Sometime in late Summer 2003, Rosemary began to feel “a little off”.  The feeling slowly became more prevalent and by mid-November her motor controls had deteriorated such that she had to stop working.  On December 2, we went for our last walk together; for almost all of it I had to physically support her.

During those four months we visited several doctors and had a battery of tests taken. Nothing was revealed. On December 18, she passed out and I immediately took her to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank.  Around 4am the following morning, the ER doctor informed me that there was a golf ball sized tumor in her brain and that she would have to be transferred to Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Torrance.  The helicopter lifted her away just after 7am.

The good doctors at Harbor UCLA quickly and expertly relieved the pressure on her brain and soon she was able to speak.  A week later, our whole family celebrated Christmas with Rosemary in the Intensive Care Unit of the Neurosurgery ward.  It looked like her bed was supported by presents and wrapping paper.  It was great.

The neurosurgery on December 30 was successful and we were all quite happy.  A few days later we were informed that a biopsy had revealed that the tumor was malignant and secondary.  After more tests, we were given the news that the primary was Stage 4 lung cancer.  The physician told us that with intense chemotherapy and radiation she would live 9-12 months; without them, 4-6 weeks.

She insisted that what we would do about the cancer (if anything) was her decision; it was her life and she didn’t think it was right to assign that decision to anyone else. (Tough spirit!)  My job was to gather data on cancer and cancer treatments, which I did assiduously, and we went over it all together.  By mid-January 2004 she had decided on three ways to handle the cancer. The first was to have a diet that aligned with the findings of Dr. Johanna Budwig.  The second was to take the anti-cancer herbal concoction called Cansema.  The third was to take an array of immune system boosting herbs and supplements, which included Immunocal, Ambrotose, and Onconant.

Everything went well.  Very well in fact.  By April, Rosemary was lifting light weights and walking up to a mile a day.  She was gaining weight, becoming more and more of her vibrant self, and her spirits were high.  The last weekend in April she went at it pretty hard by adding some light housework and laundry to her exercise.  Late Sunday night we said goodnight but before turning in she decided the mattress on our bed needed turning.  Typically Rosemary, she decided to do it herself and didn’t say anything to me about it.  About ten minutes later – I was in my studio – I felt a  sort of preternatural emergency and ran into the bedroom where I found Rosemary crumpled under the mattress.  Evidently she had slipped and it fell on her.

The following day she didn’t seem as perky but she ate and  rested well.  On Tuesday she felt slightly better and Wednesday even better.  There was a slight downturn on Thursday.  Late Friday afternoon I noticed some swelling at the top of the back of her neck so I immediately took her back to County USC.

The nurses and doctors there took very good care of her but after a few days and a number of tests we were informed that there was a mass in the exact location as the original tumor and that another brain operation would have to be performed.  This was devastating news but after the operation, the surgeon gave us some good news: the mass was a cyst, not a cancer tumor – a testament that her immune system was working in hyper-drive – and that he had seen no evidence of cancer.  He concluded that she had suffered a light stroke.  After a week and a half of taking just about every test imaginable, she was able to come home.

About six weeks later, she and I noticed some swelling at the back of her head again.  Again I took her to County USC.  The doctors found that the cause of the swelling was that the brain fluid was not draining properly (a condition called pseudomeningocele) and we were informed that a shunt would have to be inserted just under the skull.  A third operation.

The third operation was also a success but by now Rosemary was slow to recover; she was pretty much bed-bound and couldn’t eat or drink on her own.   In a matter of weeks she got an infection which quickly reached the shunt.  Another trip to Emergency.  This time, the ER doctors transferred her back to Harbor UCLA.  It required two weeks for the doctors there to eliminate the infection, something they needed to do before they could replace the shunt.

During this time, I was trying to get the results of the tests from County USC.  I was finally able to do so and was given some very, very good news: there was absolutely no evidence of cancer anywhere in Rosemary’s body.  We had actually cured Stage 4 lung cancer in just a little over three months!  I was elated until I got back to my car and the reality hit me that I was on my way down to visit my lovely wife who was awaiting her fourth neurosurgery.

The fourth operation was successful but the shunt wasn’t.  The shunt itself was fine but another problem had arisen.  By now, her brain had lost its elasticity; brain fluid was accumulating but instead of raising the inter-cranial pressure and opening the shunt, it was depressing the brain.  In other words, the inter-cranial pressure was remaining constant which meant that the the shunt wasn’t opening.  A fifth operation was performed and a variable shunt inserted.

So.  Five brain operations in just seven months.  The toll was just about complete: we now had a very long list of other problems involving the liver, the kidneys, digestion, etc. in addition to very little motor controls – it was difficult for her to speak, she couldn’t walk, couldn’t focus, and she could barely move her arms, hands, and fingers.  Nevertheless, we continued working toward a full recovery.

Social Services at Harbor UCLA arranged for in-home hospice care and it was wonderful.  In the beginning, the getting-better days sort of alternated with the getting-worse days but as the weeks rolled by, the getting-worse days became more prevalent.

In mid-October, Rosemary informed me that she felt that the damage to her brain was such that she could see no scenario of getting better and that she didn’t want to live with her body in a continual state of depreciation.  She had decided to let go.  It was a difficult decision for me to agree with and for a few hours I felt sorry for myself.  While she slept I took a long look at my wife.  When I was able to grab onto somewhat of a detached view I realized that it had been much, much harder for her to come to grips with the decision than me so who was I to complain?  I felt selfish and embarrassed.

Throughout those months, there was a constant stream of very welcomed friends visiting.  They were all wonderful and Rosemary enjoyed every minute of it.  After her decision, she told me she wanted to see each of them once more to say goodbye so I called and emailed everyone whose address I had.  About 125 of them came by.  Except for family, the good-byes were over by mid-November.

Throughout our marriage, Rosemary and I were more close than I had ever thought two people could be.  During those last thirteen months our closeness amplified to such a degree that we were acting and thinking in unison.  If Love is the deepest, most encompassing word, then we loved each other completely.

Throughout those thirteen months, Rosemary continually remained true to her nature.  She did not complain, she did not finger point, she did not feel sorry for herself.  Of the four facets of life – spiritual, emotional, mental and physical – it was only the physical that failed.  And that, my dear friends, is the truest telling.  Her constancy was complete. 

Rosemary let go on December 8th, 2004 at 3:45 pm.

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