Does this make me a liberal, or just human?

Someone asked me how I got to be such a liberal coming from Jonesboro, Arkansas. I have pondered that question as I didn’t at first have a good answer.

I was raised in a home with three servants, a cook, housekeeper, and gardener. On Sunday mornings my father would pick up the housekeeper and bring her to our house. Perhaps the bus didn’t run on Sunday? My mother didn’t choose to make beds, nor did she teach me to help around the house.

I remember my mother correcting me when I referred to the person who did the ironing as a lady, telling me not to ever call a black (referred to as “colored” in those days) woman a lady.

Spot (his full name was Leonard Taylor, but he was a very small man whom I had always only known him by his nickname) was our cook, and he had a drinking problem. My father would sometimes go to the basement and have a yelling fit at him because of something – anything to hurt him in my father’s need to vent his anger. Spot was a wonderful human being and probably one of the kindest men I have ever known. His wife ”Sugar” was my nurse and died when I was five.

As I felt the underlying tension in our very dysfunctional household, in my heart I knew I was no better than anyone else. I vowed to myself that when I grew up I wouldn’t ask anyone to do something that I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.

My parents lived next door to us when the children were young. One morning Spot came to my kitchen door, probably sent by my very controlling mother to check on us. I was at the sink and Spot asked what I was doing. I responded that I was making a stew. His answer was ”you shouldn’t ’oughtta’ have to do that, Miss Mary Lee.”

I was a very spoiled only child, although thankfully I was able to develop a sense of love and admiration for those less fortunate. I have always believed that by opening our eyes and ears we embrace those different from ourselves. I believe each of us is a unique human being and worthy of being loved. A very snobbish man told me once that I always had an affinity for those who couldn’t do for themselves. At the time the remark was made, I was helping a young paraplegic with the lift on his van. He heard what was meant to be a disparaging remark about me and internalized it against himself. I tried not to cry when I saw the tears in his eyes. I have been reminded of that day often during Trump’s rallies as he mocks people.

Boundaries are necessary when caring for and about others. A physician told me I was the type of person who would see a stranger in an airport bidding goodbye to someone, and wish to cry for them.

The years of Trump’s presidency have affirmed my view that empathy and honesty are all important. No one is perfect but we can live striving to be better. I cannot understand why anyone would support a man who said in an interview, on video, that he had never had to ask forgiveness because he hadn’t done anything wrong.

I want to be available to share my experience, but I have never walked another’s path, and I refuse to give unsolicited advice or to reproach anyone. There is only one judge. Does that make me a liberal? I hope it makes me a compassionate woman who believes in loving and accepting one another as we would want to be loved and accepted. I hope to be willing to respect those with opinions and behavior different from mine and always to be open to progressive concepts.


Bridges to better health

Mary Lee Writes | Bridges to better health

It’s time to tell my cancer story, which began sometime last year. In doing so, I hope to encourage others to ask questions and be assertive. I had worried about strokes and heart attacks, but never cancer. After all, I had escaped the dreaded “C” so far, so what’s to worry about. My husband had bladder cancer and was treated for years, and he told me once that the word changes your life.

The first six months in 2018 was a time of managing increasing pain and symptoms monitored by my gastroenterologist. In May, my symptoms became more pronounced. I contacted both him and my internist in Little Rock, and the gastroenterologist responded by saying he would order a CT scan. His office called to tell me it was normal. I learned later that a CT scan will not detect endometrial cancer. About a month after the scan, I was experiencing frightening symptoms including increased abdominal pain. I called both the internist and the gastroenterologist and asked that I be referred to a gynecologist. Both told me the other would have to arrange the referral.

I became so frustrated that I told a dear friend what was going on and that I felt I might have to go to an ER to get a referral. That Sunday, she sat by a gynecologist in church, and she said she prayed during church about whether she should tell this physician about my case. After church, she did tell her, and she texted me to call this doctor early the next morning for an appointment.

