Friday, October 16, 2020

Cancer: An Obituary


Cathy Day lost her fight with ovarian cancer on 10/15/2020. She was 56 years old. 

Catherine Day was born in Dallas, Texas, the daughter of Richard Day and Diane More, and attended Vernon High School. After graduating in 1983, she attended the University of Texas, where she received a master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology. She taught in various public and private schools in California, Maryland, and Texas, helping learning-disabled children to read and speak, for two decades.

 Cathy was a lifelong student of the theater and she acted in plays throughout her school years. As an adult, she was active in community theater in Austin, appearing in Different Stages productions, and later with the Violet Crown Radio Players, of which she was a founding member. In Wichita Falls, Cathy was proud to call the Backdoor Theatre her creative home and she appeared in several productions, including “Sordid Lives” which earned her a Genesius Award for Best Actress in a Non-Musical Role, and “Dirty Laundry,” where she co-starred with her husband, Mark Finn.

Cathy met Mark in the Summer of 2000 and they were married in October, 2003. They later moved to Vernon as co-owners of the Vernon Plaza Theater where they lived and worked. Cathy was a member of First Presbyterian Church of Vernon and was active in the community as a founding member of Leadership Vernon, The Vernon Main Street Program, and the Vernon Farmer’s Market. She always had a smile and a laugh for everyone she met, and the memory of her kindness, her gentle nature and her warmth will be a comfort to her mother Diane; her step-father Pat More; her sisters: Susan, Barbara, and Erin; her brother Mike; her many nieces and nephews, and her husband, who survive her, but will never forget her.

 In lieu of flowers, the family has requested giving a donation to the Backdoor Theater in Wichita Falls in her name.

My thoughts are below. Fair warning: this is uncomfortable, and I don't recommend  you reading past the break unless you want my raw, unfiltered take on all of this. 

Let's be clear about one thing. This wasn't a "battle" with cancer. It was a mugging. It was a street fight. It snuck up on us and took a shot when we weren't looking. It hit below the belt. It sucker-punched. It kicked us when we were down. And in the end, when it looked like we were getting the upper hand, it cheated. It cut off her food supply so she would starve to death. It couldn't take her out the old fashioned way, so it starved her, like what the Germans did to the city of Leningrad in World War II. It wasn't a battle. It was a protracted siege. 

Cathy had been getting worse, degree by inexorable degree. Every day brought minute changes, thump, thump, thump, like a bowling ball rolling slowly down stairs. First she lost her leg strength. Then her arms. Then her face and mouth. It became harder for her to speak. She was tired, unable to really ever get her strength back. And the cancer, free of treatment, just went to town and ran rampant. 

The irony of it all was too painful. What it did to her was horrific. She had taken care of herself her whole life, and what the cancer did was strip her of the things she most loved. She couldn't eat. She had difficulty speaking. Hospice care is all about helping people to die with dignity. And this is nothing against Hospice of Wichita Falls, either. They were outstanding and the staff all came to love Cathy. She got great attention and loving, gentle care for the duration. 

But they didn't know Cathy, the woman who lived for fajitas and margaritas. Cathy, who liked my mother's banana pudding more than anyone in the world. Cathy, who loved my cooking and ate heartily and well, whenever possible. With the N-G tube in her nose, what liquid she could drink that didn't get digested was suctioned back out so it wouldn't make her throw up. 

Cathy, who taught disabled kids how to speak, to read, to write, and was great at it, for twenty years. Who acted pretty much her whole life, using her voice to make people feel and believe. She was so weak, she couldn't make a complete sentence without having to stop in the middle to catch her breath. And she couldn't move her mouth and articulate without great physical effort. Robbed of her ability to really express herself. 

Worst of all, cancer took her smile. 

She tried her hardest, but the muscles were just not capable. She smiled with her eyes, though, and you could see when she recognized you. For a while.

This week was especially difficult. I'd finally figured out the only way to pull this off was for me to drive to Wichita Falls in the evening, spend the night with her, and drive back in the morning and try to get as much done as I could before it was time to drive back. It was terrible, but it was the least terrible option available to me. 

Ordinarily I'd be using that time to cry, yell, and scream. But the death of Eddie Van Halen last week spawned a tribute channel on Sirius and I have to tell you, it may have saved my life. You can't be sad when Van Halen is playing. You just can't. It's biologically impossible. And all of the celebrity guests they had who picked their favorite Van Halen songs had about 85% the same songs on all their lists--and they were my favorites, too. As unlikely as it seemed, and as incongruent as it sounds, I was able to get there and back on a more even keel, thanks to David Lee Roth's howls and shrieks. 

In truth, it helped to keep me from dwelling on what cancer had done to my beautiful wife; how it altered her body, painfully distorting her and warping her. She was in great pain. It hurt to move her. It hurt to not move her. She endured it, until it was too much, and then she'd cry out. At the end of it, they had doubled her morphine, and she was still needing more. 

Last night was brutal. Prior to Wednesday, Cathy had rallied on Monday and Tuesday, asking to speak to different people. She wanted to see folks one last time, I think. Her breathing was labored, and she had trouble with it. I can't believe she held on this long. She just didn't want to go. I think she would have stayed here, in excruciating pain, if we had asked her to.

But we didn't. We all told her she could leave when she was ready. No one wanted to see her suffer. One of the last things she said to me before she had trouble talking was, "I don't want to wake up."  That was last week. 

The staff at the Hospice center really got to know all of us, and they were so gentle and kind to Cathy, who was their favorite, even though they are not supposed to have them. Even sick, and in pain, she was still Cathy. She smiled, she asked after them, and was her engaging, considerate self through all of this. During their shift change, at 7 PM, they all gathered in the room, twelve of them, I think. They joined hands, encircled Cathy's bed, and sang "Amazing Grace" in sweet and earnest voices. Afterward, they kissed her face and told her they loved her. It was the most wonderful thing, and a memory I will treasure. 

