Summer cookouts always were big on Lapin Lane in Pulaski Township.
Never a fan of BBQ sauce or propane, Lucie Palumbo Cubbal developed a thing for both in her latter years and BBQ’d chicken became a treat along with the standard fare of hot dogs and hamburgers when we fired up the grill.
Our dinners and cookouts usually started about 5 p.m. instead of the noon or 1 p.m. starts of many of our family members and friends. Mom and I personally liked sleeping in and sitting outside later, enjoying the late-afternoon sun and night sky.
So when the chicken began burning on the grill about 5:15 p.m. on Oct. 31, 1979, and Lucie, who always took over grilling the chicken, was nowhere to be found, I went looking for her, checking the bathroom first. I found her lying sideways in her bed, face ashen. What’s the matter, muh, I asked with concern. She groaned softly and looked at me with confusion and fear in her eyes.
I went and got my dad and other family members and we huddled briefly before calling an ambulance. My dad’s wife of over 40 years had been fine literally minutes earlier and was definitely not OK now. What could have happened?
We speculated food poisoning since she was tasting as she cooked. Sadly, it was not.
Her breast cancer, which she had battled so valiantly four years earlier, was back with a vengeance. I was a teenager both during diagnosis and the second flare-up. She was one year from official remission and after chemo, radiation and a mastectomy, it was looking good that she was headed that way.
I had the honor of accompanying her to Roswell Cancer Clinic in Buffalo, New York. I took leaves of absence from college and The News. I will not lie, we both were scared to death, having no experience with cancer in our family or among close friends. I stayed at a very rudimentary but adequate Ronald McDonald House near the Roswell.
A kindly oncologist took charge of our case and explained what would happen. Three days a week, she would endure the painful chemo and two more were radiation days as I recall. The oncologist estimated she might live for two years from her breast and lung cancer diagnoses in October 1990. The Pittsburgh Pirates Parrot came to her room during the Chuck Tanner World Series run and brought an autographed photo of Chuck, who I happened to know fairly well. Although she was given a possible two years, she made it just over four months.
We returned to New Castle on Oct. 31, 1979. Kids were trick-or treating in our neighborhood and I had to break the news to neighbor and close friend Sylvia. Mama died the afternoon of Jan. 3, 1980, after asking for a hot dog with ketchup in St. Francis Hospital, where she died at 2:10 p.m.
I’ve often wondered in those 41 years and one day how long the current progress in cancer would have extended her life.
I am just grateful that so many others have been saved in the past four decades and hope that ongoing cancer research does the same for others. May God bless you all and my mom in heaven.
Kayleen Cubbal is sports editor at the New Castle News.