Nancy (Wipper) Wild, a beautiful soul lost to cancer - our life and her fight
by Jim Wild
(South Saint Paul, MN, USA)
At Ribfest 2004
We met in 1999 on the Internet. She was 38 and I was 46. She had never been married even though she was so pretty. Although there wasn't the instant attraction that I've read about in some of these stories, there was an underlying deep bond that kept us together through thick and thin, and we grew closer and closer over time. We moved in together in 2002.
We had so much fun! She loved to travel and visit friends and family, and we loved to take trips together no matter how small or how extensive. She said I was the best travel partner ever, and I felt the same way of her. By the end of 2003 we'd already been to Europe four times, Arizona three times, the Eelpout festival in Walker twice, northern Wisconsin twice, and Chicago. Then there were the small day-trips and weekend trips... and the dinners at my sister's and the outings to my parents' and parties and concerts and restaurants and bars and festivals and fairs.... I am amazed that we had time to breathe!
By 2005 it was time to propose, and I did it in New York City at the top of the Empire State Building. Yet we didn't jump into setting a marriage date... she had always wanted her own house, and finally in 2006 she had a good enough job to buy one. I sold my place and we now had the loveliest old house with wooden floors and great architecture. We set a wedding date for July 2007... but where to marry? We had liked Hawaii as the place, but her mom was not in good enough health to travel very far... and I asked her if she'd regret it if her mom wouldn't be at the ceremony. She admitted that it would; she wanted her mom there. So we finally decided on a place that was special to us as well as close enough to her mom and dad in Arizona. We decided on Jerome, an old copper mining town that had become a virtual ghost town but has been resurrected as an artists' community. It is on a mountainside looking towards the city of Sedona -- an absolutely beautiful view. We chose the Jerome Winery as the spot in large part due to the fact that it has an unspoiled view of the whole area below. She was absolutely overjoyed to be married, as was I. It was a beautiful, intimate ceremony with only our immediate family members present. Hawaii would be our honeymoon when we got the time.
Now we had a beautiful home with three cats and a life to look forward to. But there were already strange symptoms happening... at first a fungus on a couple of her fingernails... then her skin wasn't healing as fast as it should... then numbness in the hands.. then arthritic symptoms... then skin tightening -- all of which were autoimmune symptoms, but all the doctors did was prescribe more medicines rather than figure out WHY she was having these symptoms coming on. Treating the symptoms and not looking for the cause. She finally had enough with the ineptitude of the doctors when one of them prescribed carpal tunnel surgery... and the surgeon took one look at her arms and said "I won't touch this; your symptoms are systemic!" She then began going to the U of M. The doctor there started along the same path, but suspected something was awry when no arthritis medicine made any improvement... They ordered a scan done, which showed enlarged lymph nodes. Nancy worried it was cancer, but all the doctors said that if it was cancer, then it was the strangest case of cancer they had ever seen. But the biopsy confirmed cancer -- lung cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes. Stage 3 - 4 was how they put it. Apparently the autoimmune symptoms were the body's response to the cancer, and it attacked her own cells too.
After seven months of hell, in which she had a near-fatal heart failure from one of the chemo drugs, an infected port, an allergic reaction to the antibiotics used to treat the port infection, and sores on her skin from god-knows-what, she was almost cancer-free in January of 2009. Beaten down and feeling like crap, but almost cancer-free. This is where the story takes a turn, and where I have problems with letting it get away.
First of all, Nancy's oncology nurse had months before told us bluntly that Nancy had no chance to live, and that they would just be making her comfortable. When you realize that at this time Nancy was actually getting better, it was stupid for the nurse to make that statement. In fact it was wrong. One should never take away hope from anybody, since every case is different! She could have been the unique case, as she had already been up to that point! ...well, Nancy was really upset and irritated by these comments and started smoking again -- on one hand to relieve the stress but also because she believed now that it didn't really matter what she did.
