My mother-in-law, Barbara Charmaine Goldsteen died early this morning, from complications related to pancreatic cancer. This was her fourth bout with cancer; prior to this, she had survived ovarian cancer three times. Her first two sicknesses occurred before I knew her; when David was a teenager.
No cancer diagnosis is good news, and ovarian cancer is especially deadly. When she was first diagnosed, at the age of 39, her doctor more or less told her to get her affairs in order. And yet, she went on to defy all odds and survive not once, but two more times. She was a medical miracle.
During this last illness, we learned what had become painfully obvious by that point; she had been dealt a genetic short hand, and had a mutated BRCA gene. This last round was the most serious by far; when she was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her prognosis was five months; she outlived that diagnosis by more than a year.
Despite the fact that for a third of her life she had an uncomfortably intimate acquaintance with this disease, she never allowed cancer to define her. She had a remarkable capacity for staring down her illness and saying, "Fuck you, cancer." She was aggressive and fearless in her treatment protocol, and refusing to take no for an answer. And while cancer ultimately killed her, she did not ever allow it to sap her of her will to live. She came to New York for treatments twice a month for a better part of the year, and while she was in town, and suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy, she did not take to her sickbed, but continued to explore the city to the best of her ability, seeing shows, and visiting with family and friends.
For a brief while, her doctor was able to put the pancreatic cancer into remission, although it ultimately metastasized to the point where it was like chasing mercury. A few weeks ago, when she took ill for what would be the final time, she told a friend that she did not want anyone to pity her, because by her reckoning, she should have died twenty years ago. She had not expected to live long enough to see her children grown and married, let alone meet eight grandchildren, and die knowing a ninth was on its way.
And yet, although I am grateful that my children had the opportunity to know her for as long as they did, I can't help but feel cheated, because we always want more than we get, and I had hoped she would live to see her grandchildren marry as well.