“I’m done watching.”
Sharon Rorie, on the phone with her sister and brother, waited for the litany of questions that would normally follow an announcement like that. Instead, both were in immediate agreement.
The siblings spent the last two years watching the nodule on their mother’s kidney as she went through a series of kidney stones and then bleeding to see if it would assert itself as… something. Now, whatever it might be, all of them were ready to ready to get answers.
Their mother, Patricia Rutter, 79 years old at the time, was diagnosed with kidney cancer in August 2018 following surgery. Patricia’s surgeon, Dr. Robert Uzzo at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, PA, told her daughters afterwards that, slice by slice, he had to remove the entire kidney because of the baseball-sized tumor hiding behind it, which wasn’t visible on scans to many previous specialists.
“He said we made the right call,” said Patricia Peterson, 53, Sharon’s younger sister. “No question that had we not brought mom to him she would have been dead in a year, he said. But here she is, still alive 5 years later.”
In the year after her diagnosis, Rutter joined a clinical trial and the sisters committed to ensuring she was at her appointments every three weeks, driving from their homes a few hours away.
They tag-teamed her care with skill – Rorie, 56, was a hospice nurse and Peterson was a hospice home help aide – delivering meals while their mother still lived in her home (she now lives with Peterson and her husband), going to appointments, and consulting often on her care.
“The nice thing is, mom trusted us fully,” Peterson said. “She knows we have her best interests and we were just trying to keep her alive.”
Their intuition did exactly that in two instances. Once when Rorie initially pushed to investigate their mother’s scans further and discovered the cancer and again when a bout of fever landed Rutter in the hospital with sepsis.
“Listen to your gut,” Peterson said. “Yes there are specialists but you know your parent or your family member and if something doesn’t feel right, go with it.”
“Stay on top of family members’ health,” Rorie added, thinking back to her elderly mother’s reluctance to discuss what she considered embarrassing health issues. “Especially one you know is private or who is living alone, getting older, or has no spouse.”
Rorie and Peterson continue to balance caring for their mom with their own lives since they do not want to place her in a nursing home. They enrolled Rutter in a care program that includes home care visits and access to a center where she plays bingo and spends time with friends. On her own, she enjoys police procedural TV shows like Blue Bloods and Chicago P.D. and taking walks with her dog Rosa.
More recently, the sisters can take longer breaks, as they did on a recent beach trip to Ocean City, Maryland, to decompress and have fun. Peterson hopes to take a belated 33rd anniversary trip with her husband soon.
The experience of caring for their mother, now 84, strengthened the sisters’ relationship.
“My sister and I got closer throughout this. It’s too overwhelming for one person and it’s good that nobody here is trying to be a hero,” Rorie said. “You can’t do this without support.”