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Like any terminally ill patient, Marilyn has good days and bad days. Here, on a day she had a 103-degree fever, she is comforted by her son Boomer.
photo
[Times photo: Lisa DeJong]

By JEANNE MALMGREN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 25, 2000


There always seem to be arms around Marilyn Myers.

At 4 p.m., time for the nursing shift change at Marilyn's house, day nurse Jean Takach pauses by her bed to say good-bye.

"Come here, I want to give you a hug," says Marilyn, reaching out from the sea of pillows that support her.

Takach leans close and wraps her arms around her patient's gaunt frame.

"Thanks for another great day with you," says Marilyn, her voice muffled against Takach's shoulder.

Terminally ill with ovarian cancer, Marilyn is enveloped in a circle of friends, relatives and neighbors. Everyone wants to be with her, everyone wants to help, everyone wants to express their concern by doing something -- anything.

They are her support system, a volunteer army of angels, and if you listen to them address each other it seems they're all named "Sweetie."

Marilyn, 50, is a former massage therapist and holistic health educator. Before she was paralyzed in an accident 12 years ago -- and long before the cancer struck in 1998 -- she was known for her chronically overbooked schedule.

"I was an extremely busy woman," she says. "I always thought, "I can take care of myself and 10 other people.' That was my attitude. What I realize now is that I was busy giving because I wasn't quite comfortable receiving."

Marilyn has learned a lot about the art of receiving. After her accident, she had to let others help her with some daily needs, but now she requires even more care: assistance with bathing, dressing, eating, getting from bed into her wheelchair. She needs someone to bring in the mail, someone to do the laundry, someone to shop for groceries.

Many seriously ill patients find that level of dependence intolerable. They rage at the loss of control, the embarrassment of needing someone to clean them after they go to the bathroom.

Marilyn says it's okay. Really it is.

"I don't feel humiliated. I like it when I can do things for myself, of course, but when I can't, I don't get angry. I just let people help me. They're happy to do it."

The amount of care people lavish on her sometimes overwhelms Marilyn.

"It's like an avalanche of love, and I have to really open my heart to let it in. It's profound and it's beautiful. I just cry and cry and cry."

Dancing In The Twilight

As the end draws near for Marilyn Myers, who is terminally ill with ovarian cancer, she has embraced dying, finding joy where others often see despair. We are visiting her regularly for a series of conversations; you can find links previous installments here

Any given day in Marilyn's household is a flurry of activity.

Her friend Lynda Stolzman, visiting from Vermont, is in the kitchen making a spinach omelet to tempt Marilyn's flagging appetite. Jackie Telfair is vacuuming and changing bed linens. Faith Hoogs stops by, as she does each week, with fresh flowers for Marilyn's bedroom. Neighbor John Wooten leaves for the airport to pick up someone flying in to visit Marilyn. Dave Ellis, a friend, calls to ask how she's feeling. Daughter-in-law Julia Ford is nursing two-month-old Shane, Marilyn's first grandchild.

None of this happens by accident. Marilyn directs it all from her bed, queen bee of a bustling hive. Unless she's feeling tired or sicker than usual, she relishes the activity.

The only frustration, she says, is that with so many people in the house, there's inevitable confusion. Files are mislaid, the portable telephone disappears, no one can find Marilyn's favorite herb seasoning.

"Everybody's moving things and putting things away and each person puts things where they think they should be. I try to maintain some amount of control but sometimes it's hard."

Massage is an indispensable part of the day. Every morning, one of three women -- Janet Maddox, Laurie Moore Hartford or Denise Glueck -- arrives with a folding massage table and sets up shop in the living room.

Marilyn is carried from her bed to the table, usually by one of her sons. She weighs just 90 pounds.

Treatments last as long as two hours. Marilyn knows her body and its pains. She requests specific muscles to be worked on, sometimes even reaching around to demonstrate the proper stroke.

Once a week, reflexologist Reed Myles does intensive work on Marilyn's hands and feet, which have swollen as her kidneys slow down.

Even though the therapists try to offer their services for free, Marilyn insists on paying. She feels it's important to support young people who have chosen the same career she had.

photo
[Times photo: Lisa DeJong]
Lenn Neff, at the stove, and Ellen Manning, in the background, work in Marilyn's kitchen to make ginger ice cream sweetened with the herb stevia. Marilyn's friends cook meals for her from The Body Ecology Diet. 

Food is another crucial issue. Marilyn always has followed a strict diet of healthy, organic foods. Now, with cancer ravaging her body, she is even more particular about what she eats: mostly low-fat proteins such as fish and chicken, and fresh vegetables, particularly greens. Fruits and most grains are no-nos because they "feed" the recurrent yeast infections that plague many cancer patients.

A dogeared, much-scribbled-in copy of The Body Ecology Diet sits on the kitchen counter. From it, Marilyn's caregivers make such healthful delicacies as buckwheat "meat loaf" and homemade ginger ale sweetened with the herb stevia. Marilyn calls out detailed cooking instructions from her bedroom.

Even though the stream of visitors is steady, Marilyn says it rarely drains her.

"More and more, as I learn to receive, my experience of exchange with people is more circular, rather than one-way. It's this amazing experience of taking love in and letting it out."

The generally upbeat atmosphere in the house isn't surprising, says longtime friend Diane Love. "She has always been a real gatherer of people."

Of course, there are tears, too. And that's fine, says Love.

"There's a lot of soul work going on here, not only for Marilyn but for those around her. She was a very powerful healer in life, so she is in her dying, too."

COMING NEXT TUESDAY
Marilyn's beliefs about what happens at death, and her specific requests for her own “transition time.”

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