Friday, February 20, 2009


I had two sisters at this time last year. Now I have one. Pam, who had smoked since a young teenager, died March 9, 2008 of cancer. It started in her lungs and progressed to her brain. Believe me when I say it's no fun watching someone you love slowly die.

Pam, our other sister Anne, and I were typical sisters. They were 3 ½ and 5 years younger than me and at one point we all had to share a very small bedroom. (Picture a small bedroom with 1 twin bed and a set of bunks plus dressers, toys, etc.) It was especially hard as I got older and wanted and needed some privacy. Pam was somewhat of a rebel. She dropped out of school and ended up pregnant at age 14. She begged Mom and Dad to let her get married and they eventually did. Her husband-to-be was 18 and neither was prepared for marriage. Eight years later Pam ended up a single mother with 3 young kids.

In the early 1980's Pam was living in southwest Iowa, working, and going to community college. She met the man who was to become her second husband and soul mate. George was more than 16 years older than her but young at heart and by then, life had made Pam very mature for her age. They moved from Iowa to Texas with his job and got married in 1983. He was a good husband and wonderful father to her kids and he had 2 grown sons of his own. They lived in Texas for a few years and my husband and I were lucky enough to be able to visit them. Pam had a great love for all animals and always had pets in the household, cats being her favorite. If they saw an animal killed along the highway, she would make George stop and move it to the side of the road. I remember her telling me about the time they were having problems with an armadillo digging up their yard. She wouldn’t allow anyone to kill it or hurt it in anyway. They ended up catching it by covering it with a large box and Pam sat on the box with the armadillo trying its best to get out until they could cage it and take it somewhere away from their yard. I would have loved to seen that.

Eventually, George quit his job, they moved back to Iowa to be closer to family, and he and Pam had their own company for a while. She lived very near to me when I lived south of town and again when we moved north of town. They even bought land and built a home right next to us. She stayed strong after the suicide of our dad in 1989 and was my shoulder to lean on. She couldn't understand why I cried all the time because, after all, ‘Dad was in a better place now’.
Pam and George were very involved in a local church which later established a branch in southeast Iowa. They moved there in 1993 so her youngest daughter Terri could attend the Christian school that the church had started there. After the first year the number of students outgrew the space they were in for the school and the church purchased an empty store building to turn into a new school. George took charge of the remodeling of this new building. During this time Pam cleaned the school. She would go in late at night with her Christian music and sing her heart out and clean. Sometimes she would take her little granddaughter Cheyenne, whom they had been raising since she was an infant, or her daughter Terri with her. After Terri graduated in 1996 Pam quit her cleaning job. She had done it for three years and it was really getting hard for her. She was having leg pains and trouble walking and found out she had blocked veins in her legs. She underwent surgery to correct it. George worked for the Christian school a couple more years and then went on to work for the church as it grew also and now occupied a remodeled grocery store plus additions. He still works there. They had a huge loss in their lives after her older daughter's baby was stillborn following a car accident. As our mom's health failed somewhat, Pam and George invited her to live with them for a while. Mom and Pam had a special bond .

A few years ago Pam had what she thought was a bad cold and the doctor thought it had turned into pneumonia. They admitted her to the hospital and after doing x-rays, they sent her to a specialist who determined the spots in her lungs were cancer. She had surgery at University of Iowa Hospitals to remove part of one lung and she underwent chemo. She went through the hell of constant nausea and losing her hair but I never heard her complain very much. After recovering, she did quite well for some time. Her hair grew back just as pretty as before. She was an Avon dealer and member of the President’s Club for high sales.

About a year later she began to lose her balance. She told me she had leaned a little bit while sitting on the toilet and fell off. We both thought it was kind of funny at the time. She kept falling and began to get terrible headaches and the doctors told her the cancer had come back and spread to her brain. They did more surgery, this time removing a piece of her skull and what they could of the cancer in her brain. The granddaughter she was raising spent the night in her room after the surgery and woke up to find her unresponsive because her brain had swollen. If she hadn't been there, we would have lost Pam right then. Luckily, the doctors were able to bring her back and they made a larger hole in her skull to allow for the swelling. Do you know what they do when you have this type of brain surgery? They take a part of the bone and leave it out just so the brain does have room to swell. They freeze this bone so that later they can put it back. In the meantime, they close up the incision and you have to wear a rubber helmet to protect your head. It looks something like an old-time football helmet. The shape of your head in the meantime looks like a ball that has been kicked in on one side. Pam never let on that the fact that she was wearing a funny hat to protect her dented head bothered her. She let the grandkids sign her helmet, draw pictures on it and otherwise decorate it. She answered people's questions about it when they asked. She was still unsteady on her feet and had to have help getting around. She later had more surgery to put the bone back in place. Her hair never grew longer than about an inch after this. It was also mostly gray and she hated it and wanted to color it so badly. All this time I was living 3 hours away from her so I wasn't able to be there for her like I should have been and I'll forever regret it. I'll also admit that I hated seeing her this way and was probably unconsciously avoiding her.

Late in 2007 Pam was in a wheelchair because she was so weak and unsteady and she had to sleep in a hospital bed. Physical therapists came to her house but she wasn't improving. November 7th she was told her brain tumor was back and there was nothing more they could do. George couldn't give her the care she needed at home so she entered a nursing home. She and George checked all the local ones out and had picked this one because they had several pets there and Pam loved her animals. This was where she would spend her last few months. She was able to attend a large family Christmas dinner in our hometown in December and all her kids and their families were there. This was the last time most of the extended family saw her.

We talked on the phone occasionally until she got so weak she couldn't hold the phone. I occasionally would take Mom and make the trip down to see her. Towards the end of February she started going downhill fast and we knew it was just a matter of time. She knew if you were there to see her but she wasn't able to talk much. I took Mom to spend time with her on March 7. On the 9th we got the call we were expecting. Hubby and I made a flying 160-mile trip and got there in time to spend the last 15 minutes with her. She was barely conscious but I’d like to think she knew I was there. It was like she was waiting for me before letting go.

Pam donated her body to the Carver College of Medicine at University Hospitals so she could continue helping someone else. We all miss her terribly. A special thanks to her daughter Terri for helping me write this. It was hard for both of us. If you don't smoke, please don't start. If you do smoke, please try to quit. Believe me, your family will appreciate it.

We go on, and nothing hurts forever, though sometimes it seems right that it should.” - Dragon Tears by Dean Koontz

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