This is the most difficult thing we have ever had to write — an update on our mom, Mary Agnes Cullen Bryan. We have been through a whirlwind of life events over the past few weeks and we, as a family, have been coming to terms with incredible difficulty.
A few months ago, our mom’s health deteriorated suddenly, but she (and we!) often blamed it on “getting older.” Our mom has always been active and healthy, eating healthy and taking care of herself, but things took an extreme “nose dive” at the end of June. On June 28th, we nearly dragged our mom to the ER at St. Joseph’s in Ann Arbor and began the process of testing to figure out why she was experiencing the health issues she was having. She was experiencing terrible fatigue and weakness, and could no longer walk up and down stairs and was having a difficult time doing anything – including even simple tasks of washing dishes or turning on the tea kettle. Something was wrong.
During that first eight hour visit to the St. Joseph’s Hospital ER they ran numerous tests and the only thing that showed any discrepancy or caution was a little “blip” on the EKG – so doctors assumed it was something minor and had to do with her heart. Her blood tests showed that she was incredibly healthy for her age and all of her organs, from what they could see then, looked good. So they sent us home at 11pm and told us to call the Michigan Heart Association the next day to set up a stress test.
We called the Michigan Heart Association and they couldn’t fit our mom in until July 11th – weeks later – and our mom was in such poor health at that point, we (thankfully!) decided not to wait and decided to rush her back to St. Joseph’s. After more hours in the emergency room and more tests, less than 30 hours after our previous visit, through a CT scan we learned that our mom had no issue with her heart – there were actually “lesions” showing up on her liver, which signaled cancer. At that point, St. Joseph’s hospital checked our mom into the hospital and set her up for a biopsy of her liver the next day – so they could get more information on what was actually going on.
After twelve agonizing days in the hospital, with little to no information about what the biopsy results showed, we ended up learning that we were embarking on the most difficult journey of our lives. Our mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer and has been given three months or less to live. It is cholangiocarcinoma, which is a rare form of cancer and is untreatable – especially with where our mom is at now. Doctors believe the cancer started in her bile ducts/gallbladder, spread to her liver (she has a lot of cancer in her liver), and now is also on the inside of her skin (abdomen). Chemotherapy or radiation would be ineffective due to the spread, although we have been looking into alternative options to help keep her comfortable and keep her quality of life high as long as possible.
Our family has been through some incredibly difficult chapters with our dad’s head injury 33 years ago that nearly took his life, Kate and Delia’s health struggles with Job Syndrome, Peter with autism, and Moira’s only recently diagnosed celiac disease. Our mom has always been the strong one, the steadfast one, the one asking questions and challenging doctors’ first opinions. We are all alive and thriving because of the care of our mom, the questions she asked, and the treatment options she sought out for us. But now it is our turn to care for her.
Mary is home now and we are preparing to start her soon with hospice care. She is in good spirits and overall still has much of her good health. We are doing everything in our power (with the help of hospice care) to make sure her final days, weeks, months (we’re praying we can keep her around as long as we can) are beautiful, magical, and comfortable.
During her stay at Saint Joe’s, the rest of the family was hard at work. Mary’s baby brother John and his clan showed up one day in the blistering heat to overhaul her favorite space – her garden. They worked with Delia to weed the flower beds, mulch the gardens (which included a late night run to Home Depot for 40 bags of mulch. While they were working outside, the rest of the Bryan family were hard at work deep cleaning the inside of the house – converting the family rooms to give our parents an oasis of a bedroom on the main floor (our mom is already struggling with stairs and will only deteriorate from here) – including ordered a new bed for them to sleep in that would be more comfortable for both of them in our mom’s current state. We cleaned the house from top to bottom, including the never-ending supply of dog hair that all pet-friendly homes seem to accumulate on every surface. Fortunately for our mom, her house has probably never been cleaner – a dream she’s fantasized about since the day she brought her first baby home (as we all know – where there are babies and dogs – a house is never clean for long). We’re working on hiring a housekeeper to come in to keep up appearances – taking the stress off of Mary and the rest of the family so we can all focus on spending quality time with each other in these final days, as well as someone to help mind the “puppies” – so they get special attention when “the kidlets” aren’t here to help our parents with the dogs.
As you can imagine, we are devastated and don’t know how we will go on without our mama – the Queen mother. We are concerned about our dad as well, because after nearly 40 years of marriage – how do you go on without the one you love? Our parents celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in September and our mom has said numerous times that she is hoping to celebrate that day. Our family has been through incredibly difficult things before and we are stronger for it – but it does not make this chapter any easier.
We wanted to share this news with everyone here to ask you above all, please pray. Please pray for our mom as she enters this chapter and suffers, for our dad as he experiences his own suffering, and for our family – as we prepare to lose the woman that gave us life and gave us the lives that we have today. We have also had numerous people reach out, as the news begins to spread, asking what they can do to help and support us during this difficult time. And besides prayer, what we need are very practical things. We had to purchase a new bed, mattress, and numerous things for the house to make it more accessible and comfortable for our mom. There are numerous medical bills that are beginning to trickle in and we expect many more over the coming weeks and months. There are expenses that aren’t covered by insurance and numerous things that we’ll need to rent (a ramp, a walker, etc.). We’ve also already begun funeral arrangements, which has already cost thousands of dollars. Additionally, travel expenses for Peter because he lives in South Carolina, the huge grocery bills and meal expenses since all of the kids (and their significant others) have been trying to spend more time at home, etc/etc.
If you can help, the greatest thing you can do for us is pray. But also, if you would like to donate to buy a meal, cover an expense, or help us in any way during this difficult time – we set up a PayPal accoun. You can see more about that on the SUPPORT PAGE.
We will continue to post updates here, so please keep an eye out here and/or on social media. We hope to post fun and joyful things going on with our family, as well as updates on our mom’s condition – so we can keep everyone informed.
Thank you for loving us and for all of your support during this time. We are so grateful.
If you have any questions or want to get in touch with us, please email us at: email@example.com
P.S. Do you have a story to tell about Mary? Please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope to collect as many stories as we can about our sweet mama to share with each other and future generations. She’s touched so many lives during her time here on earth and we’d love to keep track of stories and memories of our mama.