Rosalie C. carries an iPad with a message that she sees each time it awakens, helping inspire her through the good times and the bad: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
She isn’t sure what her future holds — it’s in God’s hands — but she can tell you confidently now her immediate plans: Dance in the rain every day.
Rosalie and her husband, Larry, will leave Florida soon, returning to their farm outside Ft. Wayne, Ind., to start planting spring crops, fully expecting to return again to the Sunshine State after the late-fall harvest.
Her diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma in 2011 may have altered their retirement strategy, but it hasn’t stopped them from living life on their terms.
“You know that song by Tim McGraw, ‘Live Like You Were Dying?'” she asked from their new winter home on Florida’s west coast. “Well, we decided to just live like you are living. And I think that’s a pretty good way to be.”
Once childhood sweethearts, the couple celebrates their 50th wedding anniversary this fall. Rosalie and Larry, whose last name is being withheld because of privacy concerns, are still inseparable and still so much in love, determined to fight this disease together, holding hands, and encouraging each other like they always have. She was 16 when they met and 17 when they married. She turns 67 in April.
“We have been together forever,” she said.
Just days after her original diagnosis — in the midst of the fall harvest — he left the farm suddenly and drove her 850 miles to Boston to see renowned mesothelioma specialist David Sugarbaker, M.D., whose schedule had a last-minute opening.
They returned to Boston three weeks later for the aggressive extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery that left her with one lung, a rebuilt thoracic cavity, and a long road to recovery — needing Larry more than ever before.
Larry became her primary caregiver, learning to do things he never thought he could do. He was nurse, housekeeper and cook all rolled into one. He hasn’t missed many chemotherapy sessions, either.
He grows emotional when speaking about her illness. She takes the phone and finishes. She worries more about him, than she worries about herself. They both know the odds are long. But after 50 years together, anything is possible.
“I really believe if we had stayed in Indiana, where they really didn’t know how to treat this disease, and not gone to Boston, I wouldn’t be here today,” Rosalie said. “I’ve been so lucky through this. We’ve had unbelievable support, from friends, family and church. I’ve never really been scared, because I know it is in God’s hands. And I know where I’m going if something happens.”
They bought their winter villa in Florida last summer after renting for several years, deciding the time was right because she was feeling so much better. The past few months have been wonderful, adding memories to the life they have shared.
While their Indiana home has been buried in snow, they have basked in the Florida sunshine together — 1,100 miles away.
They walk on the beach. They walk the dog together. She weaves her baskets that will become Christmas gifts this winter. She shops. They talk regularly by phone to the children and grandchildren back home.
“We’re having a great time right now. Everything seems perfect. You never know when the bubble is going to burst, but you just can’t live being a pessimist,” she said. “I’ve been so fortunate in so many ways.”
She is thankful for registered nurse Karen Selby at The Mesothelioma Center. Selby originally recommended they call Sugarbaker, who assisted them early in the process.
Rosalie raves about the way she was treated at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, from Sugarbaker in surgery and the doctor who brought her Halloween candy, to the nurse who got soaked helping her in the shower and the way others treated her whole family.
While the first year and a half after diagnosis was a struggle — follow-up surgery was needed, traces of cancer returned, chemotherapy was tough — the last year has been considerably better.
“Things are going so well now that I almost feel guilty, but I also know it can change at any time,” she said. “I remember telling Dr. Sugarbaker I was going to be one of his long-term survivors. And I still feel that way. I know now you can live with one lung. When I’m sitting in a chair, I don’t feel any different than I ever did. I’m limited a little, but I’m doing just fine.”
She is looking forward to springtime in Indiana, seeing the corn and the soybeans growing again on the family-run farm. She’ll see it from a distance, watching the grandkids swimming in the pond out back, enjoying the day.
“A year ago, I didn’t think I’d ever make it back to see the Gulf ever again, but I turned the corner,” she said. “I’ve never had that ‘why me feeling.’ I’ve always said, ‘why not me?’ This kind of thing happens to a lot of people. I’m not worried.”
She looked down at her iPad and saw a Biblical passage from Matthew 6:34 that she keeps close to her heart: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
“I don’t worry about what could happen in the future,” she said. “We’re enjoying ourselves today.”