I haven’t posted on this blog as frequently as I normally do, but I’m going through a lot right now in my personal life. Please forgive me as I write this out as a cathartic exercise. (Those of you who only care about my political posts can stop now).
Let’s start with Marcia.
MARCIA FLAMMONDE was a real bohemian in Greenwich Village in the early ’60s. She appeared in off-Broadway plays and worked selling antiques. With Ukranian Jewish blood, you could be sure she always spoke her mind.
Her husband Paris Flammonde had a talk radio show where he interviewed and made friends with some of the New York science fiction community, including Isaac Asimov and Lester Del Rey. He loved secrets and conspiracy theories and wrote a few non-fiction books of his own. His biggest seller was “UFOs Exist” (which I read as a kid).
In the 80s, they moved to the beautiful Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, buying a house that had been converted from an old barn. It had high ceilings, exposed beams, and lots of bookshelves, which Paris immediately filled. There were four acres of woods and a large back yard with a small pond and a beautiful creek.
Paris continued to write, including a huge three book treatise on the JFK assassination, and Marcia took up painting. Her work began selling and it was shown in local galleries.
We moved to the Poconos in 1997. My wife Heidi Hooper is an artist and through the local art community, got to know Marcia and Paris. We loved visiting them in their beautiful house.
But things were not going well for the two. Money was scarce. Paris’ books weren’t selling and they were both basically getting by on social security. They took an equity loan out on the house to pay the bills.
And then, about ten years ago, Paris died.
Marcia knew she couldn’t afford to keep the house, but also did not want to leave. So, after some discussions, we decided to buy the house from her by paying off her loan, with the agreement that she could live there for the rest of her life rent-free.
This worked out for both of us. We could never have been able to afford what the house is really worth, and the house was large enough that we could also easily split it in half. The back of the house had a separate bathroom and a room that could easily turn into a kitchen and laundry room. We built a temporary wall in the hallway connecting the two sides to give us both privacy, and bought Marcia a refrigerator and stove and apartment-sized washer and dryer combo. She had the back entrance and we had the front.
Marcia continued to paint, and Heidi was glad to have someone to visit from time to time. Every year, we’d add something to the house to improve both our and Marcia’s life, including propane fireplaces, a generator, ductless air conditioning, and so on. Marcia was able to live comfortably on her social security income without worrying about rent or utilities.
And then, about six months ago, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
This is an incurable cancer. The doctors told her they could use all sorts of chemo and radiation but all it would do would be to extend her life another six months or so, and it would be painful. She said no. She said she wanted to go peacefully on her own. As an atheist, she handled it well, knowing this would be the end, and accepted her fate.
We helped her as she got thinner and weaker and had friends visit to watch over her and help her. Nurses were assigned to come and visit every few days to check on her and take care of her, and for the past two weeks or so, we made sure someone was staying with her at all times, by putting a small bed in her room.
Last night, her pain was unbearable to the point where I called the nurse. The nurse came and did everything she could, but it was clear that the extra medication was doing no good. Although Marcia said she always wanted to die in the house, when she was told that the best way to fight the pain was to go to the hospice, she agreed. An ambulance was called, and arrived around 3 a.m.
She died soon after arriving there.
So here’s to Marcia Flammonde — a true individual.
Now let me talk about my wife.
HEIDI HOOPER is the world’s most famous dryer lint artist, appearing on national TV and in magazines and shows all over. But how she got that way is interesting and sad.
Heidi was a metalsmith with a Master’s Degree in art. She had a booth at the New York Renaissance Faire selling her armor, and her smaller work could be found in galleries around the country. And then, in 1999 or so, she was diagnosed with a type of cancer called a desmoid tumor. It was a microscopic cancer that ate away at her right arm. She went through years of treatments, including radiation, and eventually the doctors were able to save her arm — but her entire upper muscle had to be removed. They took a muscle from her back to patch onto her arm just to protect the bone, but she had no use of it and cannot feel anything there.
This gave her lymphedema and they provided her with a machine she could place her arm in when the absence of lymph nodes would cause the arm to get infected and swell up.
Heidi is a DES child. That’s a medication they used to give to pregnant mothers in the 50s and 60s before they determined it caused birth defects. Heidi had previously had other tumors removed and had constantly had health problems, so in some way, this was not surprising.
Then, a few years ago, her machine broke and the insurance company gave us such a hassle about providing a replacement that she went some time without the treatment. This caused her arm to get infected and for her lymphedema to reach stage two. She now has to get into that machine three times a day for the rest of her life, for an hour each time. So not only does she have even less strength and agility in her right arm (and yes, she’s right-handed), she spends three hours a day doing nothing but sitting there. She also has to wear a tight-fitting sleeve on her arm 24 hours a day.
She has been unable to drive since the original operation and unable to work because of the need to rest often and her limited mobility. She had to find another way to make art since she could no longer work with metal, so she tried many things and ended up with dryer lint.
Then last year, she slipped on the ice and broke the wrist in her other hand. Two operations haven’t made things much better, so she has even less control now, and I have to do much of the housework and cooking and cleaning and so on. At least they finally have her on medical marijuana, which has helped her tremendously with her pain and has kept her mind clearer than when she was on the heavy duty painkillers previously.
But she never gave up, and last year, the local chapter of the American Cancer Society gave her the Bravery Award and featured her in their telethon.
Then around two months ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
We kept that secret from Marcia and hardly told anyone else for fear it would get back to her. We were afraid that this extra news would stress Marcia to the point where it would affect her health. And although Marcia was indeed suspicious of all the doctor visits I was taking Heidi to, we were able to keep this secret.
So Marcia is gone now. We are meeting with Heidi’s doctor in a few days who will tell us the results of her biopsy, but we’re expecting she will have to go through radiation treatment again and probably have a mastectomy. (The only good news is that science has progressed to the point where maybe, when this is all over, she can have a lymph node transplant.)
So if I seem out of it, stressed, or upset a lot lately, you will know why.
“How can we help?” I know some of you will ask. And we appreciate that. We do have insurance but of course it doesn’t pay for everything. We’re not rich but at the same time, we’re not poor, so there are people who need your help more than we do.
However, if you want to support Heidi, maybe become a patron of hers. Even a dollar shows you care, and she very much appreciates it. I think the number of patrons is more important to her than how much they pledge. And you’ll get something out of it too…She always gives her patrons a gift every year (signed prints, a calendar, etc.) with her artwork.
Otherwise, just let her know you’re thinking of her. If you are friends with her, send her a message, give her a call. That will mean a lot to both of us.
OK, thanks for taking the time to read this. I needed this.