The Cancer Diaries: Love Trumps Cancer Every Time
What is hardest to accept about the passage of time is that the people who once mattered the most to us wind up in parentheses. -- John Irving
I told the doctor that I wasn't that person in Jennette's life, I wasn't the one who would be hugging her, and holding her hand at the end. It's not that I was afraid to stare death in the face, it was that I, like Homer Wells in Cider House Rules, felt my time was better spent "being of use".
And so I busied myself yesterday moving Jennette's remainders out of her assisted living apartment. For the past week, I've been spreading the wealth to the deserving: her coat and the brand new clothing she had bought went to Gessie. Gudrun got her collectibles, Marissa got her bedroom set, and we took the electronics and a few tables. It was unbelievable how little was left at the end of her life; as Scott says, "it's the things that fall away".
The move finished, we drove to a little house on Bank Street to cancel her insurance.
"What about the home insurance," the nice woman asked. "Doesn't she still need that?"
I sort of chuckled.
"Not where she's going."
That's me, always making a joke, but it's how I deal, and I won't apologize for it.
Then I turned my laser focus towards executing Jennette's final wishes. She had already paid for her funeral, but had added on a few details, including an afternoon service, red carnations, and some snacks for those bearing final witness.
Scott wheeled into Kelly's Funeral home, and I paid her bill out of her account. She had been adamant that nobody would be out of pocket.
After a trip to Costco for dog food, and to Mastermind for a few new toys for Squish, I heard my phone ring. It was Gessie.
"You have to come, Rose," she said through her tears. "I don't think she's going to make it through the day."
Oh dear, I thought, as we headed for the Bruyere. Is it really the end, after all these excruciating and painful months?
I rushed up to the 5th floor and found the room full of women, forming a circle around the bed. Nurses bustled in and out, and her doctor stood at the end of the bed.
"Don't give her any water," an efficient nurse instructed. "She'll choke."
I looked at the tiny entity lying on the bed, her head crooked to one side, her eyes glassy, her mouth agape. It wasn't my friend of thirty years. I knew Jennette was in there someplace, but I was looking at cancer in all its glory, and I was smelling its wrath.
I could feel the tiny spirit of Jennette rallying, as she held out her emaciated arms and hands for a hug.
"Rose," she murmured. I rushed to embrace her, wishing I'd brought the Vick's. That smell...
"I love you, Jennette," I said. "But soon you will be with Dad, and Mom, and Roger. Don't worry. Everythng is ready."
And then something miraculous happened. The cancer seemed to disappear into the background, and I saw Jennette emerge from this shell.
"Put my bed up," she said, in a strong voice. She was back.
We sat around for the next hour, joking with her. She smiled and twinkled. At one point, she asked me for her purse. I handed it to her, and she fumbled through it, looking for her lip balm and then pulled out the wallet and handed me a wad of cash.
"Parking," she said.
Like I said, she never wanted anybody to be out of pocket because of her.
At the end of the afternoon, the nurse came to give Jennette her death juice, all those drugs, and Jennette stopped her, and shooed her away. She didn't want to go to Lala just yet. In fact, I know she didn't want it to end at all.
But dogs needed to be fed, and strong drink needed to be poured, so we left her, propped up on her pillow watching Ellen DeGeneres with a wry smile on her face.
It had been a stellar afternoon.
Sure, there was cancer, and it would kill her any minute. But in the hand of life, friendship and love trumps cancer every time.
Photos by Donna Bartlett