Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Louise Shelby: a fighter to the end
One day while I was working in the tutoring lab at Austin Community College a woman wearing a patch over one eye turned to me and said, "You're Joe, aren't you?"
Her name was Louise Shelby and I didn't remember her, but she remembered me as if we were still at Bryker Woods Elementary in Austin, Texas. My sister recalls Louise as a pretty little girl with translucent skin. Louise was an innocent who one day discovered something odd hanging out of her nose. It was a flap of skin that didn't belong. It didn't hurt, but it concerned her family who immediately took her to the first of many doctors. Louise had something growing in her face. It was a massive and quite malignant tumor.
I didn't immediately remember Louise from Bryker Woods. She was a year younger than me and she had vanished from our school. Her life was a series of treatments for a cancer she had little chance of surviving. Doctors had to remove her eye. They just as quickly removed her youth. Many of us are stuck, frozen in a moment of tragedy or brilliance. It might be the glory days of high school or the partying times in college. Perhaps it's that first love that still stings with desire. For Louise it was innocent childhood days at Bryker Woods when she could still see through both eyes clearly.
Like me, the adult Louise was a writer. She set out to tell the improbable story of her survival in a book called Child of Glass. She joined a tight group of Austin writers who helped her along her journey. She had found her purpose. She had improbably survived both of her parents and many of the doctors and nurses who treated her.
Then the beast that had been crouching in wait pounced on the adult Louise. Cancer. Again. More chemotherapy. More struggle. More survival. Louise wrote, she drew, she fought.
Two years ago I sent out a note on Facebook that I would be selling my novel-in-stories Evacuation Plan at a Texas Book Festival booth. Louise wrote that she would love to read it, but she was broke. I told her to come and I'd give it to her as a gift. When she arrived it was clear that the chemo had taken its toll. Her speech was slurred and the weariness was pulling her down. But she was alive and Louise knew how to fight. She put her book out on Kindle, and I recently tried to help her connect with a publisher who would put out a print edition.
She lost the battle this past week.
My book Evacuation Plan is about hospice, but I don't claim to know much about death. Louise knows. She fought it off for years. She never stopped being that little innocent at Bryker Woods. She made art, laughed in the face of the beast of cancer and lived as long as she could manage. In her last days traveling to Houston to see doctors, she marveled at the beauty of Texas wildflowers. She never stopped seeing the beauty in life, and that's a big lesson for us all.
Please do me a big favor and read her story as she wrote it. You can find it here. The best tribute to Louise would be for her book to be on the Amazon bestseller list.
You can also read Louise's blog here.