment they might try and what the percentages on its success might be. 
  • What came back was that we were in deep shit. This was a sarcoma — the type of cancer that is not responsive to radiation or chemo … rare, stubborn and aggressive.
  • Anyway, there was not much choice. Mary underwent about 6 weeks of radiotherapy.
  • It was too much to do the radiation and chemo simultaneously, but it was the doctors’ opinion that we had no time to lose. If there were metastases in the bloodstream, and they grow into tumours, chemo wouldn’t help — our only chance was to try to zap the little suckers now. He (oncologist) was convincing, Jim and I (both parents) were solidly together in urging it as “insurance”.
  • Chemotherapy was then started.
  • Mary shared her initial chemo experience.
  • It all went downhill. All night long I was so sick. I felt very nauseated. I had never been ill (vomited) that many that many times in my life. I almost wanted to end it I felt so terrible.
  • Then they gave me some medicine, and I finally started feeling better.
  • I took a shower today and then started to brush it slowly. I looked at my brush and there seemed to be a few extra hairs in it. Then I pulled at the hairs in my head and sure enough 15 or so were coming out at a time. It’s happening … I/m losing my hair! Over the days more and more came out.
  • I’m going to do it! Mom and I went into the bathroom and she started to cry …. We used the shears and cut, cut, cut …. I was standing there bald as a billiard ball.

 

  • The next “crisis” .. the effects of the radiation were like a gigantic sunburn. This played havoc with her just-barely-healed surgery scar, making it swell and weep.

 

  •  Mary had a high fever. Their suspicion was that the inside tip of the catheter had gotten infected. Mary was put on antibiotics.

 Mary shared more of her experiences.

  • My hair is slowly but surely growing back. It is now 1/4 of an inch high.
  • I went to try to start my 3rd treatment. My blood count was still too low!

 4 March 1987: Mary completed her final 4th cycle of chemo.

 4 June 1987 (three months later): CT scan showed three small dots on her left lung and one in her right lung … they compared it to a previous CT scan … but, no, it was new. 

25 June 1987: They told us if we did nothing more, Mary would have about a year to live … there were now 4 or 5 (spots) in her left lung. There was a remote chance surgery would help.

 2 July 1987: Mary underwent an operation of her left lung. The surgeon found 12 tumours instead of 3 or 4. I became convinced there was no way this was going to be a cure. 

18 September 1987: The oncologist said, it was growing in the right lung and already showing up again in the left one … we were not talking about surgery as a possible cure … they really didn’t have a cure …. surgery might add weeks or months, but it would be one surgery after another … I ‘d rather live whatever time I had left doing what I enjoy. it seemed to me like it was time to put it in God’s hand.

 17 January 1988: Mary suffered internal bleeding.

 26 January 1988: Mary had a second surgery. It was a mess. It was so bad …. The bottom lobe of her right lung was removed. 

  • Mary lost a lot of weight and we tried to at least push Instant Breakfast to get a few pounds on her … she began vomiting and vomiting .. she couldn’t keep anything down.

 10 February 1988: Admitted to hospital for pneumonitis.

 30 March 1988: Need oxygen for breathing. She was having an anxiety attack, primarily from oxygen deprivation … and couldn’t sleep well at night.

 5 April 1988: One symptom or another …. nausea had been a major one …. Mary practically didn’t eat anything — it was too hard to swallow — too much trouble — and she wasn’t hungry. She had nausea pills, sleeping pills, cough medicine.

7 April 1988: Mary really couldn’t talk now — she could whisper out a few things .. but couldn’t make herself understood.

8 April 1988: 8:45 a.m. She was all practical purposes in a coma. Her breathing was labored … she couldn’t be roused when you called her name. Occasionally Mary’s breathing would kind of hitch — she’d stop breathing for a few seconds — and then start up again. Finally came a “hitch” that didn’t restart. Then it was over. No trumpets, no screams, nothing dramatic … the entrance or exit of the breath of God in a human being.

 It has been a long 20 month’s journey, and it was time to rest.

For her Holy Card for the funeral, Mary personally chose these words from the Bible – James 4:13-15.

Now listen to me, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will travel to a certain city, where we will spend a year, and go into business and make much money. You do not even know what your life tomorrow will be like! For you are like a thin fog, which appears for a moment and then disappears. This, then, is what you should say: If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this and that.

We might want to ponder on the words said by family members after Mary’s death.

  • Why? Why her? Why so young? “Why?” is a question with no answer — and a dangerous one. It’s the question that’s the cutoff line between those who get bitter and those who grow.
  •  The question has to be: “now that this situation is here, how will I chose to deal with it? As a family, we couldn’t control the “why” of it, but we could control at least some of the “how”, by trying to do as good a job as we were capable of in dealing with it. 
  • Cancer is a type of thing that can tear a family apart. The constant barrage of chemotherapy and surgeries followed by the possibility of more bad news becomes very stressful. Our family worked to support each other as we went through various stages of exhaustion and grief … It’s easy to become bitter and turn your back on religion in these difficult times, but we chose to put our faith in each other and God to help get us through. 

Mary’s story happened 29 years ago. This book was published in 2015. You might want to ask: Why take so long to write? This is what the author said: Maybe it’s that we’re now a lot older, in our 70s and feel a need to tell the story.

Jim (Mary’s brother wrote): For 27 years, only the family had copies of this journal but recently we thought it might help others going through similar circumstances and decided to make it available to anyone who wanted it. Hopefully, our story can help with whatever you’re needing at the time that you read it.

Comments

For over 20 over years, I have been helping cancer patients. I have talked to patients about their problems. I have heard all kinds of sad stories. But this book stands out to be one of its kind. Each page consists of a day to day “no holds barred” account of what and how 22-year-old Mary went through her cancer treatment.

As I read this book, I could also feel the anger, fear, frustration, disappointment, helplessness, acceptance and eventually peace. Mary had good, dedicated doctors to help her. But there was that much any human being could do. Even up to this day, we know that surgery, radiation, and chemo would not cure sarcoma.

As I am writing this review, I have three files of sarcoma patients in front of me: a four-and-half-year old  girl, and two ladies, thirty years old and fifty-three years old. They had gone through what Mary had gone through. Now, they came to CA Care for help, as a last resort. It is sad indeed.

The basis of the so-called scientific treatment of cancer remains unchanged over the decades, so is the result! Let me end this article with the following quotations ….

 

 

 

 

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