Two years ago, in August, she was told there were no other treatment options for her rare and aggressive type of cancer. Her life expectancy would possibly be two years.
If she was lucky.
This, of course, is being written several days before the end of August, and Pauline’s end is near. But, in a very bittersweet way, it appears the doctors were wrong.
Pauline may live until September.
But not because she’s lucky. Only because she hasn’t let go, yet.
I don’t think she, or anyone else is considering luck anymore.
“We thought we wanted … we prayed that we would have more, more than the two years, but now, well, there’s no other way to say it, I think she’s had enough,” her partner told me one morning last week.
I should tell you, I don’t really know – as in having actually met – Pauline. Well, I guess we met several times 25 or so years ago when we both worked at the University of South Florida, though I doubt either of us would be able to connect name to face.
It’s complicated, and not totally relevant as to how I know her story. To give it validation, which I think it needs, let me just say, her partner, business and more, is someone I know/knew very well then and with the benefits of modern technology stay in frequent and close contact now.
He’s grieving, and heartbroken, and anxious, and scared, and I’m a safe someone who is allowing him to say he is grieving, and heartbroken, and anxious and scared. Most days I don’t know what to say, or what to reply, but he’s not looking for quality or explanations. Just solace of some sort, and he accepts “I’m so sorry,” in a text, or an assurance of, “Yes, I will pray,” to his phone call.
This whole heavy process has given me a window’s view of life’s near end, but more than that, life’s tenaciousness.
“You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die. Or when,” begins a quote I have saved, credited to Joan Baez. “You can only decide how you’re going to live.”
To the best of her ability that’s what Pauline’s done. For a while her hope was to prove the doctors were wrong, to be the miracle, to be the beneficiary of thousands upon thousands of prayers and be healed, and well.
To tell her survivor’s story to her grandchildren, maybe their children, at Thanksgiving, on anniversaries of her diagnosis, as an example of hope to other victims of the dread disease.
But in June, when she was rushed by ambulance to have the fluid drained from her lungs – again – and yes, there were more tumors, and the ones that were there already had grown, Pauline accepted the professionals’ opinion.
She should call hospice.
My friend tells me, Pauline doesn’t talk much. She eats less and less. She hurts, but the hospice nurses are beyond dedicated at helping her manage that. She lies on the couch with the morphine pump clasped in her frail fist, almost coma like until the signal sounds it’s OK to press the pump again.
“I sit at the end of the couch with her feet in my lap,” my friend texted me one early morning. “Hospice told me, when her feet turn cold to the touch, it means her extremities are shutting down. To be ready.”
Last Sunday, when he and I talked, he told of their acute awareness that August was near its end.
“Pauline didn’t want to die,” he said, oddly calm and seemingly matter-of-fact. “But she’s coming to the realization, you know, and we’re all starting to understand, there are things worse than dying.
“What’s keeping her here? Before it got this bad, I guess she felt … well … her mom’s 90. Her mom didn’t want to outlive her. And Pauline’s granddaughter. Of course she wanted to see her grow up, be 10, even, be a teenager.”
Neither of us said anything for a moment. What is there to say?
But he broke the silence. Something he found, he said, in one of the books he’d read about dying and living, living and dying.
“We believe more than we ever did how great heaven is going to be. It’s going to more than make up for everything Pauline’s going through now. We’ve just got to make it OK for her to go.”
A little bit more silence before he finished.
“One day less here, is one day more there.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Candace Cooksey Fulton is a freelance writer, formerly of Brownwood, living now in San Angelo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.