Personal loss

My mother’s death

I thought a lot about whether to write a personal message about my mother’s passing last Thursday, a month after being diagnosed with a type of brain tumor called glioblastoma. In this blog, I have not written about my personal life. After struggling with the issue, I decided to make an exception. How could I not write about my mother’s death?

What else could I write about that would come even close to capturing the impact of losing my mother, Joan Rimer, and my own, my father’s (Irving) and sisters’ (Sara and Liz) loss? Joan Rimer was a young 86, smart, beloved, courageous, resilient, tolerant, lovely and loving. She had been a vigorous, active, engaged member of the Carolina Meadows community (a continuing care retirement community), someone who worked out nearly every day, volunteered, was a wonderful wife, mother, friend, loved to attend concerts and lectures and managed her household with amazing efficiency and effectiveness. My mother also was an optimist. Faced with a devastating diagnosis and a dramatically shortened lifespan, she chose to find joy and beauty in each day. With physicians and others, she became a fierce advocate for her own quality of life.

Since my mother’s diagnosis, I have been amazed at the number of people who tell me that someone in their family died of a glioblastoma. Although some people survive for a time, there’s no army of survivors the way there is for some cancers. For most people over age 65, a diagnosis of glioblastoma is, in effect, a death sentence. Fewer than 10% of people aged 75 and over who are diagnosed with glioblastoma are alive one year later. This is a killer cancer. Almost no one gets out alive. Brain tumors will be an even greater problem in the future as the older population increases in numbers. Brain cancers aren’t something I ever thought about much except when someone I knew (like John Eisenberg) was diagnosed with and ultimately died of a brain tumor. More resources should be devoted to developing effective treatments for brain tumors and other cancers for which progress has been too slow.

My family has benefited enormously from a nurturing, supportive community of friends and colleagues in Chapel Hill and around the U.S., and competent, caring physicians, nurses, social workers and chaplains at UNC Healthcare, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Carolina Meadows and UNC Hospice. We are grateful to them all.

It’s been a rough month and very difficult week. We are not the only family experiencing loss. I have a heightened appreciation of what that means. Make every day count!


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