A Calgary family grieving the loss of their mother is sharing some of their experiences with navigating her final days in the midst of a pandemic.
Marg Seeley had just made it to her 80th birthday, when she died. She was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in 2018, but ongoing treatments were keeping the disease managed.
The family knew it was incurable and losing her was inevitable, but according to her children things changed when their mom got the COVID-19 vaccine on the recommendation of doctors on March 5.
Her daughter Leanne Whyte said her mother was looking forward to the dose.
“She missed her kids and grandkids — and the life she created with family around evaporated a year ago,” Whyte said. “She was anxious to put it on the shelf and move forward especially without much time left it was important to her.”
But Whyte said within days of the shot, her mother’s condition got worse.
“It was almost immediate, she felt effects of it,” Whyte said. “She was in trouble and it seemed to have a direct effect.”
Her daughter Stacie Maxey said her mom’s medical team took her off her cancer medication in hopes of narrowing down her imminent health concerns.
Her son Michael Seeley said he is frustrated his mother was taken off her life saving cancer treatment.
“Her platelet numbers dropped and they blamed the cancer medication for it and they were trying to eliminate variables so they took her off that,” Seeley said.
“There’s always the question of how much time did it cost her?”
“Would she have another week or another month if she could have stayed on her cancer medication?” Whyte asked.
Whyte did report their mom’s reaction to Alberta Health Services.
“There was an investigation. In the end, they came back and felt there was enough other disease progression that led them to believe it couldn’t be the only reason she started to slide down,” Whyte said.
All the siblings support the vaccine, and many have received their own shot. They are recommending caregivers ask more questions about the impacts to cancer patients.
Alberta Health Services provided general information on cancer and COVID-vaccines. Officials say cancer patients should get the shot in most cases, but there are exceptions.
Stuart Edmonds with the Canadian Cancer Society said they recommend the vaccine but added there are some considerations regarding when and if cancer patients should get the shot.
“Because of their weakened immune system, there is a challenge they may not be able to respond as effectively as others to the vaccine,” Edmonds said. “We encourage cancer patients undergoing treatment to talk to their health care providers about when is the right time to take the vaccine.”
“Patients are more susceptible to COVID-19 but also we don’t know about responses to the COVID vaccine so it is important patients talk to health care provider.”
Seeley’s family said they said there is one gift COVID-19 brought them. Because of visitor restrictions in hospital and fear of outbreaks at hospices, they decided to bring their mom home to give her around the clock company.
“Every morning she wanted the curtains open to watch the sunrise and it meant (to her): ‘I’ve made it another day,'” Maxey said.
“We made it normal in a time that isn’t normal.”
“She was dancing to Elvis and I was able to be with her at night. She needed 24 hour care and all five of us needed to do this,” Maxey said.
“Having her at home — there was no other way I would have wanted it,” Michael Seeley said. “We were all there and you could see it in Mom’s face she was happy.”
Marg Seeley died on May 6, 2021, surrounded by her family.
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