Many people have asked for details about Leila’s passing.
I have been friends with Leila for 15 years and I was with her often during the last few weeks of her life. Although Leila was a very public person in many ways, with huge on- and off-line communities, she chose to keep the details of her recent descent into illness private, posting sparingly on Facebook, and not at all on her blogs, and she kept in-person visitors to an absolute minimum.
So, for many, the recent events are somewhat of a shock.
Leila was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago. Treatment, while far from a cakewalk, was successful at that time. She took her new lease on life and went back to school, fulfilling a longtime dream of getting her MFA in creative writing. She also went back to “normal,” as people do, expecting–rightfully based on the reports she received from her doctors–that she had many years ahead of her.
Two years ago, she received news that the cancer had metastasized to her liver and spine. After that round of treatment, she wrote a post on her Dove’s Eye View blog about her sense of the connection between cancer and resentment and her hopes for changing her own mind.
Her treatment was again considered successful. After chemo, she traveled, worked on her novel, focused her energies on in-real-life connections with family and friends. In late August, 2009, she had another scan that indicated the cancer cells in her liver were active again. Doctors were unconcerned as she’d responded well to treatment in the past. Unfortunately, the new chemo regimen seemed to activate or coincide with aggressive tumor growth, gravely impairing the functioning of her liver. Her body rapidly became, essentially, not well enough to handle more chemo. While Leila fought against the dire pronouncements of teams of doctors, eventually her liver and kidneys failed. She spent her final days at home, in hospice care with her family.
During the weeks that Leila was in and out of the hospital, her energy would dip, then rally. It seemed possible to me for a while that she might recover, though I may have been in denial more often than not. She made lists and plans. Home redecorating ideas, goals for working on her novel. One day when she was recovering at home, we sat together and framed artwork she’d been meaning to hang.
“I can’t die now,” she said to me in a moment of levity. “I have things to do!”
In the final days of her life, she learned that her beloved mentor from the MFA program at Mills College and another close writing friend had offered to edit and publish her novel, and she accepted.
Being mindful of her deep desire to keep all of our thoughts focused on the positive, I was unable to share the details of what was happening to her with her communities.
My hope in creating this blog memory book is that we can all write our stories of Leila here, to share with each other, and to save for her children. Thank you.