Remembering Patsy Fox

Twenty-five years ago today, I lost one of my closest friends to cancer. I penned a note five years ago on Facebook; today I share it on my blog. There’s so much more I could say about Patsy—her life, our friendship—but some of the essentials are here. I’ve revised it only a tiny bit.

On February 27, 1998, Patsy Fox left the world. More than a year earlier, after a complex surgery, she’d been diagnosed with a rare cancer. One round of chemo put the cancer into remission, but then it returned and took her in a rush.

I miss her and think about her often.

I first met Patsy Fox in the spring of 1981 in Buffalo, New York. I’d gone there from Detroit to attend a May Day celebration. A few of us spent the night in her apartment. Patsy offered me a beer, and we sat at the kitchen table and began to talk. Turned out we had some things in common. She’d been at Cornell in 1976 when I had visited there for Third World Week, but we didn’t cross paths then. She’d been involved with a radio collective called Rest of the News. We talked for several hours, and there was something that suggested we’d made a connection. The next morning I looked at some of her LP’s: alongside Chopin’s Nocturnes there was Country Joe MacDonald. I was impressed by the number of books and bookshelves in her living room. In my life today I may have recreated some of that but ours are not as well organized as hers.

I saw her a few more times in the coming decade but it was only in the summer of 1993 that we started to become close. This started over email, a means of communication that had just arrived. She had email as a grad student at the University of Buffalo, mine came through my status as a part-time student at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Remembering Leila Abu-Saba (1962-2009)

Earlier this week, the morning, already dreary from the dampness and rain, brought the news that Leila Abu-Saba had died at her home in Oakland. Cancer finally took her. She had beat it before, but it returned.

It is a familiar, painful story. Eight years ago, my younger sister, about the same age, died after a three-year battle with breast cancer. I write these lines from her house where I’m temporarily staying, and I often remember her in these rooms as she struggled through chemotherapy, fought nausea and dehydration, and watched her world fade. She too had beat the cancer once, but when it returned, she chose to accept the inevitable. Leila, I understand, tried hard to fight it all the way through.

In our family we have often wondered, would my sister have lived if she had resisted? We have always had to face the sad truth: there are no guarantees. Some people do beat it and continue to live — others do not. A fierceness of spirit may help some, but with others it proves inadequate. There is so much that we do not understand about cancer. And yet when someone dies young, it is impossible not to be brought low by the utter unfairness of it all. We’d like to blame someone, something — but there’s nothing to blame. Sometimes death insists on its mystery.