living your best to the end

A mother, a daughter and Ovarian Cancer: “Love you so much.”

When Karen Greve Young gave me the hot-off-the press copy of ‘Love you so much: a shared memoir’ she explained: “Sometime into my mother’s treatment for ovarian cancer, we decided we wanted to do something meaningful.” Told by both daughter and mother, the title of their memoir is Victoria Zacheis Greve’s standard email sign-off. Email proves its worth in this memoir: over the four and a half years from diagnosis to death, email connected mother and daughter who were living half a world away, and email connected Karen with her father, brother, aunt and friends. These practical, poignant, personal exchanges offer a real picture of living under the cancer cloud. But they also show how life must go on, including falling in love, marriage, graduations, promotions, retirement, across-the-ocean and back travels, and infertility. In an example of the strength they drew from one another Vicki – whose survival strategy includes trying to be unfailingly positive and determined ­– writes Karen: “Keep up your spirits. If I can lick cancer, you can conceive a child….Love you so much.” Throughout the memoir love, support, respect, tenacity and humour ring true: Vicki addresses emails ‘Dear pushy little sister’ and, depending on the context, signs off as MOB (mother of the bride) and CA (co-author). Also shared is the grim reality: “All I want to do is to feel better and live to see my grandchildren – I truly don’t think either one is in the card for me. In the meantime, I’m trying to live as normally as possible with a deepening depression and flagging energy.” Karen’s correspondence, her narrative and the...

Things I’ve learned from dying

Living, knowing you are going to die Drawn, as I am, to learning ever more about how we die, and how ‘one’ dies, this David Dow title, “Things I’ve learned from Dying ” had me at ‘hello’ Dow – who is very much alive – is a death row lawyer in Texas . He writes beautifully about, and pours insight into the humanity of those on the row. But that’s not why I found his book so important and compelling: it’s the parallel story that I fastened on: Dow’s story of Peter – his father in law –  who died within a year of diagnosis. Throughout the sickness, its treatment and decisions about, Peter shares with Dow some light, along with the darkness of regrets, disappointments, conflicts and depression, and self-awareness. These emotions and reactions along the journey, tell an eternal story: Not wanting to lose a loved one, perhaps at the cost of the loved one’s quality of life As Peter says: “You all want me to stay alive, but that is because you want me to be in your lives. Of course that flatters me, and makes me happy and sad, but that desire does not give you a ballot, and even if it did, it is wrong to cast a vote that treats me as a means to your ends. I want to die with dignity, and you are all determined to thwart me.“ Peter is the loved one, torn between his own needs and those of his family: “For [daughter] Katya, either I am here or I am not. For me the line is elusive....

Men writing about The End of Life

Men writing from the inside out about life’s end. In the picture in The New Yorker, sitting with his dog, on a bench by a park, Roger Agnell, looks none of his 93 years. Famous for his sports writing, ‘This Old Man’ is Agnell’s reflection on life, starting ith what is and isn’t working- kind of a Medical History but with the life that was going on around the health issues. The lower-middle sector of my spine twists and jogs like a Connecticut county road, thanks to a herniated disk seven or eight years ago. This has cost me two or three inches of height, transforming me from Gary Cooper to Geppetto. My left knee is thicker but shakier than my right. I messed it up playing football, eons ago, but can’t remember what went wrong there more recently. I had a date to have the joint replaced by a famous knee man (he’s listed in the Metropolitan Opera program as a major supporter) but changed course at the last moment, opting elsewhere for injections of synthetic frog hair or rooster combs or something, which magically took away the pain. I walk around with a cane now when outdoors—“Stop brandishing!” I hear my wife, Carol, admonishing—which gives me a nice little edge when hailing cabs. In the New York Times, James Collins (author of Beginner’s Greek – a novel) title had me gearing up for a grim diagnosis: My office supplies are going to outlive me But, no! No health issue prompts Collins. Instead, it’s when he takes stock of the sheer number of staples in his office he...

Veteran’s Story: Palliative Care adds 6 years of life

Veteran Jim Cooper came to Palliative Care to die. Instead, he got 6 years of life.   For many, Palliative Care is a scary term: it equals dying and death. Few who feel this way would think of admitting themselves to a Palliative Care Program. But that’s just what Vet Jim Cooper did. Stanford’s Palliative doctor, VJ Periakoill wants to change the perception of Palliative care, and decided to film Jim’s life over the 6 years he was her team’s patient. Here’s his story…(click to view).  ...