Written by Barbara Straus

For the first time in years I don’t hear the TV blaring as I approach the door of her apartment.   I use the key she gave me when she started spending less time outside and more time in her high back Ethan Allen chair watching TV, reading large print mysteries, and doing crossword puzzles.   Marcy’s worn SAS walking shoes, once taking her miles to the bus stop then to Hollywood park for an afternoon at the races, rest side by side next to her chair.

The stillness hangs heavy in the air like a black cloud weighted with rain.  Stepping inside, I wonder if this section of floor — right here by the door– is where she’d fallen.  Or was it over there, just below the coffee table, where a dark streak of something unthinkable stains the tan carpet?  Had she cried out when she realized she couldn’t get up?  Were her yells for help directed towards the dozens of photographs of me and my family scattered around her tiny studio apartment?  Did her voice carry above and beyond the drone of the Lifetime movies?  Oh the phone, just out of reach, up on the kitchen counter.  Did she count how many days turned into nights and back into days until the fire department finally broke down her door?

Every chair and square inch of the couch contains a handmade needlepoint pillow designed from photos of my childhood pets.  I pile them in a huge moving box, sure that one day I’ll un-stuff them and sew them together into a quilt. Over the 30 years she worked at my parents’ house, whenever homegrown chaos ensued, Marcy was in the next room dusting furniture.  Or cleaning windows.  Bringing order.  Bearing witness.

On this day I approach the filing cabinet in the middle of her closet with trepidation, having no clue what I’ll find. Unlocking the top drawer I see impeccably organized files — bank statements, receipts, social security card, birth certificate, bills.  Evidence of her life.  Of her death.  Insignificant pieces of paper. My ears throb from the quiet.

I yank sweat suits and nightgowns from their pink plastic hangers and quickly toss them into the box with underwear, bras, heating pads, sheets and blankets.  The faster I work, the less I notice.  Salvation.  Army.  Then I come across her red Pea coat.  Marcy used to take the bus across town for an afternoon of games and deli sandwiches with me and the children.  From blocks away, I could see the tiny dot of her bright red pea coat grow as she’d steadily make the uphill trek to my house.  When she arrived, the first thing she’d do was hang up that coat, sweep the children into her arms, then sit on the sofa and brush my daughter’s long brown hair into spun gold, just as she used to mine.

After Marcy became homebound I’d regularly bring her pictures of family and school events.  She had no one else. While enjoying cheeseburger happy meals and diet cokes we’d take our time removing the old ones from her extra large corkboard, and tacking up the new.  My guilt over leaving was ameliorated by knowing that her next few hours would be filled with transferring the loose photos into albums.  Towers of red, pink and blue albums, (that’s where she’d put them) line the perimeter of her closet.

The tiny studio apartment glows golden with afternoon sun, an unfamiliar sight since family dinner would always call me home by this hour. I missed dinner today in order to pack Marcy’s life into labeled moving boxes bound for a homeless shelter and black trash bags forced down the chute.  Her cherished furniture enthusiastically offered in high resolution photos on Craig’s list. Excellent Condition.  Like New!

I open a window.  Sounds of the street 4 floors below pour in like ocean waves, diluting the ivory soap scent of Marcy and the parts of me she held for safekeeping.

Memories of My Cancer

Written by Laura Beasley

There should be a new movie rating, “CVD” for “Cancer Victim Dies.” That way I will know to avoid seeing that movie. I hate all those movies in which a character gets cancer and is dead by the end of the movie.  Many of us survive years beyond a diagnosis of cancer. I have lived almost eleven years.

Easter weekend 2000, I felt a hard, painless lump on my neck the size of a super ball. I knew that it was cancer although it took several weeks for doctors to diagnose lymphoma, cancer of the lymph glands. They considered radiation combined with chemotherapy but the tumor board decided that I should have six cycles of CHOP chemotherapy.

At the time of my diagnosis, my children were 19, 12 and 9 years of age. I had been married to my high school sweetheart for 21 years. I realized pretty early in my cancer journey that things were more difficult for my family and friends than they were for me. The worst case for me was that I would die. I believe that there is a better life after death. It was very difficult for my husband to be the caregiver and to be strong for me when he was so afraid. I was grateful that we went to The Wellness Community weekly where I got support from other cancer patients while Bob met with other caregivers.

We did not choose to have the Internet and email in our home until 2009 so when it came time to notify friends and acquaintances about my cancer diagnosis, I used the telephone. I called dozens of people and re-told my story. I am grateful for the prayers, love and support I received. I chose to keep my volunteer commitments leading weekly Girl Scout meetings and telling stories at the elementary school every Friday. I gave up doing the dishes and driving the car. I felt “fuzzy” from “chemo-brain.” My 19-year-old son, Theo took a semester off from college to drive his siblings to and from school and ensure that his 9-year-old sister could continue her daily ballet and dance lessons and other activities. Friends brought meals for my family for six months. One friend gave me a massage every week.

Every time I went to chemo, I would reread the get well cards from my friends and family. I read extensively (books not the Internet) but I would stop reading when the book would discuss survival statistics. I knew my odds would be either 100% or 0% so the statistics were meaningless for me as an individual. I continued to write daily in my journal. I started to write obnoxious rhyming poems about cancer as well modern fairy tales. After I completed my chemo, I wanted a long-term project so I decided to write one hundred short stories over the next decade (10/year). I recently completed my 100th story.

I have met cancer patients who wanted to complete their “bucket lists.” One friend postponed chemo so that she could take a vacation to Europe.  Chemo couldn’t start soon enough for me. I didn’t have a bucket list. My dream life was living with my true love, raising my beloved children, having friends, writing and volunteering in my community. I didn’t need any adventures beyond the life I was leading. I am grateful that my cancer is a memory and a reminder that when I needed care and love, friends were there to lift me up and carry me.