LaQuinta Estelle Cooper Parker was born during the Great Depression in rural Arkansas.
The youngest of eight children, Estelle -- or Stell as she is known in the family -- grew up during a time when family cared for family at home and the community rallied around the sick and elderly. When her mother, Ida Caroline Cooper, needed help from a neighbor she placed a white flag on the porch to signal an emergency.
This culture of helping one another was installed in Estelle as well as her only child, Suzi. Together, they are a fearless duo. Estelle's husband, Billy, bestowed his wife and daughter the nicknames "Thelma and Louise" back in the early 1990s, knowing what fiery, independent women they are -- then and now. It's a moniker that has stuck through the years.
When Estelle was diagnosed with lung cancer in May, Suzi knew regardless of how hard the journey may be her mother would never live in some sterile facility for the elderly where Big Pharma and the push to look at profit over patient care often treats every person as if they are a number and not a human being.
Instead, she would care for her mother at home just as her grandmother had cared for her mother in the 1930s until she died in 1941.
And of course, ever realistic and spunky, Estelle would never last in a nursing home. She doesn't think she is 85 and she knows the people who would live around her wouldn't understand her deep love for Duran Duran, punk music, short spiky hair, and red lipstick. And while she and Suzi have spent countless hours traveling around the country, Estelle simply looks at her diagnosis as yet another adventure albeit at home.
As an independent journalist and author, Suzi is fortunate that she can work from home. But as she is learning, caretaking and writing don't exactly mix most days. In fact, caregiving is a full-time, exhaustive job -- twenty-four hours a day, every day often with high stress that zaps all mental and physical capabilities.
When Estelle opted out of a biopsy, she automatically was refused any chemo treatments. At 85 and with her allergies, she knew chemo wasn't her bag. She is going for a more holistic approach as she battles her illness. That includes essential oils, six packs of Boost (vanilla or strawberry), comfy sheets for a hospital bed she hates, medicine that Medicare won't cover and some outside aides to sit with Estelle.
Suzi, who fights her own thyroid autoimmune disease, also needs respite from cooking, cleaning and caring. Food is always appreciated at the front door and relieves a lot of stress as she makes sure Estelle stays comfortable and mobile on her good days by giving her gentle physical therapy. But what Suzi really needs is to hire aides to help Estelle in bed at night. Suzi simply is not strong enough or trained enough to get Estelle safely in bed. Night help is hard to find in Little Rock and if per chance a family is lucky enough to find an aide to help, it's not cheap.
Help Suzi keep Estelle at home during what is a most uncertain ride for this Thelma and Louise duo.