We were on a family trip in Peru when my mom, Caprice, started to not feel well. We had plans to climb Machu Picchu, and she declined to participate, which is not like her at all — she has always been adventurous. Her energy level, however, had been diminished by what we assume now must have been cancer.
On June 4, 2020, my mom received news that would forever change our lives. With it being the beginning of the pandemic, in-person doctor visits were hard to get. So while my mom experienced severe bloating of her stomach for months, telehealth visits limited what doctors could assess. She was told to change her diet, keep a food diary, and was even prescribed gas relief medication. Yet her stomach continued to grow. My mom knew something was wrong, but none of the doctors expressed any major concerns about her condition.
After months of telehealth appointments, she went in for an ultrasound and found out she had ovarian cancer. By this point, she looked like she could have been six to eight months pregnant. Because of the pandemic, no one was allowed to join her for her appointment. She found out by herself, on her birthday, that she had metastatic stage 3C ovarian cancer. It was a sad experience for our tight-knit family. Our mom is the glue of our family. Together, we started fighting.
A week later, my mom underwent a hysterectomy — along with the removal of her uterus, doctors also removed her ovaries and fallopian tubes, where the cancer had spread. As a result of her emergency surgery, she missed my little brother’s wedding. As she recovered, she joined the festivities via FaceTime.
In August, Mom started her journey of numerous cancer treatments. She was put on IV-infused chemo for the first four months, and it seemed like things were getting better. Her numbers were the lowest they have ever been, so they decided to move to another treatment since there was no more need for chemotherapy. She moved onto an oral targeted therapy medication for nearly six months, but in June 2021 the cancer center in Tulsa that was treating my mom closed its doors, without notice to its patients. Everyone receiving treatment from them found out the same way — on the news on television.
Abruptly left without the oncology support she had been receiving for the last year, she started to search for a new provider. Mom looked for options inside and outside of Oklahoma that would optimize her chances of surviving. But it wasn’t until August that she was able to get another treatment plan with OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center in Oklahoma City. Once again, she started on IV-infused chemo but experienced serious side effects, and a scan showed the chemo wasn’t working.
While receiving her chemo, Mom had sought opinions from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, which gave us assurance that even they wouldn’t be doing anything different. After the treatments quit working, we were desperate for anything, at which point her doctor from OU mentioned trials available for my mom to take part in. We were determined not to give up.
Though the idea of a trial was concerning, Mom wasn’t ready to stop fighting. As a family, we did research and chose which one would best benefit her.
In January 2022, she started the trial of a targeted therapy, an antibody drug conjugate. She and my dad travel two hours each way to Oklahoma City for treatment and lab work to monitor the efficacy of the treatment and progression of the cancer. Since starting this trial, there has been a positive change in her cancer markers; however, she had to take seven weeks off of treatment because her protein levels were dangerously high. She is now receiving the lowest dosage possible during the trial due to the concerning side effects she was experiencing.
We have still not given up. Though my mom has experienced difficult side effects — painful neuropathy, nausea, vomiting, nosebleeds and extreme fatigue — she continues to be the strong mother she has always been, the rock of the family.
As long as Mom can continue to participate in life in a meaningful way, she will keep fighting. But she doesn’t want to suffer a prolonged death, with us helplessly watching her diminish. She wants the option of medical aid in dying, which would make her feel empowered.
Living in the Bible Belt means our state representatives won’t even give my mom the time of day when she starts talking to them about the importance of medical aid in dying. So we’ve made the decision as a family that when the time comes, my mom and dad will move to California, Oregon or Washington — where we have family and where medical aid in dying is allowed. We’re all here to support her, and we don’t believe that God will judge Mom. He knows she’s suffering. God chose us to be in this position, and we feel assured that he would still take her into heaven.
It’s heartbreaking that my mom will be forced out of her state, her home of over 40 years, to die peacefully somewhere hundreds of miles away. Not having the option in Oklahoma means all of our lives will be uprooted. My daughter has special needs and regular doctor appointments that would have to be put on hold so that we can be with Mom in her final days. My brothers are both expecting children in the fall, and one of them runs his own business. We shouldn’t have to go through all this to ensure Mom has the gentle death every terminally ill person deserves. No terminally ill person should have to take on the additional stress of making a major relocation during their last weeks or months of life.