Cooking for Chemo

Okay, we all know that Julie Newell could cook...and that her favorite pastime was cooking for the multitudes.

If you never figured out why, I can tell you.

Julie was the oldest girl in a family of twelve...father, mother, five boys, five girls. Julie took over the cooking (among other things) early on...mother was too busy having more Joneses! (Among other things...Julie told me that because she was so small, she used to stand on a chair in the kitchen so she could wash dishes. She told me how old she was...and I want to say three...but that seems a little far-fetched.)

Hey, I just caught what I typed as I was typing it..."stand on a chair in the kitchen"! Was Julie already on steroids at the age of three???

Again...I digress.

So, Julie was cooking for twelve early on. Then she married me and moved out/in...and started cooking for two. I can tell you, she wasn't too good at that! Oh, the food was great, but there was so much of it!!! Maybe that's why her sisters started coming over so much...maybe Julie recruited them to eat so that we wouldn't have left-overs...FOR DAYS! for school folks was an outlet for her cooking frustration.

But...there was another side of Julie that most folks just didn't see. Yes, Julie was a strong and independent woman, but she had her vulnerabilites. Julie had low self-esteem.

Why? Maybe it was from growing up black and poor in a racist town. There has been a prolonged debate over that topic for years...many using it to explain and defend low achievement by African Americans in U.S. society...many others castigating the "self-esteem defense" as an excuse for laziness.

Well, Julie Newell wasn't about excuses, keeping her insecurities well-hidden beneath that "tough-as-nails" exterior. But, deep down inside, Julie felt inferior...which tended to make her over-compensate. She aimed to prove her worth to those around her...but, more importantly, to herself.

What has this got to do with her cooking for the multitudes? Well, if you cook for the multitudes, at least one of them will gush about the food, how wonderful it is, and how great a cook Julie is. Folks, that all it took! If one person said something positive, it made her feel worthwhile, needed, wanted. Julie couldn't wait for the next opportunity to cook!

And, now, you folks know why I gave you such dirty looks when you raved about Julie's food! It's all right; I forgive you...because it truly did do Julie's heart good. (Didn't do my damned back any good lugging all that stuff here, there, and yonder...but, again, I forgive you.)

And then she retired...

It's back to cooking for two. Oh, yeah, she managed to do the school thing a couple more times...but her stamina was slipping. I think she realized it...and she backed off.

Let's say she "rested a bit"...because she sure didn't quit! Julie just needed the right motivation...a mission.

That mission presented itself at one of her chemotherapy sessions.

A little background...

After a couple a chemo sessions, Julie's oncologist moved out of the Carbondale Clinic into some brand new digs...much roomier and much nicer. However, when Julie showed up for her session, she was taken aback.

We walked in with her usual load of food, just stuff. (Oh, my aching back!) There were maybe five other patients already there...but the room was...QUIET!

As I was organizing her stuff (before I would run off and do some errands), Julie just stood and looked around...waiting for say something. Not a peep! As I straighten up and prepare to bid her adieu, Julie makes an announcement. She says "Folks...this ain't makin' it. You all are sitting in here like you're dying. We're here to get well! So, you just need to perk up and start talking."

There was no immediate reaction...just a bunch of pale and frightened faces looking up at Julie. After a pregnant pause, I whispered to Julie that I was going to run my errands and I would be back later...and left.

Julie's chemo session usually took about three hours. I tended to run some errands, doing the shopping so that when Julie was done, we could go straight home. Then I would return and keep her company.

When I returned on this first day at the new office, I knew something had changed when I walked into the outer office. There was laughter...loud voices, including one that I recognized, oh, so well. The receptionist saw the look of surprise on my face and said "Julie's got 'em fired up back there!"

Sure enough, when I walk to the back area, everyone is sitting around with smiles on their faces, laughing and talking and having a good time. I sit down and join the party and the final hour goes by quite quickly. When Julie gets up to leave, the remaining patients ask her when her next appointment is...that they want to schedule their appointments for the same day. "You make it fun", they say.

Is that not typical Julie Newell?!

One of the chemo patients that Julie met early on really bonded with Julie. They made sure their schedules matched and really enjoyed each others company. Well...after a few months, Phillip started showing the fateful signs...significant weight loss, debilitating fatigue, etc. Julie expressed her concern, but Phillip told her how he just didn't have an appetite anymore. Well, Julie said "I'm going to take care of that! I'm going to cook some of my vegetable-beef soup and bring it next time." Phillip tried to dissuade her...should have saved his breath.

