Daughter recalls mother’s struggle in new book
By Lucia Suarez
STAFF WRITER | January 21,2013
In the spring of 1990, doctors told Midge Rylander she had one to 18 months to live after she was diagnosed with terminal malignant pleural mesothelioma, a cancer caused by prior exposure to asbestos.
The former Lake Dunmore resident decided to keep a journal of her thoughts, feelings and experiences, and sought answers about the deadly disease in her final months. She died of the disease in the spring of 1992 at the age of 59.
The journal entries and letters she sent to her family can now be read in the new book “Eighteen Months to Live,” which her daughter Dr. Rachele Baker recently launched on Amazon.com.
“She wanted to write her experiences,” Baker said of her mother. “She never told us kids about it.”
Intertwined are dated letters Baker received from her mother over those two years. She said they were more upbeat or positive than the journal entries.
“It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of both,” Baker said.
In her first journal entry, dated May 19, 1990, Rylander wrote: “I want to present a historical commentary here, not just for myself, but for doctors and others who might profit from my observations and reportings. The gist will be recording physical and emotional feelings, actions and reactions.”
Baker said she found her mother’s handwritten journal in a memorabilia box in her garage last year. She had not opened the box in years, but felt compelled to look through it.
She found a bright orange binder and in it were all the journal entries her mother kept.
“I started to read it and I just realized this should not be sitting in a box,” Baker said. “I spent months transcribing it.”
She added, “It made it fresh, new, and raw and painful. ... There were times I felt I could not breathe. It was a very emotional experience to go through.”
Rylander and her family moved to Vergennes in 1963 before moving to Ferrisburgh a couple years later. She worked as a legal secretary for many years at a Middlebury law office and for the Proctor Trust Company. The family moved to Pittsford before Rylander settled down in a cabin on Lake Dunmore in 1977.
“The book cover is a photo she sent me,” Baker said. “She was proud because she had this new deck.”
“Eighteen Months to Live” is a compilation of Rylander’s daily life for almost two years. In it she wrote about her daily struggles with the cancer, her frustrations with her doctors, and her fears.
On Nov. 7, 1990, she wrote: “I didn’t think about being born. Death is like birth... it happens. We think about dying. We deny it, but we do think about it. None of us believes it can happen to us. But it does. ... Death is unavoidable, with or without cancer, but I cannot proceed with plans. This is wrong.”
Baker said a lot of what her mother wrote in the journal, she probably never told anyone because she was trying to be brave without burdening anyone. She said nothing in the journal was totally shocking, because what she read showed her mother’s “strength of character.”
“There are a lot of inspirational quotes in there,” Baker said.
In an entry dated Aug. 27, 1990, she wrote: “Seriously, I am fighting for my life and I know it. Whatever I can do, I will do.”
Rylander’s last journal entry was March 31, 1992. She passed away a week later.
Baker said the initial reviews of the book have been positive. She said a person she had never met messaged her and said the book was helping her husband who also had malignant pleural mesothelioma.
“(My mom) wanted to help other people,” Baker said. “That is what it’s all about. It makes it all worth it.”
“Eighteen Months to Live” can be found on Amazon.com in the version for Kindle for $2.99.