(UPDATE BELOW, 4:51pm Wednesday) Cathy Seipp has lived five extraordinarily courageous years with lung cancer, and it's 8:10 pm Monday night as I'm writing this, and they took the oxygen mask off three hours ago (because she was suffering so), and she's still hanging on. The doctor apparently thought it would only be "minutes" after he took it off. Apparently, this doctor didn't know Cathy. I've never experienced another person with her strength and courage.
For those of you who didn't have the privilege of knowing or being a friend of Cathy Seipp, that's her in front from the day she and I and Emmanuelle Richard spent at Chateau Marmont with Toby Young. These were taken just this past July.
My life in Los Angeles, my friends in Los Angeles, my experience of Los Angeles (the fact that it feels like home) -- in so much of it, I owe Cathy. Around 1997, when I was still living in New York, but going back and forth to L.A., I e-mailed her a fan letter after reading her column, "Letter From L.A." in New York Press. As somebody who thinks a whole lot of writing is crap, I found her hilarious, extremely smart, and somebody I wanted to know.
She wrote back, we talked on the phone, and we had the first of our "Writergirl breakfasts" at The Farmer's Market, and did our first book party at my house for Ron Rosenbaum's "Secret Parts Of Fortune." Cathy was so generous -- I didn't know anybody in LA, and she quickly brought me into her circle, her friends became my friends, and she became a sort of big sister/mentor to me, supporting me as a writer and encouraging me to go after the undermannered (a pet peeve of hers as well). I was in awe of her, as I'm sure many people are, and I was so touched the other day when Debbie Gendel told me that Cathy spoke of me "always with affection and awe."
Cathy isn't one to be mushy, but I did tell her how much she influenced me and supported me when I was at her house one day these past few months. And, come to think of it, I probably said it better by being there to make her ice cubes. It was a privilege.
I think she understood how loved she was by the great outpouring of all her friends, including big-hearted Jackie Danicki who came all the way from London, and Nancy Rommelmann, who flew down from Portland to try to soothe her with her with what I can best describe as the warmth of her Nancyness and with her fabulous cooking.
A few typical Cathy stories from her time with cancer:
•At the party at Debbie and Morgan Gendel's to celebrate her remission, she announced, "I just want to let everyone know having cancer hasn't made me a better person."
•Here's the piece I wrote about her for the roast we gave her at the Figueroa Hotel in September.
•And a link from LAObserved when Cathy revealed on her blog that she had lung cancer (of course, joking when people asked her if she had breast cancer, "I wish!"):Because sure, breast cancer is no fun; I’ve had friends who’ve died of it. But it also has a survival rate of around 85%. That’s the unsurvival rate of lung cancer, which is what I have. I’m actually lucky still to be alive, given that I was diagnosed almost three and a half years ago, after a cough that wouldn’t go away, and most lung cancer patients don’t make it past two years. Except that, since I never smoked even one cigarette, never lived or worked with smokers, and in fact have zero family history and no other risk factors at all (unusual even in people who don’t get cancer), the bald truth is I’m pretty unlucky to have this in the first place.
Here is my situation, which really has put a crimp in my usual Nietzschean sense of physical superiority: I have Stage 3B (if the pathologist is feeling Pollyannaish) or 4A (if he’s not) adenocarcinoma of the lung, the kind nonsmokers get, although most who get it do have some history of smoking. It’s too widespread to be treated by surgery or radiation. “Obviously, this is not resectable,” the surgeon wrote in his report. Occasionally I flip through my giant file while I’m waiting to see the oncologist, see that sentence, and think: OK, I understand he‘s talking to other doctors here, but did he have to say obviously like that?
The only options so far are different kinds of chemotherapy or newer drugs like Iressa, and these have mostly worked for a while (they don’t for most people – again, lucky me!), but eventually everything runs out of steam and you have to try something else. That’s where I am now, on a new semi-experimental treatment, and I don’t know yet if it’s having any effect. The three tumors that show up on CT scans are still relatively small, which is why I seem in better shape than most of the slugs you see around town. But being physically fit, unfortunately, is not always a Get Out of Jail Free card.