I called and was told I could see the physician later in the day but if I wanted to come in early, I could see her nurse practitioner. After an examination, I was sent immediately for an ultrasound. During the ultrasound, the technician asked if I had already had a biopsy, so I knew that I was in trouble. A day later, I had an appointment with the gynecologist, who told me I most likely had endometrial cancer. She scheduled a biopsy to be done in the hospital under anesthesia as she suspected cancer and needed to take many biopsies. My daughter booked a flight to Little Rock from California. Her trip was delayed in Dallas because of the weather, so she spent the night in Dallas and I picked her up at the airport as we headed to the hospital. She was determined to be there because I had a problem with waking up after a colonoscopy the August before. She had never told me how frightened she and the nurses had been, and wanted reassurance from the anesthesiologist who would be taking care of me for this procedure.

After this and the confirmation of the diagnosis, I decided to have the surgery at UCSF (University of California at San Francisco, a medical school in the California system that dates back to the middle of the 19th century) to make it more convenient for my daughter and son. We made many phone calls and were referred to the gynecologic/oncology surgery department there.

At the time, I had reservations for a flight to North Carolina to spend a week with two friends. The timing was perfect, as it was just before the appointment in San Francisco. I had a wonderful week with them, feeling such love and support. Instead of returning to Little Rock, I flew directly from Charlotte to San Francisco for my initial appointment with the surgeon. After seeing her and having a workup by the anesthesiology department, I was scheduled for surgery on August 23.

I had a complete hysterectomy and lymph node removal and was awake very soon and without pain. I was given a prescription for oxycodone but I never took one, only needing Tylenol. I was back at my son’s by the middle of the afternoon. When I returned to the surgeon for the pathology report, I celebrated on hearing I would not need chemotherapy.

I was referred to my radiologist/oncologist and was scheduled for 25 radiation treatments. However, when I arrived for my “marking” my treatment was delayed by a few days. The doctor had received more pathology reports and was concerned about the involved lymph node, which could not be completely removed because of its location. The radiation was strengthened in the area of the lymph node, so I do have some side effects.

After spending three weeks with my son and the next three weeks with my daughter, I decided I wanted to move to be near them. I rented an apartment in Corte Madera with a gorgeous view of the bay. They worried that I had made the decision to move so far away from friends too hastily. But most of my Arkansas friends are computer savvy, and we stay in close touch. Facebook has helped me keep up with Jonesboro and Little Rock happenings. I feel I am exactly where I need to be at this time in my life, though I miss our face to face chats. One friend in Little Rock and I Facetime, which I enjoy. And I have had lots of company, which has been wonderful.

Mary Lee writes | Bridges to health

I saw this on my phone yesterday. Good advice.

At this writing, my health is good. I will continue to be checked every three months because of the aggressiveness of my cancer, rotating between the surgeon and the oncologist. I have been totally at peace during this whole process and feel no matter what happens, I have my faith to lean on. I will be 83 in September, and though I have health issues I continue to enjoy and embrace life, very thankful to have lived this long. Gratitude for just being grows each day. The flowers seem prettier, the music more soulful, the brightness of the sun more comforting, and the support of family and friends more important. Mother’s Day is Sunday and will be celebrated with my awesome children, my son and his husband and my daughter, plus two longtime friends from Jonesboro. Life is fulfilling and joyful.

I am writing this for two particular reasons. My doctors here have not dismissed health concerns as “it’s your age.” They strive to keep me as healthy as I can be at my age and as active and involved as I wish to be.

The other reason is that I want to pass along a warning. The highest risk of endometrial cancer is among women over 80 who have never been checked because doctors assume we have all had hysterectomies. I was never once asked if I still had my female organs. It was just a blanket comment that after a certain age, pelvic examinations are not needed or suggested. I assumed that all was fine until I began having symptoms. It was thought that I had a class 2 very aggressive cancer which turned out to be nearer a class 3. I am so fortunate that my angel friend took the advocacy position needed for me to be seen.

So: Stand up for yourself when that gnawing feeling is present. Be your own advocate and find a doctor that listens and observes. A while back I went to an endocrinologist while in Little Rock and on a first visit he commented that I needed to take care of a place on my hand. I told him I had just seen a dermatologist and he told me it was nothing to worry about. As I left, the endocrinologist said, “go see about that hand.” I did, telling the dermatologist why I had come, and he said he would biopsy it if it would make me feel better. The pathology report showed an aggressive squamous cell carcinoma. That was an observant and caring endocrinologist. He was sitting across the room from me, and noticed the red and rough spot on my hand.

A nurse friend told me once to listen to my body and the story it is telling.

