December 14, 2006, 2:14 pm

“I Shall Not Waste My Days in Trying to Prolong Them” (Ian Fleming)

monicaandbill

(This story is a part of a short-story challenge given by Cathy over at Cathy’s Rants and Ramblin’s. Links to those who are also participating will follow.)

These are my in-laws. The photo was taken in 1983 in Hong Kong.

Bill had retired four years before at the age of 50, after 30 years of practicing law. He was three years post-quintuple bypass with aortic valve replacement via Dr. Norman Shumway at Standford.

With thirty years of marriage, ten kids and sixteen grandkids (so far) behind them, he and my mother-in-law, Monica, had moved up to the family farm near Klamath Falls, Oregon.

They had decided to travel and one of the first places they were able to visit was Hong Kong.

By June of 1989, we had lost both of them.

*****

Bill had done so well after his surgery, it came as a shock to the family when he died of a myocardial infarction in late 1985. In retrospect, those six years were a gift; he had been given only two months to live in mid-1979 due to cardiomyopathy following an MI.

The sudden loss of Bill was followed less than than three weeks later by the death of my husband’s grandmother. Monica lost her husband and her mother within three weeks.

Less than two years later, it appeared we were going to lose her, too.

Monica was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was fifty-six. They gave her six months to live.

*****

Monica had other ideas.

She began chemotherapy soon after the diagnosis. Four days a month she would go into the hospital where they would sedate her, so there was minimal nausea or unconfortable side effects, but not so sedated that it precluded a craving for Taco Bell in the hospital now and again. The rest of the time, she lived life like anyone else.

Her hair didn’t fall out. Her coughing stopped. Her tumors shrank to almost invisible – we could see the progress on the x-rays. I don’t remember her losing weight, but then she only weighed about 100 pounds to start with.

I told her she would get more sympathy if she looked like a patient. As long as her liver and kidneys could withstand the onslaught, she could continue the chemotherapy.

The first year she took all nine of her children, their spouses and the oldest grandchildren on a cruise to Mexico.

The next year we rang in 1989 on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

Soon after, the liver and kidney function tests mandated that the chemotherapy cease.

******

The tumors began growing. Monica tried Interferon therapy to see if it would halt the tumors in any fashion. All it did was cause her mouth to become one large canker sore. To heck with that! She said she would rather die than live with that pain.

She sat before a tumor board in San Francisco early in ’89 – the best medical minds in oncology. They told her they had nothing more to offer.

The countdown had started.

*****

Well, the doctors could countdown all they wanted, but Monica had some living to do!

She went on cruises with her friends. She alternated time at the farm with time down at the condominium in the Bay Area and spent time with her kids and ever increasing number of grandchildren.

She had always wanted a Jaguar. The car, not the cat. She would never have bought it for herself, ever. So the kids bought it for her.

She made plans to go on an Alaskan cruise with a bon voyage party at a local hotel in San Francisco before she left.

This time her doctor told her there was a good chance that she would not return from the cruise. The cancer was invading, getting worse.

She cancelled the cruise. And held the party anyway! If she was suffering in any way, she kept it to herself. If she was in any pain, she didn’t show it. She was not even on oxygen.

*****

Two weeks later she threw another party at the Westin St. Francis at Union Square in San Francisco. Her six siblings, her kids and their spouses all spent a weekend in the heart of the City.

We ate a lot, we laughed a lot and generally had a good time. Monica was on oxygen now and got from store to store via wheelchair. But trust me. We made it to the stores!

Who knew my mother-in-law could be such a party animal?

*****

A week later, we all went to the Strawberry Festival in Los Gatos. Beautiful day. It was the last time Monica would be out of the house.

Three days after that, Monica was too weak to get out of bed and her oxygen was continuous. Hospice nurses became involved with her care – she was not going to die in any hospital. Not a chance. Her family was a constant presence.

Two days before she died, my husband asked her where she wanted her funeral. She arched an eyebrow at him and informed him she wasn’t planning on leaving right at that moment, thank you very much.

