We all know how important a health history can be. The first time I was asked if there was any history of breast cancer in my family I had to respond with an uncertain, I don't think so. After that first time I asked my mother and she reassured me that there was no history of the disease on her side of the family and none that she'd ever heard of on my father's side. For the next thirty years I answered with confidence that I had no genetic link to the disease. I have quoted from Aunt Tamerson's 1960 letter before. Imagine my shock when I read:
Both my parents were hard workers + the days were long. Father was extremely generous + in summer raised a huge garden + very often gathered much from it, washed + sorted it + put it in a big basket + started out giving it to various neighbors. Anything he had he would loan or give even to money he could ill afford to part with. It got so mother kept the money + when needed for the family, gave it to him but when it was for someone she just didn’t have it + father was satisfied. He took huge bunches to town + and gave them to some one he liked. He was very well liked + always had a joke to tell. He walked miles + miles when able to work + later not so much but always to town + back even when he had to stop and rest on some one’s porch.When he got so he fell mother would call me he had started for town + I would watch for him + when he started home I’d call + tell her. Several times he fell + could not get up alone. He had Palsy or Parkinson’s disease which has a way of making the upper parts go faster than the feet + he fell on his face. It was very hard when he could not walk to town + later when he could not get out of his chair alone nor put his feet into bed at nite. Also as many do he got irritable + mother patiently had it all to bear. She knew she had cancer but felt she must care for him + I did not know it until he was gone + then it was too late to do anything. I took her to Dr. + he confirmed it so we felt there was little to be done. She came home with me after he died + stayed until warm weather. Then she went home + fixed the house for her in one part + your folks in the rest of house. She went over all her things + put for your father in one room + for me in another. Also divided in trunks + cup- boards so it was simple to care for. When she got too bad she called me + said to come for her. She was in bed 3 mo. at the last + for over a year the cancer (breast) had to be dressed. Mentally she suffered more than physically as it was a hard thing to look forward to. A month before the end she decided to stop eating + breathing but admitted to me later she guessed she couldn’t just die + get it over with. I had no idea she was trying that but thot she was just worse. She was always patient + I slept on a cot in her room + even ate in her doorway as she hated to be left alone. She wanted to be here + not go to a hospital + I was so glad I could do for her. She would have made a good nurse + often was called to her friends to care for some member of their family.
We know from the letters that Anna did nurse the family and neighbors. When Ashley's health declined did she really feel that his needs superseded her own? Or did she feel from experience that by the time that she knew she was ill that it was already too late? She and Ashley never had a lot of money so perhaps she was concerned about the cost of treatment. Anna died 18 months after Ashley on 24 June 1930. At that time there were few treatment options. She would have faced surgery and possibly high doses of radiation. Her final year could not have been easy for her or any of the family. Tamerson's letter and the 1930 census both confirm that Daniel and his family had moved into the house with Anna prior to her death but if you ask Mom she'll swear that they didn't move in until after Anna's death. Was Anna's illness just more than her young mind could deal with? Daniel was an alcoholic. Was Anna's illness a contributing factor?
Anna did have a long, mostly good life but if not for breast cancer it could have been longer. Long enough for her youngest grandchild to get to know her.
Binns, Tamerson Carlisle. (Buchanan, MI) to “Dear Vivian”
[Vivian Carlisle LaValle]. Letter. 28 October 1960. Digital Images 1-9. Privately held by Apple, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,]
Snowville, New York. 2008.
[Carlisle Family, Box #1, Genealogical Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. 2008.]