My thought? Once you feel that nudge, find a doctor with “ears on.”


Fateful meeting in St. Louis

Book of Discipline

My heart has been heavy for a long time out of fear for the future of the United Methodist Church, which has always been an important part of my life. The Methodist Book of Discipline was first published in 1784, and is updated every four years after the church’s General Conference. In 1972, the church added this language:

“The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”

This demeans those who wish to serve but are not “good enough” to represent the United Methodist Church. In my opinion, this is a divisive and hurtful passage and needs to be taken out of the Discipline. Fundamentalist clergy oppose that idea, citing Biblical scriptures which they take literally.

At the last General Conference in 2016, delegates deferred any decision on the question, and appointed a special commission to explore alternative approaches. The commission is due to report back later this month at a special session of the Conference in St. Louis. Striking the language is one of five options the conference will consider, reports say, with the commissioners themselves recommending a sort of local option for individual congregations and regional conferences.

To me, the scriptures cited by the fundamentalist clergy run counter to other scriptures. I personally place much more faith in Jesus’ teachings about loving one another. How many problems would be solved if we showed unconditional love to everyone?

Several weeks ago after church in San Anselmo, near where I now live, I was introduced to the guest speaker. It was six years after he completed seminary before the Presbyterian Church accepted gays and he could be ordained. I had no idea he was gay until he told me that story. His sermon was outstanding, and his personal circumstances in no way undermine the power of his or any other church leader’s message. What a loss it would be if, with his faith and dedication, this individual were denied the privilege of preaching.

If you have questions in your mind and heart, I suggest that you read Stranger at the Gate by Mel White. It could be a life changer. White was for many years a pastor who served as a communications consultant and ghost writer for Evangelical leaders. His book provides moving insight and perspective about the place of the church in the lives of faithful and dedicated gay clergy and the pain and loss of exclusion.

My hope is that the vote at Conference will be favorable to removing the devastating language in the Discipline, and permitting the ordination of many individuals who would serve faithfully as ministers and in other positions of leadership. I pray that the church will not split.


Mission accomplished

Mary Lee Writes | Mission Accomplished

When I decided to move to California last September, I began dreading taking the written test required to get a driver’s license in my new home state. I don’t know how many of you have taken a driver’s test lately, but I had to re-take the Arkansas one several years ago. The renewal notice had not been forwarded after I moved. As soon as I discovered my license had expired, I called the local office and was told I would have to retake the written test. I headed down there, picked up a pamphlet, studied that night, and passed the next morning. All good.

I was disheartened to find that the California test book is 134 letter-size pages. I studied hard and took the practice tests over and over. On the appointed day, I summoned up my courage and went to the DMV office, having checked many times that I had the documents needed to apply. When I got to the counter, after waiting for a while, I thought I was in good shape. Not so! The clerk looked at me and said, “Where is your proof of name change?” I asked what she meant, and she told me my birth certificate said I had my maiden name, but my Arkansas driver’s license had my married name. Without further proof of a name change, I could not use my legal married name. I showed her several papers including the lease on my apartment, but she said they didn’t provide proof of my “new name.” At the time, my emotions were pretty raw as I was having radiation each day in San Francisco, sapping my energy. I asked the woman what I could do and she replied nothing until I got proof of name change. When I returned home, I searched on the internet and found the application form. I sent the needed information to Arkansas along with my check. Several weeks later I received a document certifying I had become Mary Lee Marcom on December 29, 1956.

Then I kept delaying the return visit, reading something entertaining instead of studying. The clerk had given me a card saying I could come without an appointment, saving another few weeks of waiting. I procrastinated because I dreaded a repeat of the experience.

One Sunday evening I decided I was being ridiculous and needed my license. I opened the booklet on my laptop and reviewed the practice tests thinking, so what if I fail, many others do, I had learned. (The rules actually say you must have a California driver’s license within 10 days of moving to the state.)

I happened to be assigned to the same person who had helped me on the previous visit. She recognized me and had a little laugh at my expense. I took the vision test and passed. Then I was escorted to the testing room. I was happy to find the test given on computers but felt insulted when the attendant tried to tell me how to use it and that she could stand by me to be sure I could enter my answers correctly. She also told me I could miss up to four questions and pass. Comforting. I finished the test quickly and passed. When I went over to the counter to pick up my license, someone commented, surprised and congratulatory, that I had passed on my first attempt. The people standing around gave me a big smile. I left there as proud as if I’d just received a college diploma. This 82-year-old had confronted a challenge and accomplished her goal.


