Nita is an adorable 65-year-old woman I know who has short, wispy gray hair, hazel eyes and a pretty smile. She is related to me in a once removed/cousin/not-sure-how-to-describe-it kind of way. After getting to know Nita, I knew her story needed to be told. Through cancer, chemo and other ordeals, Nita has kept moving forward, no matter how hard it has been.
Nita is petite and hunches a bit when she walks (but all the women over 60 in my family do this, and I am sure I will do this too). Nita dresses in cute outfits, all of which she gets for free at a thrift store.
I had heard about Nita through my mother but hadn’t met her until I was invited to stay with her and her sister for a week in Hawaii.
Nita has had a tough time in life.
When Nita was a child, she was born with brain problems caused by a drug transfusion gone wrong. School was tougher for her than for her siblings. When Nita was 6, her dress caught on fire and burned her severely. She had to have skin graft surgeries for years afterward, and you can still see large oval shaped white marks all over her body from the grafting surgeries.
Despite these challenges, Nita got her LPN license. She married, had two children and then her husband died. As a single mother, Nita continued to nurse until she was hurt in a serious car accident that disabled her. She can get around, but there have still been some long-term affects.
Several years ago, Nita got cancer in her liver, large intestine and lungs. She had multiple surgeries that resulted in horrible infections, frequent hospital stays and several nursing home stays. One nursing home treated her so cruelly that the doctor had to remove her when he figured out what was happening.
Finally, the medical bills got so high Nita ended up losing her house and all of her savings.
Nita now has terminal cancer and spends hours and hours each week traveling by bus to a hospital several hours away from the town she lives in in Wyoming for chemotherapy treatments. Her doctors told her that she can never stop the chemo, as her cancer has spread too far.
Nita is one of the kindest people I have ever met. She devotes the time she isn’t getting chemotherapy to being a helper to the elderly. She takes them places, shops for them at thrift shops, and spends time with them. She loves this work and smiles and laughs when she talks about these friends.
I was fortunate to spend time with Nita on vacation. She was so easy to be with. In addition to being warm and sweet, she had this peaceful delight within her that you just wanted to be a part of. For example, there were wild chickens and roosters running around at our resort. We were staying on the island of Kauai and this is apparently an island phenomenon.
Nita enjoyed these wild chickens and would laugh and delight in them. In addition, she expressed daily appreciation for the physical beauty all around her. This childlike appreciation spread to the group, and we all enjoyed the fun of watching these birds run around and seeing the ocean through her appreciative smiles.
Nita didn’t talk at all about her illness. She never even seemed sad.
The only time I saw Nita cry was when she told me about an old man receiving chemotherapy with her. She said she could tell he was so worn down and cold, so she unhooked herself from the machines, and made her way to the nurses closet. She got him a blanket and wrapped him up. He cried in her arms and she prayed with him. That was the only time I saw Nita cry, and it was for someone else.
“I never saw him after that,” she tearfully remembered. I realized then that she had no self-pity for herself, in a situation where self-pity could certainly be called for. Instead, she laughed, soldiered on and focused on the next thing to do in life. You could tell that the hardships in her life were halls with doors she would never need to walk through.
Nita will probably not be here on this Earth much longer. I didn’t remember this until it was time to say good-bye. I gave her a funny chicken T-shirt as a reminder of our time here in Hawaii and she giggled away. (Few things feel as good as a truly appreciated gift!)
I appreciate this new friendship and am inspired and profoundly touched by Nita. I am sad that I probably won’t get the opportunity to meet her again. I have learned a lot from our time together, and I will try to incorporate some of what I saw in her into my own life.
Take care, Nita. Keep on going.