This is the second of a four-part blog post, describing my own health journey.
Jim survived, only to have the metastases show up over the next seven years in the liver, then behind the lower ribs, then the lungs, then the brain.
Most of this occurred after we split up, but Jim kept in touch, calling occasionally, right up to the end. In the end, with the chemo drugs, he couldn’t keep anything down. He had been dehydrated the last time I saw him, when I picked him up from the house we had shared and brought him to a different hospital for treatment. I was able to take him home very early the next morning, but he was back there the next day and into the Monday of a holiday weekend.
He made it to an appointment in D.C. on his own later that week, but when I spoke with him afterward, he said something about the “Chinese CIA” telling him he needed to drink more water. It was time to call his brother, who lived about 10 hours away. I did not have power of attorney and someone needed to help Jim.
Within a month, Hospice was on-site, and a few weeks later—in one of those odd sweeps of irony—he entered the same hospital where the seven-year saga began.
The last time I saw him, in that hospital, I helped them transfer him to a different room. He was not coherent, and I wondered whether he could understand me. In that room, I sang to him, a song by Susan Werner to whom he’d introduced me. I told him it was OK to let go.
(Watch and listen: “Susan Werner’s Time Between Trains”)
He died about 2 the next morning.
Perhaps I’ve not entirely let go of all that surrounds this period of my life and Jim, because I often find myself thinking, “If I’d only known then what I know now…” in terms of diet, herbs and the like. But there’s no guarantee that he’d have taken to it.
Certainly, what the hospital provided did more harm than good: Ensure and Boost drinks, with their quickly oxidizing vegetable oils that inflame the body.
Jim and I didn’t eat the best stuff, either, while we were married. I’d go to the farmers market and get lots of fresh food, but one of our Saturday morning rituals was a long pastry from Giant—back before Ahold took over. Or a pastry at a little coffeehouse in our small town, a short walk from the farmers market. Pastries and coffee—the breakfast of people who don’t necessarily know any better.
Five months into Jim’s illness, I knew I needed to return to work. He’d used up most of his leave and one of us needed to carry health insurance. I’d taken time off to write a book, but it didn’t work out for me. The subject was too massive for me to break down and research and write effectively. And there was too much going on personally. Jim spotted an ad for a place I’d be freelancing for for years; they were looking for an associate editor. I got the job, began commuting again.
On the days he could go into D.C., I’d drop him at Vienna and head up to Tysons, stopping by Whole Foods for a soy latte. Lunch would be a Caesar salad, with croutons, from the Corner Bakery. Suppers, I do not recall, though I think I still ate some fast “food” at the time. On Fridays, Jim and I would go to a Greek restaurant we had long frequented. It helped to minimize some of the stress from the Friday night commute out I-66.
Jim had an ileostomy he needed help with. He could empty the bag, but not change it, nor could he care for the stoma. One of the nurses—she was really the only light in the whole process—shared ostomy-care information, even coming to the house. She was a big help.
When September rolled around, Jim went to D.C. to have the ileostomy reversed. After I visited him there one night, I stopped at a Taco Bell on the way home. It was the last time I ate there.
Everything since then has been progressive steps to change, up to a point.
Friends encouraged me to join the “raw milk underground”—and the Weston A. Price Foundation, which advocates for a return to non-processed, whole foods that are properly prepared. Virginia allows cowshares—you buy part of a cow and pay the farmer for boarding and vet care and that allows you to share in the cow’s products.
I avoided unfermented soy (good-bye soy lattes!), even picking tofu out of the pad Thai I sometimes ate at lunch. Years earlier, I had begun to consciously choose non-genetically modified foods, but I became even more cognizant about those kinds of choices. By 2003, I was drinking raw milk, making farmer’s cheese, butter and kefir and loving it.