View from somewhere new

After a hiatus from blogging, I am back, now publishing from a new perch by San Francisco Bay. There’s some catching up to do, so here goes.

Three years ago in February, I moved to Little Rock, having lived all my life in Jonesboro. My daughter, Mary Kathryn, had moved to Little Rock two years before that to be closer to her kidney transplant team. I suddenly began to wonder why should I stay in Jonesboro when I could be near my daughter. One day she called to tell me about a house being built about a block from hers in west Little Rock, close but far enough to give us independence. I drove down the next day, fell in love with it, and signed a contract that afternoon.

My friends were stunned. What I had not shared was that I felt so very alone, and I would be living the same sort of life in Little Rock with the advantage of being near my daughter. It was an easy drive to Jonesboro so I could return for visits. I was ready to make a change. One promise that I made to myself was to be open to new experiences, to be comfortable having lunch alone, going to a movie alone, getting involved! And I did.

I absolutely loved life in Little Rock. Old friends and cousins made sure I was included in lunches and bridge games. My P.E.O. chapter members became dear friends. A church group became extended family. Precious times were spent with friends who visited from Jonesboro. First United Methodist Church fed my soul with its inclusiveness, great sermons, and awesome music. I had found such a friendly and welcoming church and felt so at home in my Sunday School class. I tutored with Literacy Action of Central Arkansas. The Bridge House became my second home. At first, I was very shy about playing there but soon I realized they what a great group they were. They became my support system. Another bonus was getting to know a cousin and becoming his bridge partner. Little Rock was good to and for me. I plan to visit Arkansas this spring.

Then, last June, I began having symptoms that I could not ignore. I could not get my internist to refer me to a gynecologist, and I talked with a dear new friend about the problem. That Sunday at church, she deliberately sat by a much-admired gynecologist and she said she prayed about asking her to see me. She texted after church to give me the doctor’s name and information. I called the next morning and was in the office by 9. I had a scan by noon, and shortly after that a probable diagnosis of endometrial cancer, with a biopsy scheduled two weeks later. The biopsy confirmed the diagnosis (and a later PET scan told of lymph node involvement).

I wanted to have the necessary surgery in California to make it easier on Mary Kathryn and her brother. Mary Kathryn moved out to the San Francisco area earlier last year (and had flown back to Little Rock for my biopsy), and Johnny has lived there for the last 15 years. With referrals, I was able to see a gynecology/oncology surgeon at University of California San Francisco’s medical center. After surgery, I spent three weeks with my son Johnny, and the next three weeks at Mary Kathryn’s apartment. The good news was that the surgery went well, and I would need radiation therapy but probably would not have to have chemo. It seemed sensible to figure out a way to continue that treatment at UCSF.

I felt great pretty quickly after surgery, and about a week later asked Johnny if he would take me to see an apartment advertised, of all places, on Facebook. I had done a lot of internet searching and was fairly sure where I would like to be if I moved. Mary Kathryn joined us to look at the area, and I fell in love with the view. The place is high on a hill on the north side of the Tiburon Peninsula, with a sweeping view across the Bay towards the Richmond Bridge and the hills beyond.

Looking east from my balcony.

Looking east from my balcony.

They thought I made my decision in too big a hurry, and perhaps I did, although I have not regretted it. I was really hesitant about going back to Little Rock for the move, as I just wasn’t ready emotionally for more goodbyes. Johnny and Mary Kathryn went for me. Mary Kathryn and a dear friend picked up my dear Zach and Kodi, whom I’d left at the boarding kennel eight weeks earlier before heading off to San Francisco. Johnny stayed another couple of days in Little Rock and supervised the packing and loading.

By then, the end of September, I had possession of the apartment and had rented a bed, sofa, and chair. I moved in and had two very happy dogs with me. During October and November, I drove back and forth to the city for the prescribed course of 25 radiation treatments. Sometime during the early part of the treatments the moving truck arrived. Johnny arranged it all, from the unpacking to hanging each picture. Mary Kathryn helped as much as she was able. There are not enough words in my vocabulary to express to them what it meant to me.