I didn't find out until December that she was smoking again. I was furious. But now that I knew about it the smoking increased for some reason, and continued to increase the first half of 2009. this probably didn't help her chances. All because of an idiot nurse. I had also been giving Nancy supplements and foods which would help her body chemistry be anti-cancer, to oversimplify it. After the good scan the doctor was worried that she was too thin, and prescribed an unrestricted diet so she could gain weight. Well, if you read any accounts of people who survive "terminal" cancer, diet is almost always a part of the plan. Nancy did not believe in anything but what the doctors promoted, and this doomed her from the start, considering that her doctor didn't have a plan which could cure the cancer. Nancy also stopped taking the supplements regularly, thinking that it had been the chemo alone reducing the cancer. This may have been a false assumption. I think the supplements helped, because the oncologist was so amazed at the results she had gotten. Thirdly, Nancy was seeing a psychologist, which was helping her relieve some of the stress and isolation associated with cancer. That always helps a cancer patient (to reduce stress). At some point in the beginning of 2009, she stopped seeing the psychologist. Fourth, the oncologist reduced the chemo dosage to help her recover and gain weight.
But she continued to lose weight rather than gain it, and the oncologist decided to try other types of chemo. The cancer was coming back, but things weren't going too bad until April. That's when she started getting splitting headaches, short bouts of severe "migraines" that would go away quickly too. But one Sunday evening she started vomiting and the headache wouldn't go away... we called the doctor and he said she should be checked out for a brain tumor. When she got the brain scan the next day, it confirmed that she had several lesions in the brain... we were devastated. I thought she had no more than a few days to live. But the whole-brain radiation worked, and she continued to fight. However the steroids and the radiation had bad side effects -- she had a hard time hearing now, and a hard time sleeping.
Then one of the lymph nodes got so enlarged that it was causing her a lot of pain. Up to this point, the tumors themselves had not caused any pain. Now they were. The next round of chemo had some effect on that tumor, but not enough. It is mid-summer by now. We agree to try radiation on the difficult tumor... but this means no chemotherapy during the treatment, and so the other tumors will be free to grow. That's exactly what happened. In addition, the radiation oncologist noticed a tumor on the spine which could cause problems, so the doctor ordered an infusion of a bone-hardener to defend the spine bones against the tumor.
At that point she started to be unable to eat or drink without vomiting. The nurses, in their typical knee-jerk reaction, simply ordered her to take more anti-nausea meds. As you will see this was not the correct solution. But since we had no help figuring out why she couldn't keep down anything, we looked for answers where we could. One thing which was discovered by the radiation team was that her intestines were full, which could have caused a kind of self-poisoning... so she underwent a "cleaning out" procedure which was not fun. She's getting weaker and weaker too, as she could not eat! The doctors and nurses did not order feeding, though; in fact, the one idiot nurse even said to me, "It would just delay the inevitable." !!! Oh my God!!! Isn't that what we all are doing??????
Well, Nancy still could not eat or drink, and one afternoon the home nurse checked her out and found that she was having heart problems that required the emergency room. 911 was called and she was rushed to the hospital. At one point her hands were turning bluish... and soon they found a massive amount of fluid around her heart! They did an emergency drainage of some of the fluid, which got her heart rate back to normal, then a surgery to remove the rest and insert drainage tubes around her lungs too. In all, they got over one liter of fluid off, which is a huge amount. Lo and behold, now she is able to eat and drink again! So why were the nurses prescribing anti-nausea medicines??? Because they don't think and they don't investigate! They react with a mindless "If (A) then do (B)" mentality. It was the infusion of bone-hardening medicine that had apparently forced more fluid into the heart cavity, and that is what caused the vomiting etc.
It took 12 days to get her out of there, and she was thoroughly defeated by the whole experience, I could tell. They had found cancer in the fluid around the heart. She was still on a catheter. Her lung tube needed draining every few days. Staples on her chest. It was hard to breathe. She was weaker. I don't want to even go into the rest of the story at this point... it is too sad. She wound up in the hospital again even though that was the last place she wanted to be, and she died there. We never did make it to Hawaii. I hope she made it there on her own...