View Full Version : Anyone have experience with Stage 4 cancer?

Jazzy Waltz
11-13-2011, 11:14 AM
I'm going with brain cancer for now as the illness my MC's mother is dying from, but I guess it could be any kind of cancer. What would the typical symptoms be? How long would the victim have to live? What is the % of survival?

Any and all info would be appreciated. Again, this is for Stage 4 cancer.

11-13-2011, 01:41 PM
I nursed my mother through ovarian cancer. She was very lucky as she only had minor physical discomfort in the last week of her life. The medication she was prescribed was warfarin as she had a blood clot - we went every week to the hospital where she had a blood test and the medication was altered according to the results. She had chemotherapy as an ongoing treatment - she had a tube going into a vein or artery in her chest which was attached to a bottle of medication. Once a month for six months she went into hospital for the chemo. She did lose her hair, even though she was given a cold cap to wear during the treatment. She had an operation, but the surgeon was not able to do anything and he said that her condition was critical. That was in September. Her physical condition deteriorated after the op. She lost weight and it seemed as if the cancer was eating her as she got smaller her abdomen swelled up. On Christmas day mum got up, washed, dressed and got ready for the friends that were coming over. At lunch time she said she could not eat and went to her bed room. I checked her about every 15 minutes. The last time I checked her I found that she had fallen off the bed and could not move. She was lucid and knew who and where she was. I phoned for an ambulance as I could not get her back onto the bed. When it arrived the two paramedics were brilliant - they got her back onto the bed and asked her what she wanted to do. She said she wanted to go to hospital. If she had only known the confusion that was going to cause . . .

Mum died on December 26, she was not in any pain and she was lucid until about an hour before her death. Her last physical act was to take one of my hands and one of my brothers and put them together.

One thing I did discover was that she was very lucky to be in the health authority she was in - the hospital who had charge of her treatment was, imo, the best. The care they took of her amazed me. I was also very moved by the care I was given as her primary carer. When the MacMillan nurse visited she sometimes had a doctor with her and one of them always spent time with me asking me how I was getting on, if I needed mum to go into the hospice to give me a break.

I hope this helps - PM me if there is anything else you want to know.

Jazzy Waltz
11-14-2011, 03:39 AM
Thank you-- that does help. Sorry to hear about your mother, though.

11-14-2011, 11:36 AM
You are welcome. Mum died in 1998 and though I still miss her time has dulled the ache of her last year. Can I thank those that gave me hugs, condolences and reps for the post. Very much appreciated. Made me a bit tearful, which writing the post did not.

Writing also made me think about a lot of other stuff which I had stored away - our last day out was to a Star Trek exhibition in Portsmouth. Mum sat in Kirks seat on the bridge of the Enterprise which really thrilled her! She had no self pity and did not lament her condition - she just got on with the time she had as best she could. In the oncology ward I saw some people who could not cope with their condition and it was distressing to see their tears. The surgeon who operated on mum was the nephew of one of her friends and in a conversation he implied that how people reacted to being told they had cancer sometimes had a knock on effect on their response to treatment.

11-15-2011, 02:27 AM
Stage 4 cancer? No. No experience with that, but my mom had cancer in her brain that started as lung cancer (a non-smoker, too), so take the following for what it's worth.

Symptoms for your character will very likely depend upon which region of the brain is affected, but in mom's case, it weakened her left arm, and made her prone to unpleasant personality changes, getting mean and angry. Doctors, however, zapped the tumor with radiation, and a new concoction of chemotherapy seems be working well. Though she doesn't seem mean and angry these days, the arm still doesn't work right. The prognosis, in this case, seems to be one of constantly putting out little cancer fires that whittle away, whittle away, till there's nothing left. All we get to do is buy a little more time. Quality time, hopefully.

11-15-2011, 02:44 AM
Agree with the previous poster-- it depends on where the tumor is located.

In the frontal lobe, personality changes and memory loss would dominate.

In the parietal lobe, it would be motor or sensory loss on the opposite side of the body. (i.e., a lesion on the right would cause symptoms on the left) Also, loss of vibration, cold and hot sensation, and proprioception (the sense of where one is in space) could be lost.

Seizures can occur with a lesion anywhere, but especially if in the temporal lobe.

Occipital tumors can cause blindness.

Cerebellar tumors would cause trouble with balance and coordination.

Brainstem tumors would cause problems with the cranial nerves, and can cause locked in syndrome, where the person is aware of everything but can't respond (that one is specific to the pons).

A tumor anywhere would likely cause significant pain, not because of any pressure on nerves (the brain is amazingly numb) but because of pressure on the skull in a closed space.

As far as percentages and survival go, it really depends. I know someone with a primary brain tumor diagnosed over a year ago who is still alive. I also know people with metastatic disease to the brain who die within days. It depends on the primary type of tumor, how aggressive that type of tumor is, and if there is disease anywhere else in the body.


Karen Junker
11-15-2011, 05:40 AM
One of my sons died from a brain tumor. You can PM me and I'll give you any details you are interested in. Oddly, I know people who have survived the same type of tumor that killed my son.

11-16-2011, 10:11 PM
Several of my family members have died of cancer- various kinds.
Six months ago my sister-in-law died from a brain tumor. She was fine on the weekend. Had a headache on Monday, by Tuesday she had a seizure and was sedated to try to find where her brain was bleeding and wed she was dead from a tumor the size of an orange. It was all very sudden and very sad. No one was prepared.

I went to school with someone who was diagnosed at the age of 28 with a brain tumor and given 4 months to live. His main symptom was severe headaches which he did nothing about because he didn’t have insurance. After surgery and recovery, 2.5 years later he is still alive and doing well, cancer/tumor free.

For my grandfather, he was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer on Sept 10th and had a long drawn out last two months with the last three weeks of hospice care and constant morphine. We watched him get sicker day by day and knew the end was coming when he stopped recognizing everyone.

Symptoms and survival rates are normally specific to the kind of cancer but also can range greatly. It can be long and painfully drawn out or short and quick. You can probably find multiple types of cancer to fit your story and it will be believable. Nikkidj sums brain cancer up well to give you an idea all the differences you can find in just one type of cancer.

11-17-2011, 05:51 AM
With a few exceptions, they pretty much don't use, "Stages," anymore. Normally it's the TNM system and it varies by what the primary tumor is. That might be too technical for most people, and an editor might still prefer, "Stages," and some of the older docs still use them but if you start having trouble finding stuff it's probably because the classifications switched for the most part 10+ years ago. The T refers usually to the size and or local invasiveness of the primary tumor. The N is for involvement of lymphatic nodes. The M is for the presence of metasteses.