'We Miss Him So'
Then in the fall of 1998, we were in the country. I remember him, on the bed, pointing to a lump on his neck: "What do think this is, honey? I think I pulled something at the gym. Either that," he joked, "or it's cancer."
A few days later, he went to a doctor near our home in Los Angeles. I remember him calling and saying, "Oh, honey, I've just got this thing on my tonsil. It's this little cancer." It turned out he had a tumor the size of a tangerine wrapped around his carotid artery. But after the surgeon operated, he said the tumor opened up "like a flower" and fell off. We were so grateful. We thought this might have been it. Unfortunately we later learned the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes.
Bruce [director-producer of such TV shows as St. Elsewhere] had radiation for six weeks. They felt he didn't need chemo, that the radiation had done it. He flew to Vancouver to direct Duets [a film starring daughter Gwyneth]. But his salivary glands were shot, a side-effect of the radiation. He couldn't swallow easily, couldn't eat. He had a feeding tube inserted in his stomach. He did not want people to know the pain he was in. We were all there, [son] Jake and Gwyneth. It was just excruciating.
I did a lot of alternative nutrition. I made vegetable shakes every day. He was so sweet. He would drink them with this barely tolerant expression. The doctors loved him. He would speak to patients across the country about what to expect. He became a very good campaigner for stopping smoking. He had started when he was young, then stopped in his mid-30s; but doctors believe that that was a primary cause of his cancer. When he saw friends smoking, he would show them his big scar and say, "You want to look like this in 20 years?"
He was a survivor. He stayed in remission for four years. And though I knew his cancer was Stage 4, I wouldn't entertain any idea of his not being here. When all your energy goes into putting one foot in front of the other, as a caretaker, you just get into a mode of carrying on.
In October 2002 Bruce flew to Italy for Gwyneth's 30th birthday. Before he left, he said, "I don't know, I'm just not quite right." But he wouldn't consider not going. It was a glorious trip, the two of them in the car. It meant so much for him to be there. At one point he called me and said, "I've seen these extraordinary Fra Angelico paintings." His voice was clear as a bell. It was the last time we spoke.
Friends who were there at the time noticed Bruce [who was 58] was short of breath. In the middle of the night, one of them knocked on his door. Bruce was coughing up blood. He told them he'd been like that for 24 hours but said, "I didn't want to ruin the party." He had pneumonia [which doctors say could have been triggered by the cancer or hastened by a weakened immune system]. Gwyneth forced him to go to the hospital; he was taken by helicopter to Rome. As they were landing—I guess it isn't very attractive—he signaled for Gwyneth to come over. He could barely talk but pointed down and said, "Queens [N.Y.]." He was just funny.
At the hospital the doctors working on him saw his cancer had returned. I'm grateful he never had to hear the words "it's back." Jake [a writer-director] flew over but Bruce had already died. I was in Los Angeles, working on a short-lived series. We weren't all together. It was just awful. Gwyneth was incredibly strong. She spoke so eloquently at his memorial.
He was the heart of the family. He was my rock for 33 years. When Gwyneth was born, I was working; he was a struggling young writer and producer, so he really was the mom those first years. He was incredibly generous, honest and vibrant. So it's maddening he's not here, especially now with the babies. We're laughing and crying at the same time because we miss him so. But he was not one to wallow and he wouldn't want me or the children to. I do think he's directing us from above. So many good things have come to us. I've gotten lots of work and it's kept me going. And of course the grandchildren, the biggest gift of all.
But I feel tremendously guilty. I have recurring dreams, nightmares even, thinking, "Why in the hell didn't I just make the appointment and say to Bruce, 'You're going to the doctor.'" Education and early detection are so important. That's why I'm doing this.
I wrote in my diary the other week, "I can't believe that Bruce never lived to see the year 2004, 2005, 2006." To me it's unimaginable. The rough edges of loss dull, but it doesn't leave you.