The poet lay in her bed Thursday morning, dying.
But on this day – in spite of the cancer in her breast, spine, liver and lung – cancer lost.
Linda Davis, the poet who wrote on yellow legal pads, won.
Her loving husband Richard – who is dutifully taking care of his wife of 30 years while she fights to live – tried not to be excited but failed. A package had come all the way from California, from the nonprofit Dream Foundation.
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Linda – who has spent most of her 56 years doing the hardest job on earth, wife and mother – opened the package and found 25 books inside. Lifting out one of the books, she read on the back cover the words, “About the Author.” There was a photo of the author – Linda Rochelle Davis.
“I can’t believe that is really me,” she said, holding up the book for everyone else to see.
No best-seller was ever more compelling.
Sick and dying from cancer, Linda Rochelle Davis is now a published poet.
“Imagine that, I have a book,” she said in a hushed voice.
And then she cried, but this time the tears were not because of terrible pain.
Linda leafed through the book with the butterfly and the hydrangeas and the title – “Thoughts Everlasting” – on the front cover. She read one of her poems. Her voice did not waver. It did not stop. The words were hers.
Words to thank her guard dogs and to thank nature and to celebrate the joys of being alive and sharing love.
“I wrote that,” she said when she was done. “Now I have something for my family and my friends and everybody to have after I am gone soon. They can remember me with this.”
Danette Duncan, Linda’s social worker from Hospice & Community Care, had helped take the 20 poems written on yellow legal pages over the years – both before and after cancer – and turn them into a book full of the undying joy of a human heart.
Duncan tried not to cry. She failed.
“Linda, your words will live forever,” Duncan said.
The unspoken words in the room, as the tears fell, were that Linda would not be around much longer to read those words.
But her words and her thoughts will live. Poems penned by a self-described “girl who lives out in the country near Clover, South Carolina” – poems about beauty and love and joy – will last forever in this book that Linda never thought would be published.
“She started losing weight,” her husband Richard said of the 2013 cancer diagnosis. “We knew she was so sick, but...”
Linda was referred to the Best Chance Network, a state Department of Health and Environmental Control program for uninsured women to get cancer screenings and Medicaid assistance.
“My screening showed cancer, and it was too far gone for surgery,” Linda said. “Too late.”
Somehow, Linda hung on until her first grandchild was born in December.
“Emma came early,” she said. “I said she wanted to meet me before I was gone.”
Linda has hung on ever since then, but she is extremely sick, almost entirely bedridden. Hospice & Community Care has helped at the Davis home for the past six weeks as her condition has worsened.
Duncan helped push through the expedited request to publish the poetry book through the Dream Foundation, a nonprofit that helps adults with less than a year to live make one more dream come true. Over the past 20 years, the foundation has helped almost 20,000 people across the United States.
The pages of poetry were rushed to California. Megan Turley – who has the unmatched title of “dream coordinator” for the Dream Foundation – recalled one voicemail Linda had left, her soft voice thrilled and excited. In that message, Linda said she never thought her poems would ever mean anything to anyone before she died.
“That message was so beautiful and heartfelt,” Turley said. “I saved it. We at the Dream Foundation were thrilled to help her.”
Cover pictures were chosen. Turley and others rushed the layout and design and more. The clock ticked and Dream Foundation workers stayed late. The printer worked overtime. The box of books was sent out by special delivery.
All so that on Thursday, in a house off a gravel driveway out in the woods near Clover, the book made it to the bedside of Linda Rochelle Davis.
“I feel like I have accomplished something,” she said. “I would tell anybody not to stop dreaming. Dreams come true. They are right here in this book.”
After a short while of talking and crying and reading, the newly published poet was tired. She closed her eyes, but the book of poems with her name on it – her dream come true – was held in her hands over her undying heart.