I have excellent medical care, I love California, and the biggest bonus of all is a day like last Saturday, when both Mary Kathryn and Johnny dropped by for a visit. He lives across the bridge in San Francisco and she is a few miles up the freeway in San Rafael, so I am located approximately halfway between them. What a wonderful way to spend these years.


A good week for an opera

This week I have been trying to forget about the ugliness on our southern border, instead summoning beautiful memories of the many wonderful musical moments I’ve been lucky to enjoy over the years.
Two very close friends of my parents were childless, and Fred and Rachel Troutt thought of me like extended family. Rachel was my piano teacher and was a character in her way. One of her other pupils and I would joke that she would be upstairs in the bathtub and call down, “play it again.” I got lots of encouragement, but not much structure, from her lessons.
Jonesboro had a Community Concert Series in those years, and Rachel would take me to hear the artists, sometimes even making sure that we were introduced to them. The concerts were usually held at Wilson Auditorium at Arkansas State College (now ASU). My parents had no interest in going, so Rachel became my cheerleader for classical music.
The Metropolitan Opera, as part of a national touring program that lasted 100 years until the mid-1980s, used to stop in Memphis each spring. Fred Troutt was a patron. His sister, Grace Witherspoon, Rachel and Fred treated me each season to three days in Memphis with them, enjoying the performances. I remember being shocked that Miss Grace, as I called her, drank a Coke for breakfast. I thought that was a great idea. And staying at the Peabody was a real treat.
When I was in high school, the Troutts invited me to travel with them to St. Louis. I don’t remember the specific opera we saw, although I remember having a great time. I had a new experience, a date, my first pizza, and a movie, arranged by a friend who lived there. It was an icy night, and Rachel said later she worried so about my safety that she kept washing out her hose, trying to stay busy. I don’t think she told my mother in advance about the date, probably anticipating that she would veto it.
The performances were in the original language, and the only tool we had for understanding was the libretto. I tired of reading it, so I learned to listen to the music and be transported to a place I hadn’t been before. In recent years, after subtitles became common, I extended my appreciation to how the story was developed through the lyrics underpinning the fantastic arias.
I longed later for my husband John to go to the opera and give it a try. For an Andy Williams devotee, it was a stretch.
He finally agreed to go to the 1977 tour, and we purchased tickets through the Troutts. The performance was Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila. According to the Metropolitan Opera’s database, the star was Fiorenza Cossotto. She was very short and very heavy, wearing clogs. Every time she went toward Samson (sung by Guy Chauvet), I winced, thinking John would be caught up in the visual performance and not the voices. When it was over, much to my delight and surprise, John got up out of his seat and rushed to Fred Troutt (I called him “Unkie”) and when I followed I heard John asking how he could become a patron.
Sadly, the Met soon after decided it could no longer afford to visit Memphis, and stopped the whole national tour a few years later. One Christmas, when Johnny was living in New York City in the mid-80s, he gave John and me a memorable trip to the city, including three nights at the Metropolitan Opera. That was the year they at last staged Porgy and Bess, and I still put myself back there hearing “Summertime.’
Mary Kathryn and I were fortunate to be in the audience for Luciano Pavarotti’s last appearance at the Met (in Tosca), another memorable night shared because of the influence of the Troutts, early in my life.
Last year, I was in New York and saw Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette for the first time. I went alone to the Met and immersed myself in the wonder. Since I’ve moved to Little Rock, I’ve become a regular at the Met’s Live in HD movie-theater broadcasts, though I’ve yet to enlist anyone in joining me on Saturday afternoons for what are consistently moving, powerful performances (volunteers still welcome).
To hear this music creates a song within me, much like a trip to the mountains or the beach, effectively a prayer of thanksgiving.
In our lives, we seldom know how a person or persons influenced our lives until it is too late to thank them. I am sure the Troutts knew that I loved them, and, in their memory, I am mesmerized by works of the great composers. It gives me peace and brings me closer to God.
The love of music has opened many other doors of deep friendship. John recognized the talent of Andrew Skoog when Andrew was only a teenager. He loved that young singer. Andrew sang at his memorial service, driving from his home in Knoxville to present his gift. It has now been five years since we sat around the table the night of the memorial service with Andrew and his brother Bjorn, reminiscing. Andrew’s father Al taught Kyle Linson, the excellent Director of Music and Worship Arts and Welcoming Ministries at First United Methodist Church in downtown Little Rock. Kyle and I hope to introduce our gifted friend, Andrew, to the congregation as a guest soloist.
My loved ones, Johnny, his husband Arif Hasyim, Mary Kathryn, and I have a unique connection over our love of music. They like and appreciate most any style or period, as long as it’s well done. To attend a performance together and then discuss it afterward is a time of sharing. When I was in San Francisco for Mother’s Day, we spent an evening at an outstanding performance of J.S. Bach’s “Magnificat” by the San Francisco Symphony and its chorus.  My heart sings with the classical.


