She walked into the coffee shop and sat at the table next to me.
“Hello!” she smiled brightly in my direction.
I looked past the bright pink jacket, fashionable sunglasses and short, stylish white hair and recognized an old patient who was headed for the obituary column the last time I saw her.
“This is the first time I have driven myself into town,” she said proudly.
She was a loner, crusty and irritable at times with staff. Untreated cancer gnawed her flesh and spread to her brain... two falls, two broken bones and two surgeries to fix them. But she refused any treatment for the cancer.
We recommended a move to a nursing home but she insisted on returning to the old farm house and her cats. She had run the farm alone since she found her young husband dead under the tractor decades ago. There were no children, just neighbours down the road who could not be there at her beck and call. She was not religious, nor was she delusional, but fear was a stranger to her. She was accepting of life or death on her own terms.
“I don’t think about what is inside me,” she said. “The doctor told me the cancer is not growing...”
“You know,” she said, “I do my own cooking, cleaning and shopping.”
Behind her smile she reminded me that we predicted she would always need help with these things.
She ordered lunch as I finished mine. I could not stop looking at her, sunken flesh filled out again, healthy, strong and independent.
We thought she was in denial of the reality of her prognosis. Maybe we were in denial of the power of fearlessness and determination in the face of a dreaded diagnosis.
I gave her a hug as I left and returned to work, less inclined to judge based on facts and appearances alone. Some things cannot be explained.
The human spirit can endure a sick body, but who can bear a crushed spirit?