Carmen Cachia

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I wanted to write this article about a woman that is so close to our heart, my Mother and best friend, Carmen Cachia. 

Carmen has been suffering from an aggressive form of meningioma disease for the past 10 years. In this time, she has experienced personality changes, depression, bipolar, paranoia, memory loss and most of all the heartbreak and loss of her independence. 

Brain cancer changes the person from the inside out. I know if she had the opportunity to express herself on her condition and what the hardest obstacles to face, she would say, not being able to be there for her grandchildren and communicate with her family. 

On the twenty second of December 2008 Carmen was diagnosed with a brain tumour the size of an orange. 

Carmen was to undergo immediate surgery. Doctors were very firm with me that this emergency operation may take a turn and the outcome may be devastating. My mum could hardly put a sentence together and if she had, there was no relevance to the conversation, but she did understand what was happening. To a certain degree. 

My mum was 47 years of age at the time and Christmas Eve was set for her first operation. It all went well, she then had endured 5 days a week for 6 weeks of radiation therapy. But over the next few years the tumours were growing at a rapid rate that was now falling into an aggressive category. 

She had many seizures and many visits to the hospital. In the last few years there were times she would have 3 craniotomies (operation to open the skull) within a 12-month period and some were only 3 months apart. 

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In July 2017 Carmen again went through a major operation. She had 3 tumours sitting in the middle sphere of her brain and from my understanding a little bit deeper which is harder to get too. Her surgeon explained that this was the most difficult Craniotomy she was ever about to receive and very risky that it could lead to the loss of her right side of her body. My brother and I didn’t want to lose her but both options had no light at the end of the tunnel. This decision was left to my mum and she wanted to proceed with it. 

The night before her operation we both sat on my couch holding each other in an awkward silence. I asked her “Mum, are you sure you want to do this? I’m scared”. she said, “I don’t know Pris I haven’t got a good feeling about this”. I burst into tears and said, “me either, should we cancel?” she said “no.” and we both cried. I still remember her talking to me before she walked through those doors before surgery and it was the last time, I had a conversation with her. We both hugged and said “I love you” too each other. 

Eleven hours seemed like days waiting for her to come out and finally she did. Doctors told me there were many complications and they found 4 tumours they had to remove, and it has most likely caused some damage. 

The next 5 days were horrendous. My brother and I crying constantly. I thought the harder I cried maybe God will hear me. I was scared, and heart broken. I stayed by her lifeless self day and night. Watching the nurses inflict pain onto her finger nails to see if there was any reaction and the way they placed their knuckles into her chest and to shake her up screaming “Carmen!” and nothing, still haunts me to this day. 

Doctors drained fluid from her brain through her spine around day 4. She was slowly starting to open her eyes around this time. A couple days later a feeding tube was inserted into her nose, but she was awake. She knew who I was, but she couldn’t talk. Maybe just a “yes” or “no” here and there. A few more days had passed, and I realised her head was not healing correctly. She had “Golden Staph” (Bacteria that lives on the skin) and no blood was circulating to the area. Doctors again were very concerned. They put her under a general anaesthetic each time they cleaned the wound, this happened daily for 2 days and on the third day they took a graft from her wrist/ forearm to make a flap onto her head to supply blood flow to the area. 

When she finally came out onto the ward after that procedure, I was certain I was almost inches away from collapsing. As much as I pushed myself to walk alongside her, it was a struggle. It took days for her to calm down, she was either in shock or just angry and frustrated. I slept on the bench outside her room because she didn’t want me with her, and I was emotionally worn out. 

A few days passed and again some bad news came to surface. She had to go in for another operation to remove the bone from her skull. 

All in all, I could be here all day writing her story as more trauma surfaces in my memories and the worst wasn’t over. In those 2 weeks she went through 3 operations and 3 procedures. She is now wheelchair bound and cannot stand. 

She has just learned to feed herself but still is unable to have a conversation with her loved ones. She can only move her right side of her body 5 to 10% and unable to share her emotion. 

This amazing woman had four and a half months in hospital and again went in for another craniotomy in April 13th, 2018. She has had 17 operations overall over 10 years and still tries to put a smile on her face. 

Till this day she is unable to express her trauma, what she is thinking and how this nightmare has impacted her mentally and physically. It’s obviously not hard to see but not being able to express yourself and let it out, is something else altogether. This has changed our lives and the heartbreak my brother, myself and the family go through is unbearable. 

She is 57 years old and now living in an aged care home. I wish there were more facilities to accommodate people who are going through a similar situation and are still young. She is a fighter and one thing she has taught us is never give up, she breaths for her family because that’s what I know is important to her. 

Written by 

Priscilla Catania