When things are going along 'normally,' I can pretty well put living with a chronic disease in the background and adjust my life accordingly. Inevitably, something eventually comes along to jolt me back to the unpleasant reality of living with cancer. Usually it's poor health or some physical issue. Today, however, it was the discovery our friend and fellow vHL survivor, Peggy, died two months ago. Her dearly beloved husband followed 9 weeks later. His health was poor as well, but no doubt a broken heart had a lot to do with it.
I met Peggy in the late 1980s though the vHL connections one inevitably finds when researching one's illness. Peggy was a font of information, having lived with vHL and coming from a large family who have lived with vHL all their lives, and she was always serene and graceful at answering one's frantic and searing questions of what to expect and where one should turn for information.
Peggy sensed a need for even more service to her fellow vHL sufferers, and she instigated a nonprofit organization that people could call for information, counseling, that could also provide small financial stipends to those in need when traveling for medical tests or hospitalization. Peggy corralled everyone into contributing what strengths they had towards this charity. Before I knew it, I was writing a column for the newsletter. I could never say 'no' to Peggy. I suspect no one else could, either.
Peggy lost most of her family to vHL over the years, including their eldest daughter. Peggy lost an eye and parts of her kidneys and underwent several brain surgeries to the disease. All these trials never took away her humor or kindness. She didn't die of vHL, surprisingly enough. She died of leukemia, that medical professionals conjectured she got from all the CT scans she had to undergo through the years. They surmised that her body, already so compromised from vHL, could not withstand the new assault. It's a stunning loss to all of us who knew her.
She'd been on the other end of the phone line for so many years. She's come back from so many health battles. She was just in her 60s. We were lulled into a false sense of security that we would have her with us for many more years. It's a false sense of security we all develop, surprisingly enough, despite knowing better.
I'm glad that Don didn't have to live long without Peggy. I know he was miserable after her death. She was always his north light, and what strength they had they drew upon from each other.