My husband’s daughter, Heather was just readmitted to the hospital with the final stage of cancer. Last Sunday we had her and her husband Jerald over to share a meal with us. Reflecting on this experience afterwards, I wrote this poem…
The hiss/swish of her oxygen unit keeps time
like a hydraulic clock in the background
We converse and laugh
carefully avoiding the minefield of reality
the dark mist that surrounds us all
Her lashless eyes morphine heavy
Her head chemo bald
The nasal cannula that hangs from her nose
connects her to the lifeline of air
The decline of her shocks me
There is no longer room for miracles
How can I help in her mortal struggle?
All I can do is prepare a homecooked meal
with apple crisp for dessert
We savor it in the company of family
around the table in the warmth of my kitchen
Maybe that is enough
Heather collapsed face first on the gravel. Her purple-tinged hair spread out like the wind blew it wild, The tattoo of a Volkswagen bus over a lotus on her left arm faced the sky. Jerald, her husband heard her fall as she hit the side of the Volkswagen bus where they sleep while they build their house on the Big Island of Hawaii. He rushed her to the local hospital where they drained a quart of fluid from her heart before flying her to the hospital intensive care unit in Honolulu. If he had not heard her fall she would have died on the spot.
After two weeks in the ICU on high flow oxygen, a lung biopsy, and MRIs came the diagnosis, stage 4 cancer of the heart and lungs. They found after a barrage of tests, a tumor in her heart, cancerous polyps throughout her lungs, and cancerous lesions in her brain, and on her spine. Previously Heather had been complaining of difficulty breathing and was on her second course of antibiotics before collapsing. Her doctor wrongly assumed it was just severe bronchitis. With aggressive chemotherapy, oxygen support, and gamma knife radiation her outcome is uncertain- a few months or a year or two? There are no answers as this type of cancer is extremely rare, especially in a 38-year-old woman. This is my husband’s daughter- my stepdaughter. He was sitting 6 hours a day by her bedside in her hospital room.