Blogging about mom's cancer
Daughter’s journal becomes way to grieve over death of loved one
By Noh Hyun-gi
Watching a close one die is a painful experience that many can’t easily confront, but one daughter has kept a daily journal in her blog about her cancer patient mother right up to her funeral.
It was her way of remembering her mother, fighting a slow-motion sense of loss and grieving about her most loved one.
Seong Mi-ryung, 54, documented her mother Geum Dong-in’s finals days, capturing the 77-year-old in her blog on a daily basis since she was diagnosed with liver cancer until she passed away and was cremated.
Photos in Seong’s blog show the tumor eating her mother away in an unstoppable speed. One of the last photos posted online shows the body of Geum dressed and was placed inside the coffin.
“It became a calming ritual for me to review the hectic days and to look at them with objectivity,” she told The Korea Times.
“My mom’s final days would have been blurry in my memory because of the emotional strain had I not blogged about them.” Seong is the eldest of Geum’s three daughters.
Her short yet candid account of the challenging days reveals not only the overwhelming sorrow that overtook the family but also the subtle tension and inner conflicts that afflicted each member.
“There are just as many deaths as births in the world; yet we barely speak of the former. Every single day since she was diagnosed, my family had to make difficult decisions. I am sure we made mistakes.”
She hopes her blog can serve as a friendly reference to others in similar situations.
Hiding the truth
When Geum was first diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer, on Jan 25, the tumor had already spread across the right lobe of the liver, gall bladder, biliary tract, and lymph nodes near her right shoulder.
There was nothing that could be done.
Geum was admitted to National Health Insurance Corp.-affiliated hospital in Ilsan, Geyonggi Province.
Geum’s husband and their daughters hid the truth from her for nearly 10 days. The emotional burden fell heavily on her life partner.
First they told Geum that there were complications with her chronic hepatitis.
Seong wrote in her blog; “Mother does not know anything. The rest of the family is eager to protect her from the devastating truth and our desperate attempt to keep the secret is creating a collective sense of guilt.”
Though the father understood that it was his responsibility, he could not muster the courage to tell his cheerful wife the fatal truth.
She believes he felt even more guilt when he started to process the savings and real estate that were registered under Geum.
“I always believed that a patient is entitled to know everything about his or her condition; however, I could not abide by that principle when it was my mother,” she said.
Finally, Geum learned that she had been taking Nexavar, an anti-cancer medication. Seong watched her mother experience the Kubler-Ross model or five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
“It looked like she couldn’t fully grasp what was happening to her at first, then she became extremely upset that it was so sudden,” Seong recalled.
Shortly after she became depressed and just wished for everything to be over, for the pain to end.
“Seeing my mother, who had been a brave optimist all her life, ignore me and turn towards the wall with a stern and hopeless look gave me chills,” Seong wrote on Feb 10.
Seong kept a descriptive log of her mother’s physical changes over the course of the illness; Geum took two pills of Nexavar a day. A week after the diagnosis, Geum’s blood vessels started to swell, showing spider web shaped bleeding of capillaries.
She became fatigued (“she stayed in bed like she was in coma”) and lost her appetite as she started taking the medication. At times, she could not speak intelligibly.
The doctor and family decided to cease the medication to avoid the side effects. Though she didn’t have to suffer from the adverse affects, Geum became increasingly anxious when she learned that she was not on any anti-cancer treatment.
“We really appreciated that the doctor listened to our request that she spend the remaining days as comfortable and peaceful as possible — we did not want any treatments to add meaningless days. We asked for more pain management so she can be relaxed,” Seong said.
However, within in a week, Geum demanded directly to the physician that she is put back on medication. She wanted to fight it as much as she could, or feel as though she was fighting. “Mom said she feels like she won’t die at this rate,” Seong wrote on Feb 14.
Geum’s compromised body could not handle the drug; she had to stop after seven days. As Geum’s anxiety grew, a psychiatrist saw her and prescribed mood stabilizer medication.
The three daughters took turns at Geum’s bedside. The eldest daughter, who lives in Busan with her husband and two sons, spent most of the days at the hospital.
Though this allowed her to closely monitor Guem, it put her under the smothering darkness of the intensive care unit wing.
“I woke up to a scratching cry of a woman. She was screaming with so much pain. I realized that she was calling her mother,” Seong wrote on Feb 26.
“At some point the tumor on her liver grew so big it was bulging out of her right side. I could feel my breath get shorter every time I looked at it,” Seong recalled.
The final moment
Seong accompanied Geum at her final moment on March 12. Geum had been unconscious for three days. Around 5 a.m. she was struggling to breath.
One moment the room went silent — she was no longer panting and all the monitors attached to her showed horizontal lines.
Seong and her sisters read the blog posts from time to time to look back at the most strenuous yet bonding period of their lives so far; facing death, the family shared their deepest thoughts and showed how much they appreciated and loved each other.
“Mom’s birthday was in April, shortly after she passed away. We read through my blog to look at mom’s photos and remember the conversations we shared,” she said.
Many visitors to her blog also write to her and have communicated their appreciation.
A woman who was searching online about the side effects of Nexavar came across her website; her mother too was recently admitted to a hospital for end stage liver cancer. Others advise her about how they overcame their parents’ deaths.
Another visitor, whose father was diagnosed with liver cancer around the same time as Guem, told Seong that he read the blog for comfort, to learn what is coming.
“Those days will never come back, I kept writing to remember her.”