Monica was alert up until a day before she died. On that warm June afternoon, my husband decided that her hair looked terrible, and she would not want to be seen like that. So, he and his sisters decided to wash it.

Monica died twenty minutes later, with all nine of her children and her grandchildren present.

*****

Monica gratefully accepted the reprieve of chemotherapy but when that was no longer an option, she accepted the days she was given.

She lived them to their utmost, surrounded by family and friends.

She did not waste her days in trying to prolong them.

*****

Epilogue: Most families grieve a death, our family just got pregnant. Four additional grandchildren were born by May of 1990. My youngest daughter was one of them; a 16-year-old souvenir of the St. Francis weekend.

Monica and Bill wound up with a grand total of twenty-eight grandkids. The oldest of those grandkids are now marrying, my oldest daughter and son to join them next summer.

Oh, and my husband is not allowed to wash anybody’s hair again. Ever.

******************************

Cathy gives some tough assignments, let me tell you. Here is a list of the courageous bloggers who chose to accept this challenge:

Wolfbaby

Laundress

Dr. Schwab

At Your Cervix

The Wandering Author

KT-RN

Frequency of Silence (JCR)

Truth is Freedom (Brian)

Patient Anonymous

Pearls and Dreams (PK)

Mimi Writes (Mimi)

Potpourri Of Writing (Mary Emma)

Charlie

Ladybug

Musings of a Distractable Mind (Dr. Rob)

Bankerchic

11 Comments


  • Cathy

    December 14, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    Kim, That was the most beautiful story ever! What a strong and wonderful family you have. We should all have such a story in our memory to share.

    Your MIL lived exactly the way that I believe it is meant to live and die. Fight it for as long as you can, and then “live” the rest of your days.

    Wow…Dr. Shumway operated on your father-in-law? I know, that you know, he was about the best of the best. In my mind, he and Dr. Reitz were breathtaking in what they accomplished. I have read everything and anything written about either one of them.

    Thank you for doing this and giving us such a great story!



  • Awesome Mom

    December 14, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    What a lovely and touching story!



  • bee

    December 14, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    kim, that was wonderful. i had surgery last may for lung cancer. i am luckier (so far) in that they say they got it all. hope they are right! thanks for sharing this lovely story about your family….. bee



  • A Bohemian Road Nurse...

    December 14, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    Awesome post! And thank you so much, Kim,for including me in your blog listings.


  • […] Comments Rob on I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.Dreaming and Believing » I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them on I shall notShall Not Waste My Days in Trying to Prolong Them” (Ian Fleming) // Emergiblog on I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.ipanema on Meme Tarzan, You LaundressShinga on QuizSolution […]



  • Candy

    December 15, 2006 at 7:53 am

    The sound of love in your voice when you speak of this family is wonderful. I’ve met many of them in Pat’s book (thank you very much for the best Christmas gift idea in decades…) and as I’m going through the end stages of life with my own parents, it’s inspiring to read of this couple who lived life fully.

    Thank you, as always.



  • Jeanne next door

    December 15, 2006 at 11:07 am

    That was a nice story Kim, I never knew what John’s dad looked like until I saw that picture above. You just never know when that time will come. You think you’re prepared for it and the “finality” of not seeing them again hits like a tidal wave. Well I guess that’s when our faith comes in and helps us get through life one day at a time. Jm



  • Peggikaye

    December 15, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    what a wonderful tribute! Thank you for posting this.



  • Janet

    December 15, 2006 at 6:38 pm

    Wow, Kim! What a touching story. It’s even better that it is not fiction. The love in your family is really special.



  • patientanonymous

    December 18, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    Very inspirational. I agree with everyone else in that it sounds like you do have a great family. That is something to be treasured.

    And your last sentence made me laugh. *grin*



  • Orhtonurse

    December 19, 2006 at 9:48 am

    Kim,
    Thank you so much for the story of Monica’s last days. Through Fr. Pat’s book, I had already had a glimpse of her humor and strength. Any woman with 10 kids has to live life to the fullest. Thanks, too for the heads-up on “Into the Arms of God” I loved the book and my mom is getting it for Christmas. Valerie


About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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