I lost a friend. None of us knew it would go so fast. Even Mary Louise.
She had cancer — we all have cancer — and it had progressed — as cancer does. Over three years it had grown, then was beaten back by toxic chemicals. Mary Louise grew well again or at least she was better again. Although none of us is ever as good as we were before diagnosis.
Then her leg became enflamed — red, hot, swollen. Even the infectious disease specialist could not identify the ailment. He prescribed an antibiotic and when the redness grew up her calf, he doubled the dose. And the next month, when the infection reached her thigh, he tripled the dose.
We we had high hopes for a clinical trial that all three of us were on but Mary Louise wasn’t getting any better. She had a brief respite on yet another chemo therapy.
When she missed the chocolate cake and sunflowers our group arranged just before her birthday, I knew something was wrong. She so enjoyed a celebration.
She hadn’t eaten in days. She was sleeping all day. She was home alone. The infectious disease specialist had increased the antibiotics again but now her right ankle was red.
When I drove her to hospital the next morning, neither of us knew she’d never see her apartment again.
Looking back, it all went so quickly. Intravenous antibiotics. Fluids. Blood transfusion. A final CT scan. The talk with the oncologist. And then a couple of days for all of us to get used to the idea that Mary Louise was dying.
When I first met Mary Louise she was very angry. “My name is Mary Louise. Not Mary. Not Louise. It’s Mary Louise. And I don’t like answering questions, so don’t ask me.”
As Mary Louise began to trust our little group she realized our questions were about caring, concern and gathering information. Some of us thrive on learning more about the disease we share — how many permutations, how it attacks us differently. What new drugs are being tested and will we qualify and will it work?
Mary Louise learned to ask questions too and learned how much anger we shared. I miss her bold guffaws at our black humour. We were in a race that no one wanted to win. Could we slow it down?
At the hospital, they told Mary Louise she would go to hospice soon. At first she was worried that she was too far from dying to go to hospice. No one lives much longer than a few months, they’d said. Wouldn’t she live longer?
And what about home, she asked? “Can I go home again?” She wondered. She needed care. A hospital bed. Drugs to ease her way. Oxygen. She was reassured that hospice was the best place for her now.
She need not have worried. Four days she lived in hospice and then she was gone.