•When I kept her company at chemo (before she started having it on my deadline days), I used to bring cookies and Pellegrino. One day, I brought her a cashmere sweater my sister had given me because it happened to be her favorite color green. I said, "If you have to have chemo, I believe you should also get a cashmere sweater." She said, "Thanks, Maia will love this." Typical Cathy. I believe she lived as long as she did -- way beyond the expectations for someone with the cancer she had -- in large part, to be here for Maia. (photo from LAist, taken by Emmanuelle Richard)
Maia is another person, even at 17, that I feel privileged to know. Cathy and I talked about what a sweet, generous, loving person Maia is when I was with Cathy on Friday at Cedars. I'm just glad I was able to tell Maia. This all happened so fast. As Debbie Gendel said, and a few people echoed, "Until now I was pretty sure she was invincible."
Here's the post Maia put up on Cathy's blog earlier on Monday:
As earlier mentioned in the comments section, my mother is in the hospital. The doctor says that right now they're just making her comfortable. She's sedated, with painkillers among other things. Lungs collapsed so right now we just want to make sure she has dignity and is not in pain. The doctor says she has a couple days left. I want to thank all her readers for reading this blog, her friends for supporting her who made up "Team Cathy." Through you all, I learned what a true friend was. I'm at her bedside now, holding her hand. I tell her she has 292 comments on the latest blog post..her last but she just squeezes my hand. She was very happy with this blog. In honor of her, if you can...support the American Lung Cancer Society and or adopt stray dogs and cats from the pound. Those were her causes. Thank you all so much. Will keep everyone posted.
And here's the e-mail I got from Emmanuelle in early evening on Monday:
Dear friends of Cathy, Sandra just called at a quarter to 6 and said that the doc thought that Cathy was in too much pain and decided to take the oxygen mask off at 4:47 pm. It's almost a quarter to 6 and she's still fighting. It's incredible. From what I understood yesterday, you're not supposed to survive that long in her condition without the mask but now, it's a matter of minutes. Sandra is with Maia, and Michelle is there as well as Jerry all around her. Please forward to anyone I may have forgotten. Courage
Both Emmanuelle and I are on deadline right now, and couldn't be there today, but we've both been part of "Team Cathy," an incredible group of Cathy's friends who saw to it that she wasn't alone -- emotionally or physically -- throughout this. We went with her to chemo, stayed with her at home...there were shifts of friends and there was a "Team Cathy" calendar on Google so we could see to it she always had somebody by her side.
Friends with time gave time, friends with money gave money, and a total stranger -- Kari at Celadongifts.com -- even sent Cathy a free heat wrap when Cathy's microwave ate hers. There were times when I was at Cathy's and I'd figure out something she needed -- like a laptop or a new microwave so the new heat wrap wouldn't be destroyed -- and all I had to do was e-mail "Team Cathy," and within minutes somebody would come up with whatever was needed. Or three or four somebodies would. The outpouring of love and energy in a town that's supposed to be filled with shallow assholes was incredible.
Of course, Cathy being Cathy, she felt bad that people were going out of their way for her. The truth is, as I told her whenever she'd protest what we were all doing for her, that it's just what friends do, and that the friendship she's shown is a testament to who she is. It's so sad that that word will soon change to "was." Boy, that's hard to write. It's so hard to believe that this tough, vibrant, full-of-life person I love is on her way out -- about to disappear from the planet. All I can do now is take solace in the fact that her terrible suffering will soon cease, be mindful of all she's given me, and think of how she's influenced so many people in her too-short time on the planet.
Dreams Into Lightning
Jackie gets it right about Cathy's work ethic. Two weeks ago, Cathy was complaining about how "lazy" she was (the day after chemo, on which she was typically [and understandably] exhausted). I had to keep telling her it was okay that she hadn't gone down to her office yet...reminding her that it was okay "because you had chemo, and you're tired!" P.S. She did make it down there by the end of the day. I finally realized she'd feel a lot better psychologically if she did, so I encouraged her, and she worked a little -- despite the pain and the chemically-induced exhaustion.
Lewis Fein, over on Cathy's blog:
With just a few notable exceptions, she never spoke about her presumably impending death: she wanted to protect Maia financially, and her other great concern, notably lower on the totem of importance, was that I would wear shorts to her funeral, much to her regret.
maia, you are handling the worst time in your life with grace and dignity. In other words, you are a chip off the old block. Give your mother's hand a squeeze from me.
Her wit and enormous capacity for friendship drew around her the most interesting swirling nexus of L.A. writers, politicos, and characters one could ever hope to meet.
UPDATE: It's Wednesday morning, 9:02am, and Cathy, incredible Cathy, defying all medical predictions, is still with us. Harvey, Cathy's dad, stayed the night with Cathy, and I stayed over with Maia last night and we'll go to Cedars in a little while. We're holding Cathy's hand and talking to her -- watching Moxie do that last night, and stroking her hair, and reassuring her, was so moving. Moxie had me read Mark Steyn's piece on Cathy to Cathy, and I read her a few of the e-mails and comments on her and told her about the hundreds of comments from people on her blog.
