Missy, her sister, and her mother

Missy is my wife’s sister-in-law. She lives in Vancouver, Canada with her husband Allan. Raised in Southern California, Missy at first looked to my wife Eleanor and me to be sort of an airhead Valley Girl. It was probably the way she dressed and her hair style at the time. I think that, at the same time, she considered us to be East Coast, intellectual-wannabe snobs. Anyway, we didn’t like each other when we first met.

However it didn’t take long before we learned how wrong we were about Missy. The first thing I noticed was her wicked sense of humor. Then I discovered her warm smile and kindness. A couple of years ago, we visited Missy and Allen to attend their daughter Lindsay’s wedding. I was beginning to descend into a depression that made me feel that my family and friends disliked me. Missy and I talked for a couple of hours, and she convinced me (at least during that visit) that I was wrong. Her smile, her warmth, and her obvious honesty were amazingly therapeutic.

We also learned that Missy is an extremely talented folk artist. Christmas objects of art is one of her specialties. She crafts beautiful angels and incredibly detailed Santas (with all sorts of handmade miniature toys in his sack), as well as lots of other kinds of folk art. An expert seamstress, she makes clothing: shirts, dresses, and more. Most astoundingly, she is a skilled  woodworker; her bedroom set is just one example of the furniture she has made with powerful, often dangerous (if you aren’t skilled) tools.

But to me, her most impressive quality is her courage, what Hemingway termed “grace under pressure.” Six years ago we all got together in Palm Desert, California for my father-in-law’s 90th birthday (he’s still chugging along today). As I remember it, a couple of days before the party, Missy felt very ill. Allen took her to the hospital where the doctors discovered a tumor in her heart. A few days later, she returned to Vancouver where a surgeon removed a baseball-sized tumor, which was found to be malignant. Doctors gave her 14 months to live.

It was a year and half later that we flew to Vancouver to attend Lindsay’s wedding. And there was Missy–smiling, laughing, funny as usual. It was as if the surgery, the months of unpleasant chemotherapy, and the doctor’s belief that she would soon die had never happened to her. As I mentioned before, it was during that visit that Missy took the time to comfort me when I was moaning and groaning that nobody cared for me.

The wedding was beautiful.  Missy’s brother, sister and mother–all cancer survivors– were there; smiling, warm, and friendly. Just like Missy. Missing was a brother who had died from cancer years ago. Another of Missy’s brothers had had cancer surgery on his jaw, as I remember, and a part of the jaw had been removed, but it didn’t seem to affect his happy, warm demeanor.

Just about two months ago, Missy had a setback.  The tumor in her heart had returned and surgeons removed it again. A few hours after the surgery, Missy was out of her room and smiling as usual for the picture Allan sent us. But soon after, they discovered blood on her brain. They believed she had had a stroke. Whatever it was, she lost most of her peripheral vision. She also developed sarcomas on her scalp and had “spots” on her liver.

Meanwhile, Lindsay was close to giving birth to Allan and Missy’s first grandchild. Missy and everyone else hoped that Missy would make it long enough to see her. She was born recently and Missy was delighted.

This morning I awoke as I usually do since becoming depressed. I call it my morning rant, which the Webster Dictionary defines thusly: “to talk loudly and in a way that shows anger; to complain in a way that is unreasonable.” In the middle of my morning rant, my wife came in with her phone and showed me an email from her brother. Doctors had discovered another tumor, this time in Missy’s brain. The prognosis?  Days, not weeks. The email ended my morning rant of self-pity in an instant.

Allan reminded us that Missy had proven the doctors wrong before and he believed she could do it again.  One thing I know is that, if anyone can do it, Missy can.

A week or so ago, I spoke  on the phone with Allan.  He told me that Missy had said to him recently that the thought of suicide had passed through her mind.  Allan jokingly asked her not to mess up the bathroom.  Missy’s response:  That’s OK, the cleaning lady comes tomorrow.





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  • Fred Bronenberg  On January 25, 2017 at 4:01 pm


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