There were seven of us family members in the room when she passed. When her breathing slowed down, they called me over to her. I held her hand and called out to her. Prior to that, they had been playing Bruce Springsteen. Her breath, stopping and starting for hours, suddenly stopped...and she shortly exhaled, and I felt something let go. I called for the nurse. Bruce was singing in a live concert, and he'd just started "Born to Run," I swear to God. I sang it to her as Roger, the nurse, listened for a heartbeat. There was none. She was gone. 

My sweet wife was finally free of all this horrible shit and misery, none of which she deserved. We were supposed to die at the age of ninety, in our sleep, peacefully. Not gasping for breath, unable to hold her head up, robbed of her speech and her body, her strength trickling out of her through a number of humiliating tubes. The last two years took such a toll on us. But Cathy endured it all. She grinned, and she bore it. She had doubts, and many fears. There were freak out sessions, and lots of crying. But then we put on the grown-up pants and shouldered on, lifted up and sometimes carried along by the well-wishes, support, and loving prayers of so many. 

I'm glad this is over. It was too much, at times, to bear, and we both had our setbacks. But Cathy understood me, and what I needed, and she made our life together during all of this as "normal" as possible. She would make me a cup of coffee in the morning with the French press (she would have herbal tea). We cooked for each other. We did some social events, when she was feeling strong enough. We even made a couple of road trips. As much as we could do that was still "us," we did it. And we said everything we needed to say to each other. 

So I have no regrets. I've got a lot of everything else, including unfathomable rage, deep crushing emptiness, unquenchable resentment for a disease that still has no medical answer for it, and twenty years of fun and laughter to sift through into a bunch of "greatest hits" montages for my mental Man-Cave. But I have no regrets, and so far as we were concerned, neither did she. 

Rest in peace, Cathy. Thank you for everything. 


14 comments:

Rusty said...

I read this through tears. Right here is proof you are A Writer. I would not be able to do it. Much love to you, my friend. We’re so glad that Cathy’s ordeal is over, and you know we’re always here for you.

johnny said...

I am so terribly sorry and sad for you, Mark. You did all you could.

Pavinguire said...

I’m so sorry, Mark. I’m heartily glad Cathy is free of all this, now, though I’d be more glad if you two were hale and happy, performing in another production, and this not even a distant memory. You deserve a good, long primal scream, and some brick throwing... Paul

JillDKelly said...

Though I didn’t know Cathy... your love for each other has moved me. Mark, I knew you for such a short time and you always struck me as a soul I could connect with...
Your writing this has confirmed my recollection of you. As I sit here, tear streaming and feeling the angry force of a thousand emotions - I wish you peace and continued love from those near and far from your present. I wish I could hug that sweet young man who once (and still) makes me smile. You deserve half the joy you have brought to your many friends and acquaintances. Cathy’s life was lifted and made better and whole by you. While I didn’t know her, I know she loved you! What a wonderful life you shared together!!

JillDKelly said...

ps - Fuck Cancer!!

Tom Stewart said...

This was beautiful, I wish to god you never had to write it,

The girl next door said...

Oh, Mark. My daughter came into the room earlier and found tears rolling down my cheeks. And I told her an old friend lost his wife and she, being young and innocent said ok, but why are YOU crying and I said because it's hard when you lose someone and my heart hurt for my friends. No words of advice can fill that void tight now so just tend to yourself and give yourself time and the space to heal. Virtual hugs.

David Drage said...

I don't normally read this kind of post. I would rather not think or learn about the depth of suffering that we can go through. However, having followed your blog for the longest time I had to read this one.

Towards the end, I could hardly see the screen through the tears building in my eyes.

This only makes me all the more sad that I have never managed to get to Howard Days and never got to meet Cathy.

We are all thinking of you at this time...

Larry Minarovic said...

Thank you for sharing Cathy with us in this valiantly fought battle you both endured. I wish I had the joy of meeting her. We all love you man and will be there for you through lifes coming battles and successes. Right now though you, your family and your friends will celebrate the amazing life of Cathy and all the smiles and happiness she left on this planet.

Barbara V. Evers said...

Mark, I teared up through all of this. So much love, pain, and heartbreak. To write this, and every post prior to this, takes a strength I don’t think you realize you have. I was glad music played such a large part of this past week. Music speaks to the soul, and it carries us through so many experiences. From the staff singing “Amazing Grace” to Springsteen’s “Born to Run” I got huge chills. I mourn with you even though I never met Cathy. I feel sure we would have been good friends if we ever had the opportunity. I am blessed to have met you years ago at Armadillocon and thankful for that stroke of luck that put us in the same writing critique group. God bless, Hugs. Prayers.

Bookworm said...

I don’t have the right words & only know y’all through your posts here, Mark. I’m so glad y’all had 20 years together, & so sad & angry you didn’t get the other 40. Much love to you & your family.

Rick Klaw said...

Mark, you amazing man, crafted a beautiful, powerful, and poignant love letter for an amazing woman. You honor her memory.

Thank you for sharing. My thoughts and hopes, as always, are with you.

Belli's Bites said...

Mark-

Thank you for sharing. I am so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute to Cathy. What an amazing life you have had together. I am sorry that it was not longer. You are all in our thoughts and prayers.

Cassie Knapp

DeAnne D. said...

It isn't fair. It isn't right, and I'm so very sorry. Your words are a testament and honor her in ways that nobody else could. I love you guys.