My friend died this morning. I had talked to her a couple of weeks ago and could tell that she was much sicker than before, although I wasn't sure if radiation was causing her to be out of it, or if, in fact, the cancer - now metastasized into her brain - was the cause.
She was a classmate from Texas. We had attended the same small school for all twelve years. Her school photo is on the first page of my high-school scrapbook. I hadn't looked at the scrapbook in years, but pulled it out to share it with her during a recent visit. We laughed that day. Her husband drove us up to the scenic overlook at the top of Oak Creek Canyon, snapping photos all along the way. We had fun and her energy was unflagging.
She'd been undergoing treatment in Phoenix at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. By the time she got there, it was clear that her various cancers were going to kill her, but she wanted to stay alive long enough to see her son get married. It wasn't her stated goal to live until then, but within a few days of returning, she had to be hospitalized for various ills. Dehydration. Exhaustion. She attributed everything to causes that were not cancer related. And I believed her.
But then she called to let me know she was having radiation. The cancer had spread to her brain. The chemo that had held things in abeyance for about a year had given up. She was literally playing tennis until January when she broke a bone in her leg. That sounded ominous to me, but again, she blamed it on, well, everything but the cancer.
I visited with her during one of her four-hour chemo sessions in Phoenix. She was a huge fan of CTCA where, if you have the right kind of insurance, you can be treated with the latest methodologies by people who do, in fact, really seem to care. It's more like a spa than a hospital, part of their appeal - and no doubt a therapeutic modality as well. For more than a year she visited routinely, and for much of that time, the cancer was cooperating.
But her time came. Her son told us they had put her into hospice yesterday. And, yes, she and I had talked at some length about hospice along the way. She was sure that was what she wanted. Only a few hours in the program and she was gone. Her dear son wrote, "It was truly the hardest thing I had to do was see my beloved mother slowly pass."
It is, in fact, one of the hardest things we ever do, whether we are children or adults. Seeing our parents die. It's a fact of nature, but that doesn't make it any easier. Being prepared can help ameliorate the process, but it's going to hurt. As well it should. Elvira had made arrangements, including an early DNR (do not resuscitate) once she got the diagnosis even though she was still working, driving and playing tennis.
She did what was expected of her - the year of chemo and a few sessions of radiology - and refused to discuss the disease in any depth. Her husband referred to it as the "ignorance is bliss" approach to cancer treatment. But she was prepared for the end result.
We can make the process go more smoothly by being prepared. This blog is about talking to your family, friends, doctors and significant others about what you want - and don't want - at the end of life. It will never be easy to let go of those we love, either because we are dying or because they are, but we can become informed to the extent that we overcome much of the fear. She had done that. When I last spoke to her and commented that radiation sounded pretty scary she said, "What else can I do, Deb?" She didn't sound the least bit hopeless. She was just following the rules. I replied, "Do whatever feels right to you, Elvira."
That was less than two weeks ago. It was her time. She fought for as long as she wanted (although her family and friends wanted her to "keep fighting" per a post I saw on her Facebook page last week)...and she closed her eyes to this world.
A devout Catholic, she's on her way to that version of heaven. She was a lovely person who lived life well and with great integrity. I'm sorry for her husband, her son and her dozens of other family members. And I'm happy that I knew her. Rest in Peace, pretty lady.