Last Friday night was probably the hardest night of my life. At the young age of 33, my best friend, my fiancé, the love of my life, Jessica Beth Rice passed away from complications due to Bronchioloalveolar Carcinoma lung cancer.
Early Tuesday morning on March 25th, Jessica was rushed to our local hospital by ambulance due to extreme head pain, nausea, and dizziness. After several rounds of Morphine and then Dilaudid for pain relief, the doctors were able to keep her stable enough for a cat scan. The cat scan revealed severe swelling of the tumors in her head, most alarming was the one at the back of her head near the cerebellum. The ER doctors immediately consulted with Jessica’s regular team of doctors, and she was then quickly transported to the larger sister hospital facility located a bit further away.
Once there, I met with our regular team of doctors and surgeons to find out what could be done. An MRI was ordered, and the hope was that most of the tumors were just swollen, and possibly treated with a combination of steroids and minor surgery. Unfortunately, the MRI revealed that all 25 tumors had grown “significantly” in just the past two months. The tumor at the back of her head which was the most alarming had grown from 1cm to 3cm, and was causing extreme pressure in her head. This was the realization that she was running out of time. Surgery was not an option due to the size and number of tumors, steroids were no longer effectively controlling the swelling as they had previously, and we were out of options. Doctors gave us 3 weeks…. at best.
On Wednesday, Jessica woke up for a few moments, and I just held her as I told her what was going on. She looked up and just said, “I thought we would have more time”. As I held her, we both cried for awhile until she fell back asleep. For the next several hours, I sat there accompanied by her mother, held her hand, and talked to her as much as possible. I met with the Hospice navigators that afternoon, and arranged for at-home hospice at our house, which was Jessica’s wish.
Jessica’s brother, Cisco arrived at the hospital a few hours later, and she woke up when I told her he was there. She opened up her eyes, and said “Hi boy, it must be pretty bad if you’re here.” They talked for a few minutes, and she told him it was going to be OK, and that he should “take care of mom.” Cisco held her hand for the next few minutes, and talked to her until she again fell asleep. I again sat by her side, holding her hand all night, and monitored her pain level and vital signs. By early morning, we had to increase her pain medication once again to keep her comfortable. The increase in medication made her extremely drowsy and she mostly stayed asleep, but her comfort was the most important thing to me.
Just before the hospice-transport arrived on Thursday afternoon, I met again with our Oncologist who came by to see her again before transport. I told him what I was seeing in how long the current level of pain medications were working, and how the window of effectiveness was shrinking with each dose. He just nodded his head and told me to make sure that beyond everything, my job now was to make sure she was comfortable once I got Jessica home. His said that we were now down to just a few days, no longer the initial time of up to 3 weeks.
Jessica came home for the final time that afternoon. The Hospice nurse was at the house, and Jessica was made as comfortable as possible in the surroundings she wanted to be in. Family and friends were by her side for the next several hours, and I kept vigil by her side for another night, administering her IV medications every two hours as prescribed to keep her comfortable.
Nurses arrived early Friday morning, and reviewed the medication and activity log I kept which described what I was seeing in her condition overnight. After an examination, our nurse told us to prepare, and that we only had a few hours left. Jessica took her last breath at 9:12pm that evening. She was surrounded by family in her final moments, with her bunny Blossom guarding from under her bed. She was not in pain, which was something I had promised her, passing peacefully in her sleep.
Jessica had hoped that this blog, and her story be a source of both inspiration and hope for others with cancer. Not just lung cancer, but for any illness that we as mere mortals fall victim to. She didn’t think of herself and a patriot or fighter, but just someone that “did what anyone else would do” in here situation. She was not religious, but did have faith in the science that was being worked on by so many researchers around the world. It was that faith that pushed her to seek out the latest treatments and drug trials, both of which extended her life from the initial diagnosis in November 2011 of 10 months, to almost 2 1/2 years. I will be forever grateful to Dr. Robert Roush and his team, for every stone they turned over in order to get Jessica the best treatments that were available in the country. We both believed in him and his team, and they never let us down.
Jessica would want to be remembered for her love of animals, and her devotion to them in both her volunteer work, and for the many who still reside on the family farm, especially her pony Shadow. She was an advocate for the cancer community, and many of the articles she wrote are listed throughout this blog. She also never believed that anyone “loses their fight to cancer,” and would debate anyone on the topic all night long. I will remember all of the wonderful places we went together, and the time we spent together. The big grin on her face when she climbed into her MINI Cooper, dropped the top, and took off down a windy road. And the peaceful look on her face while holding her bunny Blossom, or the two of us just curled up on the couch together. I miss you so much Jessica! You were my better half, and the love of my life! Goodbye for now, baby.