A year passes.

Trauma comes in any form.

Today marks one year since my best friend passed away from cancer. It has been a busy year of learning new things as her personal representative to provide for her family as she wished, but I miss my friend. I miss my personal advisor, life coach and road trip adventure buddy.

The phone call from Jean in July 2007 saying she had masses in her liver lead us to postulate what it could be. She had lived many years in Arizona, so we thought it could perhaps be Valley Fever lesions. But let’s get real. Jean was a cancer researcher before veterinary school, and both of us saw enough cancer in practice to stop fooling ourselves. We knew perfectly well that diagnosing cancer from liver metastases is grim.

When the biopsies came back as malignant, the doctors had to go looking for the primary tumor. They found it in Jean’s esophagus and stomach. Another bad blow.

Jean told me she had a 60% chance of making it, but again, we knew better. There is nothing like hope for getting through a tough time. Jean had hope. She endured chemotherapy, special diets, alternative modalities, and kept a positive outlook. I wasn’t about to dash her hopes.

For a while, she did pretty well. Then, in December of last year, Jean called me to say she was in the hospital to have fluid (ascites) removed from her abdomen. In a private conversation with her doctor in my role as medical power of attorney, after reviewing her lab work with me, this kind man told me he doubted Jean would live a month. Thus began my longest journey with my friend. I would go back and forth to Denver to be with her and her family, including her 88 year-old father, a true man of Catholic faith who knew Jean would go to a wonderful place after she passed.

The hospital released her for home hospice care on December 21. There is a psychic connection I sometimes get that is very strange. On that day, I was so upset that I was literally screaming and crying. All day. It was very bizarre behavior for me. I’m glad I was alone and at home. I understood why it happened the next day. Jean’s brother, Mike, recently returned from a year of civilian work in Iraq, called to tell me that Jean was being returned to the hospital. She had a rough night in terrible pain, and they were calling an ambulance.

I rushed down to Denver, and met them in the ER. Jean was given a room, then taken down for an ultrasound-guided removal of fluid. I looked at the screen. There was no fluid. Jean’s abdomen was full of cancer. I spent the night of the 22nd at her home, and went back to the hospital the next day. Jean decided to distribute her jewelry to friends and relatives. Her brother went to her house to get it. The hour was pretty late, but Mike said that if Jean was up to it, we needed to get it done if that was what she wanted. Mike went home and found the jewelry. His son, Ryan, packaged it, and I recorded every piece for the Estate. Years ago, I had admired an antique blue topaz ring of hers. She promised it to me. This piece was the first one she distributed, right onto my finger. I never thought in a million years that I would have that ring so soon under such circumstances.  Jean signed the record, and leaned back in exhaustion. Although it was one a.m, I had to go home through the snow to get to a medical appointment later that morning. I returned to Jean early in the afternoon.

I spent the next three days with Jean, going to her home to sleep on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. On the 26th, I had to go home. I had an appointment I couldn’t miss on the 27th, and Earl had one at 7 o’clock Friday morning. Jean’s doctor discharged her to a hospice facility. I spent that last afternoon with my friend getting her transferred to hospice. I disagreed with the doctor, as it was clear she had little time. The social worker the facility sent with papers for me to sign, as medical power of attorney, was ill equipped to answer questions. Jean’s sister-in-law found the answers.

I reluctantly said good-bye to Jean. I knew I would never see her again in this life. It was a personal and powerful good-bye. I asked her to ride our mare, Marcie, who had lived until age 30, meet my mother, and say hello to my sister who had been killed by a drunk driver.  Jean promised she would. 

I phoned Jean three times on Thursday. Every call found her fading further away, yet her voice still reflected hope and faith.

Early the next morning, as Earl and I were leaving for his medical appointment, Mike to say that my dearest friend had slipped away a few minutes earlier.

Peace comes in any form.

Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) was one organization Jean wanted donations sent specifically to be targeted toward health studies using alternative treatments. MAF had never done this before. Because of the donations from her family, friends and colleagues; and with other sponsors, the first alternative medicine health study ever funded by MAF is now beginning. Click on here to see the ground-breaking study to be researched in Jean’s memory. 

8 thoughts on “A year passes.”

  1. Mary – We both lost our best friends in December to cancer. My brother died on December 18, 2006. He was diagnosed with cancer only weeks before. It turned out that his primary tumor was testicular. Yes, my brother died of a cancer that had a 98% cure rate. Well, I guess someone has to be in that 2% group. It was the worst day of my life. He was my rock, my refuge, my go to guy. He was funny and smart and handsome and devoted and hardworking and so many other things. It was not fair. To make it worse, I had broken my leg and ankle the night before he was diagnosed. On that day, I spent the entire day with him in the hospital as the doctors frantically looked for the reason of the ascites in his abdomen. As each hour went by, he, his wife and I knew that cancer was becoming the most likely reason. As each hour went by, he got weaker and weaker. That night, I went home, tripped on my own two feet and wound up back in the very same hospital having emergency surgery for a tri-mal ankle fracture and another fracture higher up the tibia. Very, very bad breaks. I was in surgery at the same time his doctor came to tell him he was dying of advanced cancer. I left the hospital, drugged and confused, but was wheeled to his room to see him. I never spoke to him again. He slipped into a coma that day and never woke up. He died less than 3 weeks later. My 84 year old father had hastily built a wheelchair ramp so I could get to the hospital before he died (I was non weight bearing and in very bad shape). It didn’t matter, he never woke up. I gave the eulogy from my wheelchair. He left behind a devoted wife and 2 beautiful children. It was the saddest day of a horrible year. Three months earlier, my brother in law had been killed in a car accident leaving behind an 8 year old and 6 year old. One year earlier, my best friend in the whole wide world died suddenly (also in December) of a heart aneurysm. One minute she was alive and the next minute she was dead. And the broken leg just topped it all off. Horrible, horrible, horrible year. Last March, my other brother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer but he is doing amazingly well. I have to always remember that if life was not so fragile and we did not know we can always lose these people we love so fiercely, we would not also hold them so dear. If we thought that they could never be taken from us….we would not treasure them so dearly. You also learn to find hope in the smallest of things. With hope comes peace. May peace always be with you.

  2. We have a lot in common it seems with regard to tragedy. I have had a lot of family tragedy. Jean’s illness really took the wind out of my sails. She is at peace, so it’s time I was.

  3. Hi Mary!
    I think you are an angel, for being so kind and helpful. Live on! Many people will benefit from your natural loving kindness.
    Eileen Leyva

  4. Thank you, Eileen. Just finishing Jean’s estate. Going to send her birth certificate and passport to her brother.

  5. I just came across this when doing a search for Dr. A and to see what she has been up to. Its sad to hear that such a great doctor has gone. I worked with her at her clinic in Scottsdale…she gave me a shot as a Tech, taught me more than I could ever imagine, and we kept in touch for a little while after I moved away…its sad to see such news! She had such a heart for the animals and her employees. My condolences to her family and loved friends.

    1. I’m sorry you had to find out in a blog, Andy. Jean was my best bud from the first day of vet school. Take care.

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