Photo of Steve Julian and Felicia Friesema by Rachael Myrow.
Rachael Myrow, the former KPCC news reporter, has produced a lovely story for her current employer, KQED-FM in the Bay Area, about Steve Julian. The morning host on KPCC was diagnosed last fall with terminal brain cancer at age 57, and since then his wife, Felicia Friesema, has kept friends, fans and supporters informed and connected through frank and tender postings on Caring Bridge and social media. Myrow's piece for her Love in the Digital Age podcast, co-produced with Polly Stryker, describes how the couple has coped and how important the public sharing has been for everyone.
“Technically, all tumors are operable,” Felicia explains. “The question that comes into play is: What are you willing to sacrifice in order to get it out? The position and location of his tumor is such that you would have to completely destroy a lot of healthy brain tissue in order to remove it. You would be creating a situation of paralysis, major cognitive dysfunction, irreversible brain damage, and ultimately for possibly very little reward. There’s no way of skirting around it: I was looking at his death.”
They decided not to try to stretch his last months with chemo and radiation therapy. Steve has less time than he might have, but he can eat what he wants, sleep with their dogs, and squeeze the last juice out of the days that remain with Felicia.
She’s taking time off from work, thanks to a compassionate boss. In the 20 or more hours a day that Steve now sleeps, Felicia takes care of everything else: the meals, the housekeeping, the medicine, insurance and the emotional management.
Of course, friends and family are helping. Larry Mantle, Steve’s dearest pal, comes over for company and a wee dram of whiskey. Friends have delivered dozens of lasagnas to the doorstep and whipped out their credit cards to cover what insurance doesn’t. But at the end of the day, Felicia is alone. And every morning, there’s a little bit less of Steve.
That story went up April 1. Today, Friesema posted an update after this afternoon's visit by the hospice nurse, Gopal. Steve had been asleep since last night, but the nurse woke him and asked a few questions, then invited Felicia into the other room for a chat.
Steve's sleeping patterns are a common hallmark of his brain tumor. It’s a sign that the swelling is gradually increasing. Gopal says that right now, all signs are pointing to a gentle and steady decline with very few sharp ups or downs. This means that right now, we are doing everything right -- just the right amount of medication, the right amount of care, and no life extending treatments that would keep him going while he developed other painful complications, like pressure wounds or spreading tumors. Gopal was very reassuring. He also read me like a book.
I don’t usually cry when hospice is here. I try to stay focused. I ask a lot of questions. I put up a strong front. Gopal kept talking about what he was seeing, explained more about what to expect, and told me not to worry about whether or not he’s waking up to take his meds. He told me that this is natural. This is how it goes. Steve is choosing the right path.
I thought that was an interesting way of putting it. That somehow Steve was choosing how he would die. It makes sense. He always did like to drive.
After Gopal left, I allowed myself the predictable breakdown and then went in to check on Steve....I asked Steve if he wanted to know what Gopal said and he immediately nodded.