Sure enough, the day before her next chemo treatment, Julie has me bring up her stock pot from the basement and starts her magic. The next day, she fills up a crock pot with soup and off we go to Carbondale. We take it in, set it up, and Julie invites any and all to partake. Phillip is reluctant, but Julie finally cajoles him into taking a small bowl. Well, two bowls later Phillip is raving about her soup. Julie has him take the remainder home.

Okay, he raved about the food. I told you what that means! Yep, from then on, Julie is "cooking for chemo!"

But...I'm not done. Got an even better story to tell...

Couple of treatments later, we walk into the treatment area and there is this elderly lady, lying still under a blanket. The recliner is positioned almost flat and she is not moving. Julie and I go about our lugging the food in and getting it set up...her getting the talk and laughter going. After completing my tasks, I tell Julie that I'm off to my errands.

When I come back, the little old lady is no longer there. I think "Damn, wonder if they had to call an ambulance and take her to the hospital?" Didn't figure that was good conversation, so I just kept my mouth shut. Finally, Julie's infusion is complete, we pack up the stuff, and head on home.

As we are driving home, Julie says "What did you think of the little old lady?" I said "Did she die?" Julie got a big smile on her face. I said "What?" Julie said "She was still just didn't recognize her!"

Come to find out, Julie got the little old lady to try some of her soup. The lady resisted, but, as we all know, Julie Newell was irresistible! Julie had one of the nurses dish up a bowl of soup and get the lady to try a spoonful. The little old lady was hooked; she said "That's good!" That little lady ate two bowls, along with crackers.

With her mission accomplished, Julie decided that she could relax. I had fixed her a pimento cheese sandwich (No...not pickle loaf!) at home, but, as usual, she didn't find time to eat it...too busy preparing for others. Julie had stashed the sandwich in one of her many bags and now decided to take it out and eat it.

Well, the little old lady says "That looks good...what is it?" When Julie explains, the little old lady says "I haven't had one of those in years." The little old lady eats half of Julie's sandwich! And, Julie couldn't be happier. (The little old lady's son returned in the middle of all of this and just sat and stared in amazement...told Julie that his mother hadn't eaten that much in an entire week at home.)

Julie was the happiest I had seen her in weeks...she had made a little old lady whom she had never met before...happy.

That was all the reward Julie Newell ever needed!

When I started typing this post, it was with the above two stories in mind...uplifting stories of Julie's unconditional love for all those with whom she came into contact. Stories that epitomized how she always put others and their welfare above her own. I typed, I remembered a third episode...the "final chapter". It gnawed at me as I was finishing the second story.

Finally, I decided to just let my fingers type and my mind wander back...and it hurt like hell.

When I got done, I looked at the final product...and wasn't pleased. The warm feeling embedded in the first two stories was overwhelmed (at least in my mind) by the grief of the third.

I wavered...maybe, I should just leave well enough the two and forget it.

But...I couldn't forget is a story I'll never forget.

Then I thought, "Hey, I'm trying to be upbeat on the Web site...trying to work through my grief by focusing on pleasant memories...and there are, oh, so many pleasant memories of Julie." But, I was still undecided.

Finally, I sought advice...sending an e-mail to a friend, "Do I keep it upbeat, or do I tell the whole story...including the " 'horrible chapters'?" As soon as I sent the e-mail, I made my decision...delete the story...and I did.

Well, not too long later, I got a response to my e-mail...a response that was simple and undeniable. The "horrible" element was already there...this Web site exists because Julie no longer does. (I'm speaking in the "physical presence" sense...NOT the spiritual.)

The e-mail went on..."At any rate, what you seem to want people to get is a sense of her wonderful spirit so if the story shows that then I guess you should tell it."

So, I will...and let you decide if you wish to venture forth.

You can stop now, hit the "Back Button" on your browser, return to the home page and have shared a couple of fond memories of the love that Julie tried to spread, no matter where she was or how she happened to be feeling that day. It's a "feel good" story.

Or, you can click on the link below and read the "final chapter". I think it does have a shows, beyond a doubt, the sacrifices that Julie Newell would make for her fellow human beings. But, be forewarned, this story does not have a happy ending...

Cooking for Chemo...The Final Chapter