Jo Cooper - 1984

(Open Letter to a Hospital Roomate)
By Jo Cooper
       Now I know you're going to say I belong in the psychiatric ward instead of the oncology, (cancer), ward that we're in, but I mean it. "I envy you." I've only known you a short time, but roommates in hospitals dispense with the game-playing amenities strangers indulge in, so it's easier to really know you.
     You are in the hospital for your chemotherapy that you come in for every three weeks. I am still on oral chemothera;py and am only here for "a little pneumonia." because I haven't learned to lower my stress level when I get an infection. My cancer medicine kills the cancer, but it hampers my infection fighting mechanism, especially if it's also trying to fight stress.
     You seem to be managing to take care of yourself very well considering you have a broken wrist in a cast and an IV in the other arm. I only have an IV in one arm and can't seem to cut up the tough chicken.
     You have six children, including a 34 year old in the final stages of multiple sclerosis who can't even feed himself. I only have one 19 year at home now.
     So why do I envy you? Because I've seen the love your family spreads over the room when they visit you. I hear about how they help you at home without being cajoled or paid. You husband, a fiery Italian, whom I couldn't help overhearing, "That stupid Emergency Room! They should have admitted you last night. Why do they think we brought you in at 2 a.m. All they did was redo the ice pack you already had on it. If they had put the cast on last night....admitted you even...the insurance would have paid more than at the doctor's office this morning. And then imagine, they were going to send you home again, only to return this afternoon to be admitted. I just can't tolerate such stupidity!" You kept trying to calm him down, but I certainly didn't blame him. Then when he returned that night, he was full of all the details of his work to share with you , and even though you told him he must be tired and need not come, he was there again the next day. There were no sad-eyed visitors, only happy family members, laughing and joking and planning like large families do.
     I asked pointed questions about the chemo you were having, because I know it may be what I have to look foward to when my system becomes immune to the medicine I'm on now. "You come in for 1 day and 1 night every 3 weeks? are you sick the next day when you go home too?" I asked.
     "No! I don't have time." you answered in a matter of fact tone. You explained how you had helped your handicapped son get his Masters Degree in Art by pushing his wheel chair to college courses and now most of his daily care was up to you. His younger brother, a high school student, showers with him every morning, and I heard your daughter and her girl friend planning the meals fo fix for you when you came home...but that was because you had broken your wrist. Otherwise, it sounded like the entire household was under your domain.
     So, with all that work, and the added job of feeding and caring for your invalid son, why do I envy you? Because you are going home to a warm, sharing, loving family who works with you.
     I am going home to a lonely house. I came from a big family. I was the youngest of four girls and our grandparents lived with us so the dinner table was a lively place with at least eight people, usually a guest or two. Household chores, even making chili sauce and big chores, were happy, interesting times of conversation and sharing.
     I miss that now, and I envy you because you have a REAL family to go home to. I have a lovely house and a deck with pots of flowers blooming, a bird bath and bird feeder I can watch from my living room window, and I live in Southern California, so I don't have to shovel snow or wear golasshes like I did in our Michigan home, but I envy you the love you have. Not just the love your family gives you, but your own attitude toward life. You don't have time to be sick. Your cancer doesn't prevent you from doing what you do most -- taking care of your big family. You're a tiny bundle of energy and your friendliness and love rubs off on all who meet you.
     Thank you "roomy," I won't forget your courage when I go home.

Jo Cooper
1050 S. San Gabriel Blvd.,
Pasadena, CA 91107
(818) 796-1672
  November 28, 1984  
  Dear Grace,

          Enclosed is my op ed piece that may or may not appear in a paper one of these days. Only about half of mine I thought I'd send you a copy anyway.

          Hang in there, I really want to interview you for my cancer book, as you are an excellent example of what attitude has to do with survival, etc.

          Nice meeting you,

Jim Picinisco
Pasadena, CA 9110
  August 5, 2008  
  Dear Mr. Cooper

          It was my great pleasure to speak with you last week. As I said, your wife's story has been a source of comfort and remembrance for me, and I keep it with me in my brief case wherever I go. My mother passed about one year after the story was written, and I was the high schiool student mentioned in the story.

          I look forward to checking out your website and reading some more. It is a wonderful way to honor and remember your wife. I know that it is a very difficult thing to lose your partner having been at my father's side throughout the loss of my mom. However, like I used to tell him, you were the lucky ones for having found such a good partner, and having the opportunity to share so much of your life together.

          Thanks again for your time,
            Jim Picinisco  

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