Monday, June 30, 2014

On losing a friend to leukemia

Patricia and her "therapy dog," Buck.
Shortly after I started my blog five years ago, PJ appeared out of the Ethernet to say that we were doppelgangers.

We were both runners, we both had three children of roughly the same age, and we both were treated at Dana-Farber for the same cancer – acute myeloid leukemia, or AML.

Over the years we competed about who had had the worst and most: the most bone marrow transplants (I won with 4-2), most falls (we lost count), skin cancers (don’t know) worst rashes (hers) and most teeth lost (me, 11-4). Then there was the too-many-to-count column: pills swallowed, tests taken, specialists seen. We made light of these ordeals, using humor as an antidote to the pain, the anxiety, the fear.

She was feisty, funny, smart and compassionate. So I was just so sad when I read her husband Marty’s email on Sunday saying that she had died the day before. After eight years of doing battle, she had relapsed a second time, and there was nothing else to do. She died peacefully in a hospice in Brooklyn.

PJ – aka Patricia Jempty– was funny even in the way she named her blog: The Plog.
She was so proud of her children, posting photos of the family at milestone events and Thanksgiving dinners. She got to many of those, but not enough.

We each visited the other upon our first relapses when hospitalized at separate times on the same floor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The last time I saw her was at the New York apartment where she and Marty had lived for a time. She made us the perfect cup of cappuccino.

Most every Sunday she called Ann, another blog friend with leukemia, who writes on Ann’s Fight. PJ had a horrible case of Graft-vs. Host Disease – trouble with her eyes, an almost unbearable rash, and weakness like I have had from the prednisone prescribed to control the GVHD. She went to yoga, fell down, got up and returned.

She colored her hair and got a manicure to fight malaise when, as she wrote, she felt trapped in the wrong body, having gotten puffed up from prednisone like I did. She participated in the Leukemia andLymphoma Society’s Team in Training effort to raise money for fighting blood cancers and run the New York Marathon. She did it in memory of Dori Brown, who died in 2011 from AML and whose husband, Jim, ran for and wrote about the woman with the beautiful smile on his blog, Run for Dori. In describing her bond with all of us, PJ wrote of “the sisterhood of leukemia and transplant.”

She ran a good part of the marathon, tripped and fell, picked herself up, stopped to have brunch with a friend whose apartment was on the way and then walked more of the course with Marty. She always felt better with him at her side.

Her most recent dog, a Bouvier des Flandres in a long line of them, was blind, but she learned how to deal with this. He knocked her down when near the end she was very weak, but she didn’t complain. After their children were grown, she and Marty had sold their house in Rhode Island with the garden that she loved and moved to New York so they could go out on the town. She wrote about the delicious food she cooked in their tiny apartment and about the great restaurant meals they shared with friends and later about how they bought a house in the country to enjoy the peace and quiet, the sounds of the birds and brook, a place for the dog to run.

She was a voracious reader, posting perceptive observations on her other blog, Word in the Woods. She called David Foster Wallace’s 1,079-page book “Infinite Jest” her Waterloo. We talked about it on the phone. I said I wanted to read it but had never tried. She said she was going to tear it in half, throw part on the floor and read it in pieces. I think she got through a good chunk.


That is how I will remember her, always finding a way.

7 comments:

Saul Wisnia said...

Beautiful tribute to a beautiful soul. I remember hearing about PJ. You did her proud, as you, too, always find a way.

Robin said...

So very sorry to read about your friend. Your post is a beautiful tribute to a woman that was clearly a warrior.

Cathy said...

I've followed the Plog ever since meeting PJ on the LLS discussion boards. I"m so sorry to hear this news. She was witty, wry and determined. Her loss is devastating to the LLS community.

Karen Bell said...

So sad to hear this news. I have been looking at The Plog for weeks now waiting for her post. I too have been following The Plog since meeting PJ on the LLS discussion boards. She and my husband were at Brighams and Womens at the same time being treated for leukemia. My heart is heavy.

Emma said...

Thanks for writing such a real and true profile of our friend PJ..you captured so much of her personality..I always tell people I never knew anyone who could get more pleasure out of a martini...a story ....an evening with a friend ....but it was the comment "that she always felt better when Marty was at her side" that got me...it was so true...they shared such joy and appreciation of each other...it was a treat to see.

Jim said...

Ronni, thank you for this beautiful tribute to a wonderful soul. Patricia, Ann and you meant a great deal to Dori. Sending love, hope and prayers. Jim

George Jempty said...

Thanks for this tribute to my sister