My neighbor Mary plants yellow tulips every year along the perimeter of her yard. She prunes her own bushes in the spring and cuts the spindly sticks into kindling, which she stores in her garage for winter. Last summer, Mary turned 90.
Toward the end of the warmer days, I saw her out in her yard less and less. At short intervals, I caught glimpses of her kneeling on her knee pad, wearing her clear plastic head scarf and her disposable rubber gloves, weeding her peony beds. A few times I gave her some raspberries from our neverending thorny patch; I know she likes raspberries on her cereal in the morning. At the chain link fence, she told me her heart has been giving her some trouble and she can't stay out in the heat for too long. She said her doctor put her on a new medicine that is helping her feel better.
"I don't know what he expects, though," she said. "That I'll live to 100?"
She laughed and coughed a bit into her napkin. Then she looked into my eyes. "I don't want to," she said.
This spring we've had a few nice warm days, where the sun sits plump in the sky. Luka and I were making dandelion crowns one day next to the grape arbor when we saw Mary standing next to her magnolia tree.
"It's good to see Mary out," I said.
"Why, Mama?" said Miss Luka.
"Because. She's old. And sometimes she doesn't feel well enough to come outside."
"Are you old, Mama?" Luka said.
Tears. Dandelion crown. Tears.
"No, Luka, I'm still pretty young."
I need to be here. I refuse to let Luka go through school and breast buds and mean girls and sweaty boys and makeup and deodorant and pimples and SATs and learner's permits and embarrassing fashion trends and impossible decisions without me.
I don't think I want to live to be 100 either. I will settle for 75. Or even 70. But I need to be here.
"Palliative treatment" is a phrase I do not like. As in - your treatment doesn't have to be on a rigid schedule because it is only palliative. And it is a good thing I can disregard this phrase and keep my own curative treatments on a rigid schedule. Tonight I will take my vitamins at 11, before bed. Tomorrow I will go to Kundalini yoga at noon. Take vitamins. Meditation at 7. Wednesday I will go to acupuncture at 10:30. Sauna at 1:30. Vitamins.
Thursday, when I go for Day 8 of Round 4 Chemo, I will ask for hydration even though the nurses say I don't need it. They will say that the nausea meds will be enough and you don't need hydration for this chemo. And I will say, You are Wrong. Because I spent two days throwing up with the nausea meds. So please give me some hydration. And please stop saying Palliative Treatment. Because I'm sure you doctors and nurses are good at your jobs, but in this case, the case involving my life and how long I am going to live it, you are Wrong.
***note to self - I am not in denial. I am merely excruciatingly determined. And I need to be here.