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Friday, September 14, 2012

Nancy is still alive, more than one year later

Nancy Reinsvold is my friend. I wrote about her last summer in my blog post Don't tell her when she's gonna die. Her doc told her that she'd be dead by last July, 2011. It's mid-September 2012, and she's still here.

She's 78 and fighting pancreatic cancer. I visited her today, as I do every week, and we sat on the couch laughing about this and that. Her hardest laugh came when she told me about a robber who drove his car through the glass windows of an Apple store and stole a bunch of computers. Unbeknownst to him, the license plate fell off his car in the process. The police were waiting for him when he got back home.

Boy did she laugh. I could see all her teeth.

She hates this picture I took of her (above). "I look so old," she complained.

I love the picture. In her right hand is a cigarette (you can't see it here) and in her left is the giant tomato of which she was so proud. The day I took the picture, she had invited me over for a BLT, my favorite sandwich. We murdered the tomato together. A BLT feast.

She undergoes chemotherapy from time to time - not as often as her doc wants, but all she can stand. She throws up a lot, and not just from chemo. She doesn't know what makes her nauseated. The vomiting disgusts her. When she gains weight, she's happy, but she mostly loses weight.

To avoid throwing up, she eats soft foods. She is sick of Ensure and oatmeal and yogurt and pudding.

She told me the story of how her pants fell off her the other day. Her arms were full of NA beers her son had given her, and all of a sudden she realized her pants were around her ankles. She looked back at her son and said, "I'm mooning you."

She added that the falling-down trousers were the pants I hate - the ones with the manufactured torn-up look - a tear here, a tear there, all threadbare. I can't believe she wears them, but she loves 'em. I laughed and said I wish they'd melt away entirely.

She works hard in her garden. She was telling me that she worked so hard the other day that she had to come in and rest. She had already put in hours. It was 8:00 a.m.

"That's probably why you're still alive. You work," I told her.

"Yeah," she said.

She tried to move a heavy lawn ornament in spring. It fell on her and afterward, her side hurt a lot. Three months later, the doc looked at an MRI and said, "You broke your rib." But he said it had healed well.

"You've got cancer but you still heal well. It's amazing," I said.

She agreed.

We talked about some serious stuff like the handsome young envoy who was assassinated in Libya. She said, "I don't know what's gonna happen to our world. The killing and the taking God off our money and the hurricanes and the drought."

When I have insomnia, these are some of the thoughts of my dark nights of the soul. Nancy and I don't talk about these things often.

More commonly we complain about silly stuff, like about people who talk all the time and interrupt. Nancy talks nice and slow, the way I like. I keep trying to do the same.

Today she talked about being a single mother to three young boys, working in the factory full time to keep a roof over their heads, never having a car. "I had to take my baby in a stroller through the snow to the babysitter at 4:00 a.m.," she said. "I don't know how I did it. You do what you have to do."

Nancy's husband abandoned her when they had two young sons and she was pregnant with their third. She has always had a heart for single mothers. I met her when she became a volunteer for the charity I founded, HOPE Network for Single Mothers. She was a hilarious volunteer, part of a team that sorted and folded donated clothing. She was the one to put funny donated hats on her head or drape donated items over her own clothing. Always the clown.

She volunteered for a lot of other charities. She received a commendation for her volunteerism from the president. And all this without a car.

She talked about her sons, all grown men now, with families. She told me how each one helps in different ways. What she appreciates most, though, are the simple visits to say "hi." Those are gold to her.

In the photo below, I'm standing next to Nancy. Here you can see her cigarette. When she got diagnosed with cancer four years ago, she quit smoking. She chewed a lot of nicotine gum. Now she's back to the smokes, big giant boxes of them that her son gets for her at a discount. I think how stale they must get. But they're cheap.

She likes the picture of us, and accepted it from me. She wouldn't take the other one, of her alone. Too close up, too old and wrinkly-looking.

"You earned those wrinkles," I told her.

She would have none of it.

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