What do you say when your best friend calls to say she’s checking into a hospice?
We’ve both known it was coming, but we have both been in denial. Marjorie didn’t fare very well in the health lottery — MS, Crohn’s, breast cancer. She had almost made it to the magic five-year cancer-free mark when it returned.
For so many with breast cancer, there are a variety of options, including test trials and experimental therapies, but Marjorie wasn’t a candidate for those due to the other health issues. Her sense of humor has not waned until just recently, her favorite quip about her condition being, “My parents picked a really lousy night to fool around when they got pregnant with me!”
When I flew to Alaska to visit her in April, it was clear that the multiple diseases, and attendant treatments, were getting the better of her. But, at 51, she was still convinced that she would live to be 59 1/2, “so I can tap into my 401(k)!” Her energy was low, but her spirits were still positive.
Last night, there was no more optimism in her voice, just resignation, but not about the cancer. “Leaving Alaska is killing me,” she sighed. And for that, I didn’t have a response. We’ve been able to talk pretty openly about her physical health, but Alaska is her independence — that has been what has defined her since the day we met as young TV reporters in Wichita. For better or worse, she is proud that she has created a community for herself in the various places she’s lived in the 25 years I’ve known her, away from the family baggage I think was part of the reason she left the lower 48 over ten years ago. Now, she’s on her way back “home” to Boston to be in a hospice near her family.
The inevitable outcome of her cancer was only part of what made me start crying when I got off the phone with her last night. The awful resignation in her voice about no more Alaska, no more independence, and having to rely on someone for her daily needs, was even worse.
I don’t know what I’m going to say to her when I fly there because we both know what the short-term future brings. Trying to manage her final days in a hospice, so far from her beloved independence, will be the topic that will be the elephant in the room. I’m afraid there will be nothing I can say to help ease that transition for her, and if that happens, I think I will have failed her.