Gussie is dying. The cancer has been tramping through her body since the millennium, stopping viciously in various organs.
The first, particularly spiteful stop was in her fallow uterus. Single, never married, never impregnated, Gussie suffered the indignity of cancer there at age 68. Yet with her indomitable Irish spirit, she consented to the organ's removal. And moved forward.
Which included our meeting for the very first time as second cousins when she invited my wife and me to stay at her home in Dublin. So in July 2002, for the first time in my 57 years, I met the family my paternal grandmother had left when she immigrated to the United States in 1908. That July visit was wonderful because Gussie (Kathleen Augusta Fitzsimons, on her professional card) is herself wonderful, funny, reverent and irreverent all at the same time, generous and adventuresome.
Within two years, the cells gathered themselves en masse again, this time in her left quadriceps muscle. Surgery was once more the solution. Remove the affected muscles and learn to walk again on the green sod. She did.
The cells then ducked, dispersed into the lungs, and reappeared earlier this year skulking across an MRI image. "Like flakes spread out in a snow globe," she told me, coughing dreadfully while we waited for a cab to take us to The Importance of Being Earnest at the Abbey Theatre when I was back in Dublin a few weeks ago.
A noticeable limp and swollen ankles limited Gussie's touring with me during that recent Dublin visit, but nothing stopped her wit and winsome ways. Even a dinner party for 30 members of my extended family of cousins once, twice and thrice removed was not too much.
But a doctor's visit for the limp was on the schedule for the day I left. It led to another MRI and the confirmation that the cells had gathered together yet again, forming a mass in her left gluteal muscle region. Damn cancer!
Gussie is dying, but she left yesterday for her annual trip to Lourdes where for the last 20 years she has volunteered as a nurse to care for the sick and disabled who come to its healing sanctuaries. Despite the limited time, Gussie is living fully even while her own body dies away around her.
Copyright © 2007 by Paul A. Metzler