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...
Rodger Harding: my parents’ good deaths made me less fearful

Rodger Harding: my parents’ good deaths made me less fearful

“They both died young, but they’d accepted death” Rodger Harding’s mom died of colon cancer, his father 3 years later of emphysema. “They both died young – 61 and 69 –  but because they’d both accepted that they were dying, it took away the terror – for them and for me. This is not to say it dying was an easy or pretty process to watch.  But it still took away that fear.” Rodger knew something was up several months before his mother was diagnosed  “She wasn’t able to eat at the lavish lunches that were a monthly tradition with us. “ It wasn’t until the second operation that she understood: “She said to the doctor, ‘You’ve opened me twice. Did you take it out?’  When she heard the answer, her attitude was: ‘I’m facing it, we can have a good cry. I don’t mind dying but don’t really want to say goodbye.’ Friends would try to persuade her that she would get better. She wanted none of this.” Rodger, his brother and his father rallied. “We took her to the sea and wherever she wanted. She was feted, loved, made to feel special and pampered by all the people she’d ‘touched’ in her life. It was like a party. His mother, who loved food, would eat and enjoy it, and then throw it up. “She had to eat veggies, so I made her the only veggie dish I knew: ratatouille. Her sense of  humour kicked in, ‘I’m dying, and have to have ratatouille every day?’ When she became weaker, and had to go back into the hospital she...

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...