When it’s about more than just the battle


I’ve been a little troubled by all the remarks about how Senator John McCain will fight his just-diagnosed cancer. It’s typically kind and hopeful to offer that wish, and he is such a strong man. But this particular kind of tumor is a formidable foe. My mother was diagnosed with one 31 years ago this summer, and died early that Halloween.

That summer (1986, if you’re counting) I had begun to notice my 81-year-old mother was behaving differently. She was very irritated with a dear friend and had hurt her feelings. One day I went to her condo and found her locked in her bedroom with the alarm system armed. She was unsure about making decisions. Her college roommate, who lived in Colorado, had invited her for a visit. She had accepted but hadn’t made any reservations. John had commented to me that she should have a medical check-up before she made the trip, as he felt the altitude might exacerbate any illness she was experiencing.

Mother (pictured above, the year before the diagnosis) loved Chinese food. Mary Kathryn, John, and I took her to her favorite restaurant and could see something was just not quite right. She insisted she would call the doctor the next day, and we took her home.

Later that evening, Mary Kathryn called me. She had been praying about her grandmother and asked if I would take her to the emergency room. She went with me to Mother’s condo and, surprisingly, Mother did not argue.

After being checked at the ER, the physician on call told me she needed to be admitted immediately. He thought she was showing symptoms of a stroke. He called her doctor, and he refused to admit her, to the chagrin of the ER personnel. The nice ER physician was Dr. F. M. Wilson. He told me to take her home and not to leave her for a minute, that she was a very sick woman. He could not override her personal physician’s orders and told me to take her to the physician’s office as soon as they opened the next morning. The next day, I had to be very assertive because the doctor said I was just overreacting. He finally agreed to order a CT scan of the brain. The doctor called me the next afternoon about five and was apologetic in his report to me. The radiologist had found a glioblastoma which had already crossed mid-brain. I knew nothing about this diagnosis, as I had never heard of this type of tumor. I remember a physician/friend stopping me in the parking lot and telling me he hoped for her sake it would be a fast death. I was stunned.

The next morning I called her internist in Memphis, and he admitted my mother to Baptist Hospital so she could have one of the new tests – an MRI. That evening the surgeon from Semmes Murphey Clinic came to her room with a resident to talk with us. He said there was no need for an MRI because the radiologist, Dr. Bill Garner in Jonesboro, was such a perfectionist that the surgeon never ordered other tests. He wanted to schedule surgery for two days later and said he would de-bulk the tumor to make her more comfortable. I noticed the young resident trying to catch my eye, and I excused myself to go into the hall. He followed me saying he would like to speak with me, although he could lose his residency by going around the chief surgeon. The young man told me my mother could have a fairly comfortable time for several months enjoying her family and friends — or she could have the surgery and spend the next nine or so months as an invalid, probably in a nursing home. I thanked him and went back into the room, where Mother was agreeing to the surgery. The doctors and I shook hands, and they left.

I told my family about the visit with the resident, and we decided to get more information. It became obvious that more thought should be given to the question of surgery.

Then came the task of dismissing my mother from the hospital. The internist had disappeared by then and wouldn’t return my calls. I was panicking because I didn’t want to take her against medical advice. Finally, I called Dr. Willie Young. He understood immediately and told me Jonesboro had a new neurosurgeon, and he would have him call me. After Dr. Ken Tonymon’s call, we were able to have her transferred to St. Bernards in Jonesboro.

