Contributed by: JoAnn Johnson
How many times have we talked about how time is flying. It is strange how in some chapters of our lives time flies. Other chapters seem so long.
Five and one-half years ago on April 7, a new chapter of our family’s lives began. Our daughter, Kristen Madsen, mentioned that she had been having pain and discomfort in her lower abdomen for almost a month. She had seen her OB-GYN doctor and he had ordered an ultrasound. Something not quite right showed up, but neither she nor her doctor were terribly worried because it could have been any number of things, but probably not cancer. Surgery was scheduled for the next week to “fix the problem.” That was when the new chapter in our lives would begin. I will never forget when she opened her eyes and said “mother, I have ovarian cancer.” I saw the same sad look in her eyes I had seen when she was a child and was scared. I assured her that she would beat it and that with the new treatments ovarian cancer was no longer a death sentence.
She immediately started the next steps. The path report said it was clear cell carcinoma. That type of cancer is known to be very aggressive. Kristen wanted to know as much about the cancer as she possibly could and researched it on the computer. She learned the odds were not in her favor but decided to fight to overcome it as hard as she possibly could.
She and a friend of hers immediately set up a Caringbridge website. This enabled her to keep family, friends, and neighbors informed of her progress. Also, their messages to her gave her so much strength and support. She loved reading them several times each day.
She had a huge surgery removing all the organs involved and as much of the cancer as they could. The rest would have to be treated with chemotherapy. Three weeks after the surgery she started her chemo treatments. She was very apprehensive about chemo, but knew that was her only hope. A nurse told her she would come to love her chemo treatments, and she was right. A few days before a treatment was due, Kristen would say I’ll be so glad to get another treatment. It seemed like they were helping for a while.
Kristen had two sons. Brooks was two years old and Aaron was seventeen, and a junior in high school. She had been a working mom who could handle all her day to day responsibilities with ease. After her surgery that was not the case. She couldn’t care for Brooks and keep her house as she had done in the past. That’s when Meme, her mom, had to step up and take over her duties at home. Our days were so full with doctor appointments, lab work, transfusions, tests, and chemo treatments. We decided to let Brooks attend the Jump Start Program at FAC a few hours every weekday instead of two days a week as he had been doing. Some days we would get the kids off to their appropriate schools, leave the house and not be home until 4:30 or 5:00. Then it would be time to prepare dinner, eat, and get Brooks bathed and in bed; just to start the same thing again the next day.
As time went on Kristen became weaker and weaker. She continued to fight this terrible disease with everything she had. She and her sister, Lynli Williams, even went to M.D. Anderson in Houston, just to be told she was getting the exact treatment they could offer. It was then she asked the doctor there how long he thought she would live. He told her possibly nine to twelve months. That was the worst day and night she and her sister ever shared, filled with tears and desperation. They flew home the next day and that week she received a phone call from Shannan, her oncology nurse, who told her there was a new drug treatment her doctor wanted to try. She went in immediately.
Her journey was very unstable after that. She was fighting hard, but was winning the battle. She wanted to provide the best celebrations and holidays she could for her boys. We decorated like crazy for Halloween. We made a witch, we appropriately named Morphina, and sit her on the porch with a spotlight on her. Brooks had a love-hate relationship with her. He still talks about her. Then came Thanksgiving. She was determined to go to Little Rock to her aunt’s house for Thanksgiving, because that was a family tradition she wanted her boys to enjoy. So, we loaded up and made the trip. Of course, she knew it would be her last. It was a day never to be forgotten by our family.
She was really becoming sicker and sicker by this time. Her blood counts were terribly low and she was becoming very, very weak. Her goal now was to live through Christmas and Brooks’ birthday, two days after Christmas. We went Christmas shopping one night at 10:30 because she had to be helped to walk and the store would be empty. She picked out toys for Brooks and ordered things for Aaron. She wanted their Christmas to be as happy as possible. Of course, it was for Brooks, but the rest of us barely made it through. Brooks celebrated his birthday with a cake with his family and a friend. She loved every minute of seeing him enjoy his third birthday.
Two days later, December 29, 2008, she went to the doctor, barely able to walk, but wanting more chemo to fight the cancer that was taking her life. The doctor had to tell her that her body couldn’t take anymore of the chemo. It was now harming her instead of helping. That was the day Kristen lost all hope. She knew the end was near but her courage still was there. She never complained but just didn’t understand why her boys would never again have the mother they so adored, as she did them.
From that day on, we watched her fade away. Her friends came by to visit. Each one of us had our time alone with her over the next few days. In the early hours of Saturday morning, January 10, she was carried into heaven by the angels who had been standing by. That nine months had flown by. That chapter had ended. Now, it has been four and one-half years since I have heard the clicking of her heals on my hardwood floors each day as she came to pick up Brooks after work, saying in her sweet voice, “how is my baby”? It seems like an eternity has passed. The next chapter now is watching Brooks grow up and seeing his big brother mature into a grown young man. And I know this chapter is going to pass entirely too fast, also.
I know Kristen would be so happy to know that her family, friends, and acquaintances were doing something to help other women in the future not have to endure the horrible disease that took her life. In 2012, I partnered with UAMS to organize a fundraiser and we raised over $40,000 towards patient support services (wig shop) and ovarian cancer research at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. The next event will be on April 12, 2014 at 6 p.m., at the Highlands Oncology Group in Rogers. It will be an evening of fun with a live and silent auction as well as great food, drinks and music. The events’ name is Kristen J. Madsen Wig Out To Defeat Ovarian Cancer. The cost is $50. Please come and enjoy the evening with us and support our effort to eradicate this terrible, terrible disease. Tickets can be purchased directly through UAMS at www.giving.uams.edu/WIGOUT