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Zionsville Times Sentinel

My best friend buried his daughter the other day. Kristen was 23 years old and had been fighting a losing battle with cancer for 10 months.

It started last July when she had pains in her thigh. An MRI showed a blood clot. It also showed a tumor on her cervix.

After consulting with the doctors, the first step was surgery. Everyone had high hopes the tumor would be operable. Unfortunately, it proved to be intricately connected to muscle tissue and blood vessels. Any attempt to remove it would likely be life-threatening.

Again, Kristen’s parents sat down with the doctors and agreed upon a chemotherapy-radiation combination that had proven to be effective against cervical cancer. Hopefully, it would do the same for Kristen.

After several weeks of treatment, another MRI showed inconclusive results. While the tumor didn’t show signs of shrinking, it seemed to have stopped growing. Still, the doctors had hoped for more positive results.

The plan then was to let Kristen rest for a short time and then continue with the second phase of treatment. The idea was that if after completing the full course of chemo and radiation the results were still iffy, Kristen might qualify for a clinical trial on a new drug that looked promising.

Meanwhile, Kristen was wracked with pain, possibly from the tumor, or from the blood clot. She was also exhausted by the chemo and radiation, along with the massive pain killers the doctors had prescribed.

By this time it was apparent that she would not soon return to her new job as assistant manager at Walgreen’s, nor would she be able to continue living alone in her apartment. Reluctantly, she gave up both and returned to her parent’s home in Noblesville.

Over the next weeks, Kristen had some good days and some bad ones. One day she might feel good enough to go shopping with her friends or sit up late at night working on her scrapbook. She spent many evenings playing with her two kittens and watching movies with friends.

She also spent agonizing days and nights convulsed with pain and vomiting, followed by endless hours of bedridden sleep. For weeks she see-sawed back and forth only to emerge again pain-free and ready to resume the fight.

Through it all her faith never wavered, and she never lost hope. She looked forward to resuming her treatment. Unfortunately, before she could continue chemo and radiation, she suffered another setback. The tumor was apparently still growing and had now invaded her intestine. The doctors performed a colostomy and put her on a liquid diet. After it became clear she was unable to get the nourishment she needed, she returned to the hospital where the medical team inserted a port in her shoulder. Through it she could receive special nutrition to help her regain strength for the next session of cancer treatment. The port also allowed the doctors to check her sensitive blood chemistry.

Two weeks ago Kristen said she was ready to resume chemo and radiation treatments. She managed the first sessions with no ill effects. She even announced that she wanted to go shopping with her friends. She was feeling pretty good.

Then the other night she cried out for help. She was weak and hemorrhaging. Her parents rushed her to the hospital. After several frantic hours the doctors told my friend the transfusions could not keep pace with the bleeding. Quietly, they agreed to discontinue efforts to save Kristen’s life. She died at 1:40 p.m. the next afternoon. Her family was with her.

Throughout these months her dad and mom were with her constantly. You probably know her dad as My Friend the Boat Owner. He and I have spent many years sharing life’s ups and downs.

When he was working at his job as a pilot for Net Jets Airline, Kristen’s mom stayed with her, often sleeping all night in a chair in the hospital room. Every minute her dad wasn’t working, he was at Kristen’s side. He brought movies and games and, remembering her childhood passion for coloring, brought coloring books to her hospital room. At Easter he brought an egg-coloring kit and everyone, including the hospital staff, took part in coloring Easter eggs.

Each of the numerous times she returned to the hospital, her room was decorated with mementos from friends and family. She was surrounded with things from people who loved her as well as some who had never met her but who had heard of her brave fight.

Her dad accompanied her everywhere she went. To the hospital for chemo and radiation treatments, to the emergency room in the middle of the night. At home he helped her get in and out of bed, he held her hand as she drifted off to sleep.

And he accompanied her when she made her final trip from the church to the cemetery. That was probably the hardest part for him. Knowing that he and everyone else assembled there that warm and windy afternoon would turn and go back home but Kristen, now free from pain, would stay behind in that quiet place.

Ward Degler is a Zionsville writer and artist. E-mail him at wdegler@att.net.

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