P.S. Like mother, like daughter. Maia had two friends drive three and a half hours to spend a couple hours with her at Cedars, and then they had to make the three and a half hour drive back to UCSD. You get the friends you deserve.
UPDATE, 4:51pm: I'm back at the house with Maia. By now, many of you have probably heard, Cathy is no longer suffering. She died today at 2:05pm. Greg Critser, Sandra Tsing Loh, Maia, her dad, Jerry Lazar, Debbie Gendel, Emmanuelle Richard and I were there with her at the hospital so she wouldn't be alone.
There will be a public funeral at Friday, 10 am, at Mt. Sinai Hollywood Hills, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles, 90068. There will be a nice LA Times obit tomorrow (in Thursday's print edition -- but it's up online now at this link).
Richard Rushfield writes:
We've got her on the home page of the latimes.com with a lovely pic...with a message board for people to share their memories. This place has lost its most loyal critic.
I called Diana at LA Press Club to let her know so she could put something up on the website, and she said this year's LA Press Club awards will be dedicated to Cathy, which is a pretty big deal.
Maia is doing very well under the circumstances. Her mom would be proud.
Posted by aalkon at March 21, 2007 1:52 PM
It doesn't seem possible to convey the sadness and loss of Cathy's passing.
Posted by: doombuggy at March 19, 2007 10:11 PM
Thank you for the very detailed update, Amy. There are few people in the world who live life to the fullest the way that Cathy has.
Goddamnit, this is so unfair.
Posted by: marion at March 19, 2007 10:17 PM
Fair is where they sell cotton candy. With apologies to John Donne, no man is an island, but some of the parts washed out to sea are bigger than others.
Posted by: Casca at March 19, 2007 10:50 PM
Oh, I know the world is unfair. But I can think of a hell of a lot of people for whom aggressive lung cancer would be a perfectly appropriate end who are instead enjoying their seventh or eighth decade of life. (Sorry, I'm sure that sounds cold, but for some reason I have a feeling that Cathy wouldn't mind.)
Cathy brings to mind a classic Bloom County cartoon in which Opus talks about various things that aren't supposed to end, culminating in, "Gilda Radner isn't supposed to end." Cathy Seipp isn't supposed to end.
Posted by: marion at March 19, 2007 11:06 PM
Typical Cathy, I gave her my "scrunchie" to wear in her hair on Friday, and she apologized for getting it all sweaty. Jody Lindke and Scott Kaufer later sent over some magazines and a packet of hairbands (Jody's doing, I'm sure). Cathy told me to wash the scrunchie when she gave it back to me. I don't think I'll do that.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 20, 2007 12:15 AM
Life should be amazing.
Death can be so completely random in the way it snags people out of it.
Thank you, Amy for sharing facets of this grand friendship.
Posted by: Deirdre B. at March 20, 2007 3:33 AM
A humble thank you for sharing about Cathy.
My friend from first grade Ronnie has lung cancer and we chat about every three days. Unfortunately not like Cathy, smoking has been Ronnie's right hand friend since about the 5th grade.
Ronnie manifest the same courage as Cathy.
Posted by: Mike Sawyer at March 20, 2007 5:32 AM
Thank you for sharing her.
Posted by: kg at March 20, 2007 5:55 AM
Amy, thanks for sharing this. I hope her passing was/is peaceful. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend.
Posted by: deja pseu at March 20, 2007 6:18 AM
So sorry to hear about your friend, Mike. The most important thing, for anybody who is close to anybody with cancer, or even just knows them. Don't ditch them. It's not catching. Happily, most of Cathy's friends stuck by her.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 20, 2007 6:33 AM
I'm sorry about your friend Cathy, though I have only known about her through your blog. From personal experience, I know precisely what all of Cathy's friends - and especially her daughter Maia - are going through right now. Very sad indeed.
Posted by: Rainer at March 20, 2007 7:43 AM
Oh my word, I had no idea she was so sick. I always loved reading her work- she was so smart and feisty. She will be missed.
Posted by: MissPinkKate at March 20, 2007 7:51 AM
Aw, that was sweet, Amy. I'm so sorry you lost such a wonderful friend.
Posted by: Norm at March 20, 2007 10:05 AM
Amy, my condolences on the loss of your friend.