After seeing Mother and examining her, Dr. Tonymon was disappointed that an MRI had not been done, as my mother was in great shape for her age. He scheduled one in Little Rock. Billy Joe Emerson drove Mary Kathryn, my mother, and a nurse to Little Rock. Mother was very apprehensive as well as claustrophobic, and it was not an easy trip for anyone. The machine broke down halfway through the test. However, they had a partial read, enough to confirm the diagnosis. An oncologist was also conferenced, and he agreed that the best treatment was palliative care until time for pain control. The Decadron, a drug still commonly prescribed to combat swelling, was to be continued. It gave Mother an enormous appetite! John, knowing how she loved raspberries, arranged with his buddies at the supermarket to get fresh ones in daily. They did this until she no longer could swallow.

She spent the next two and a half months in her condo surrounded by the people and things she loved. We took her out to lunch, and she even enjoyed a couple of bridge games at her place. During that time, she had her meals at the table with us.

Dr. Tonymon made all this possible because he was willing to make house calls a part of his routine, and he would draw the blood himself for tests. She was unable to walk, so the wheelchair became a part of our lives. I had nurses round the clock, although I couldn’t trust that they would come on time or at all some days. After we had her settled at night with a nurse, I would go home to sleep.

I remember one afternoon going to the office and when I returned to her condo there were about six people standing in the front yard. I asked why and was told the nurse said my mother needed to rest. I invited them in, telling the nurse she had a lot of hours to rest ahead, and a big smile appeared on Mother’s face. I am still embarrassed about losing my temper one afternoon at a nurse; she kept following me around and talking instead of doing her job, and at one point asked me if I was all right. I told her I would be — if she would just get out of the kitchen.

The last six weeks or so, we had a hospital bed brought in. Mother had always had her hair done twice a week, and John helped me wash it by holding a trash bag at the head of the hospital bed at her neck, and I used a pitcher to rinse. Then I would blow it dry and she smiled at the results. I know that these little things made her feel we cared.

About two weeks before her death, she was taken by ambulance to the hospital as she needed a feeding tube. She could no longer swallow her medicines, and they were important. Especially critical were the anti-seizure drugs. She was fortunate to have had only one seizure, and I attribute this to Dr. Tonymon’s careful use of drugs. One day I called to tell him she was complaining of a headache, and I had given her two extra strength Tylenol. He said that was good, but in the future to give regular strength as too many extra strength tablets could damage her liver. And this for a person with only weeks to live? Laughter is healing, and I did have a little laugh at his expense as I put down the telephone.

In a few more days the morphine was started, and she slept most of the time. Frances Puryear would come by as she walked home from work at St. Bernards in the afternoon and somehow Mother would rouse at the sound of Frances’ voice.

Her days were as full of smiles and laughter as we could make them. And her death was peaceful. I thank God for the wisdom of that young resident and his brutal honesty with me. Any decision about treatment is such a personal and individual matter. I remembered that Mother asked John to promise her that he would never put her in a nursing home, and his answer was that he could not give that promise, but that he would promise he/we would not as long as she had any knowledge of where she was. She had such a fear of a lingering illness and used to say she wished she could drop dead at the bridge table!

Since then I have watched a beloved younger friend die, who showed such strength in wanting to live. She was such a cut-up. I was taking her to radiation one afternoon, and I commented in pulling up to the reserved parking that I had hoped never to have to use the oncology parking. She quipped that even worse would be to have to use the Gastroenterology place. Senator Ted Kennedy was diagnosed during this time, and she had great hope that something would be discovered for him and that it would help her. She dreamed of going to Duke and being cured.

A dear friend from school days died several years ago of this same type of tumor. Her husband called me from their home in Newport Beach and told me she had forgotten she had told me goodbye. I was on a plane the next day and sat in a beach chair by her and just talked nonsense, broken hearted and holding her hand. Her husband tried everything. The gamma knife was new then and was tried a couple of times. He took her to Boston for recommended treatment, but the tumor always came back.

Three others have touched my life in special ways after their diagnosis.

Duke reports the polio virus treatments may help, but I understand nothing is definitive yet. I hope that Senator McCain will choose the right path for him and for his family. The hope is always for a cure. What a blessing that would be for others suffering the same diagnosis.

Glioblastoma doesn’t have to be about the fight. It can also be about the comfort of palliative care, and making the best of precious time left together.