By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
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"She's among the most memorable patients I'll ever care for," the doctor said, his voice breaking. "I felt she deserved intervention because of the way she's helped her family, the way she is. You have to call on the greater powers sometimes, or else you've got to drink heavily."
Yvonne's husband and children had a far more difficult time with her decision than the oncologist.
"Jim thinks if I'm working, everything will be fine," Yvonne said. "Pauline thinks if I make her tea, everything will be fine. I wish they would all face it. I just want to get my personal things in order. It's already to the point where I don't even know what I'm talking about sometimes."
Although for a time he begged his wife not to surrender, Jim knew that the end was near.
"Her options are basically near zero," he wrote several weeks before she died. "Even though there are one or two chemos she can try, the ordeal and the pain is not something she is looking forward to. As always, she is well-organized and is now making plans for her death.
"I would rather not lose her. Knowing firsthand the grueling experiences she has had to endure during the cancer, I fully support her and her wishes."
During Yvonne's final weeks, she and Jim did speak of many things--the children, good times, her desire to be cremated.
What they didn't talk about or even care about anymore was the insurance. Jim tossed correspondence from Central Reserve into an unopened pile on a table.
"I don't even know what we supposedly owe them," Jim said bitterly one afternoon. "Let them come after me. Screw them. We wasted too much time on that bullshit already."
Yvonne took a final trip to Riverside, California, to see her parents and siblings. On Mother's Day, she and her immediate family went to the Biltmore for a brunch. These outings were important to Yvonne.
But she spent most of her time in bed, tended by family members and a visiting hospice worker. She tried to keep her intake of painkillers to a minimum. "I want to be as coherent as I can as long as I can," Yvonne explained.
Not long before she died, Yvonne told a visitor of a beautiful dream from which she had just awakened:
"Jim and I were in an old hotel in Europe. I think it might be Italy, because it smells like homemade tomato sauce. I'm dressed up for a night out. Looking good. Everything is perfect. I'm not sick. Nothing hurts."
She said it took her a few seconds to realize that she was in her bed, not that dream. She tried briefly to slip back to that sweet, faraway place. But she couldn't.
Propped up on a pillow, Yvonne sought comfort in the framed family photos across the room. Her eyes fixed on a photo of herself, which Jim had taken in late 1994.
In the photo, taken at Pinnacle Peak, Yvonne's chemo-induced baldness is hidden by a multicolored scarf. She appears at peace, impervious to the disease ravaging her body.
The image evoked a small smile from Yvonne.
"That's me," she said softly.