I have followed Cathy's blog since before she revealed her cancer. Her cancer-related posts have been very emotional for me, as my wife had been getting chemo for metastatic breast cancer from june to december of last year. So I know some of what you've gone through. I can't offer any wise words - who can? But I can echo what you said, that sticking together in crisis is the most important thing.
Posted by: Todd Fletcher at March 20, 2007 10:12 AM
Thanks so much, Amy.
Posted by: Curtis at March 20, 2007 10:32 AM
I'm seeing notes here and there that Cathy has already died. I'm hoping that's not the case, but in the meantime I refuse to talk about her in the past tense.
Posted by: Jim Treacher at March 20, 2007 1:36 PM
People aren't eager, it's just been a tragically shitty day
Posted by: Crid at March 20, 2007 1:50 PM
Thanks for the heartfelt post Amy.
Cathy once left a gracious comment on my blog, for a stranger half way around the world. I truly felt blessed. That's Cathy, an angel.
Posted by: adrian at March 20, 2007 2:08 PM
Amy, thank you for the wonderful tribute to your wonderful, amazing friend. I only knew Cathy through her writing, but I miss her already.
Posted by: BeckyJ at March 20, 2007 2:30 PM
What a wonderful post, very true to Cathy.
Posted by: Virginia Postrel at March 20, 2007 3:43 PM
Thanks so much Virginia, and everyone. Just finished my deadline and rushing out to Cedars. Cathy is too incredible for words. She's still with us. Just hope she isn't suffering.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 20, 2007 3:46 PM
A wonderful tribute to a wonderful gal. I am a writer/actress that had been keeping in touch with Cathy since I moved to Washington DC 10 months ago to teach acting. Like you I became a HUGE fan of Cathy's articles. I wrote her first about 4 years ago after a piece she did for National Review Online. Then I discovered we had already met at one of David Horowitz's Wed. Morning Club luncheons. After that, we sat together at various functions often..I once sat with she and Maia at The Liberty Film Festival..when these two protestors broke in and we were cracking jokes about these two nut jobs who stormed the stage screaming "You have no right to speak!" (This was right after a film about Free Speech!) We were sitting there making wise cracks. Anyway, I work with a lot of teens and that night Cathy wanted to know if I had advice for Maia on a situation at school. But I basically remember just laughing with her a lot. There was this neat function at The LA Press Club..where again, we just laughed alot. Then about two years ago this time, I remember telling her that I thought she was one of the best moderators I had ever seen when we were at this panel over at American Film Institute. I remember telling her it felt like we were guests in her home. Anyway, I got a nice email from Maia on Monday - Incredible that she would take the time, now! WHAT a young lady she is...Anyway, thanks Amy - I don't know you, but your photos and memories are so great..and being so far away now...I wanted to write. I am so sad..and am so glad I also got to know Cathy the person behind the fabulously witty columns!
God Bless Cathy...God Bless Maia! And God Bless you too!
Cheryl Felicia Rhoads
Posted by: Cheryl at March 20, 2007 3:56 PM
Thanks, Amy, for sharing your funny and tender moments with Cathy. I always admired your close relationship with her, and what a wonderful friend you've been these last few months.
It is indeed a very sad time...but like you, Jim, I say it's never over til the platinum blonde woman sings.
Posted by: Donna B. at March 20, 2007 5:08 PM
I didn't know Cathy, but I do know what it's like to lose a dear friend, something that is all too rare in this life. I'm sorry for the loss of someone who, by all accounts, was a wonderful person and mother, and I feel for all who are experiencing this loss. My best to you all.
Posted by: justin case at March 20, 2007 6:05 PM
I'm over at Cathy's now with Maia. Harvey (Cathy's dad) is staying the night with Cathy at the hospital, holding her hand. Matt Welch came over and made us pizza, Danny's here now, and Maia and I are going back in the morning. We held Cathy's hand and kept reminding her people love her and she's not alone. Moxie had me read her the Mark Steyn piece about her.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 20, 2007 11:33 PM
It's so odd -- when I saw you over the weekend at the library I had no idea that Cathy was doing so badly. I never would have thought that the next comment I left on your blog would be about this. Now that I know, I wish I could be part of the vigil -- but work and family obligations make it impossible. Thanks for keeping us informed. This is just terrible.
Posted by: Patterico at March 21, 2007 1:15 AM
Only read Cathy. Never met her. Admired and loved her.
Thank you Amy. You are a good friend.
Posted by: Carl at March 21, 2007 11:05 AM
My mother died of Adenocarcinoma (non-smoker's lung cancer). It's aggressive and it spreads into every important system in a matter of months.
Surviving 5 years with that horrible disease is astounding and, indeed, a testiment to Cathy Seipp's strength.
Posted by: Steven at March 21, 2007 11:06 AM
These vigils are incredibly hard on those who love and help and wait. So much respect, Amy, for all you've done and written.
Posted by: Jody Tresidder at March 21, 2007 12:20 PM
Posted by: baldilocks at March 21, 2007 1:06 PM
What an incredible woman with incredible friends... I'm so sorry for your loss.
Posted by: Jina at March 21, 2007 1:31 PM
Even now, Cathy's bucking conventional wisdom.
Posted by: Jim Treacher at March 21, 2007 2:46 PM
Experiences might be the best lessons that we learned, yet bad experiences always took the toll of our lives! I saw this blog at Technorati and wanted to stop by, I`m sorry about your loss friend. May her Soul rest in Peace!
Posted by: D4W50N at March 21, 2007 3:01 PM
Life and death are so unfair. My sweetheart of a mom, who never smoked, drank or did anything unhealthy, died at age 57 in her sleep. My dad, who smokes, drinks and lives an unhealthy lifestyle is going strong at 71. Go figure. It's all so uneven and unfair.
Posted by: GirlAtheist at March 21, 2007 3:07 PM
I'm so sorry for your lost. Thank you for sharing.
Posted by: Melody at March 21, 2007 4:27 PM
I can only hope that when I go it's surrounded by friends and loved ones. It's wonderful that all of you came together to support Cathy when she needed it. Each one of you is a special and wonderful friend.
Posted by: Darry at March 21, 2007 5:36 PM
Very nice piece Amy. Jody and I have talked of little other than this for the past few days.
We will miss her very much. As you said, she made Los Angeles feel like home. I was glad to read that I wasn't alone in such sentiments.
Posted by: Christian Johnson at March 21, 2007 5:40 PM
Posted by: Crid at March 21, 2007 5:50 PM
My heart is with you,Amy,and Cathy's family.Your tribute here of her is lovely,and I too am honored to have shared this writing community of three-some years with Cathy,too.
Now She's free~
Posted by: silentwhisper at March 21, 2007 6:00 PM
Thanks, everybody, for all your kind wishes.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 21, 2007 6:47 PM
I generally am not an online petition fan, but I think this one is worthwhile for the many Cathy fans out there:
Posted by: marion at March 21, 2007 8:00 PM
"At the party at Debbie and Morgan Gundel's to celebrate her remission, she announced, "I just want to let everyone know having cancer hasn't made me a better person." '
For this alone, she would be missed. Congratulations, Amy, for getting to know such a person.
Posted by: Cat brother at March 21, 2007 8:08 PM
National Review has obits up for Cathy. Lopez' writeup ended with some choice quotes. The following particularly struck me:
"A disappointed Kerry voter asked me in frustration the other day whether I'd rather people with red-state values be in charge of Hollywood content. Of course not! I don’t want George Bush writing sitcoms any more than I want Sean Penn writing foreign policy. But if Penn and company don’t want someone like Bush elected next time, they might try skipping those fact-finding trips to Baghdad and visit Middle America instead."
Posted by: André-Tascha at March 21, 2007 9:00 PM
Classic Cathy, thanks for posting. I just read it to Emmanuelle, who is laughing.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 21, 2007 9:02 PM
It's a tribute to the meaning of friendship that Cathy has such fine friends. Although so capable in making friends, it should be mentioned that Cathy actually couldn't do that all by herself! Some "outside" participation was involved...
I tip my hat to all of you in appreciation. You were wonderful to her when it counted. God bless you (you too, Amy!).
I'd do a smiley now, but Cathy didn't like them much, so ...
Posted by: Curtis at March 21, 2007 10:39 PM
Another great quote over at NRO, from one of Cathy's columns:
"A society that allows Playboy is not a society that allows women to be stoned to death for adultery. Human nature being what it is, we're probably stuck with either burkas or naked balloon breasts forever. I know which I prefer."
Posted by: marion at March 22, 2007 1:19 AM
I am so sad about the death of Cathy Seipp. What a voice for sanity in the crazy world of the "left coast"
My sympathy and prayers go out to her daughter and all of you who were her friends. I feel like I have been hit in the gut. I can't imagine what you are feeling.
Don Zimmer, a devoted Cathy Seipp fan
Posted by: Don Zimmer at March 22, 2007 6:54 AM