Lifelong Ramonan’s death serving higher purpose, says family
By Marta Zarella
The Zick family is well known in Ramona, noted for their dedication to the community and to each other. That commitment to each other was never more tested than in July and August when 54-year-old Anita Zick had the best and worst weeks of her life.
The best week was spent on a much-anticipated trip of a lifetime, a motorcycle ride to Wyoming with the love of her life and partner of three years, Jef Falk. The worst was a mere two weeks later when Anita died in her home, surrounded by her family, assisted by The Elizabeth Hospice.
She suffered from Glioblastoma Multiforme, Stage 4 (GBM), an aggressive and merciless type of malignant brain cancer.
Giving to the community was important to Anita, as it was to her father, the late Gordon Zick, and is to her mother Donna. Her father, Ramona’s pharmacist for many years and a member of Ramona Kiwanis Club, spearheaded “Project Lifesaver,” a program with the Sheriff’s Department that provides a bracelet-type transmitter based on the same technology as LoJack car-theft-deterrent devices. The bracelet helps keep track of small children, special needs individuals and those with Alzheimer’s, who can become disoriented and lost. Though Anita might have benefited from this technology, in her case it was too late.
In the last days of her life, the 8cm kidney shaped tumor was causing excruciating headaches, severe short-term memory loss, vomiting and worsening blindness, her mother said. Her short-term memory was so compromised that she became lost in the home where she had lived since childhood.
Older sister Lisa Zick-Mariteragi, a nurse practitioner in Hawaii, met Anita and Jef in Wyoming, where she was attending a medical conference.
“When I saw Anita, I knew something was not right,” she said.
Lisa described Anita as being happy but uncharacteristically childlike. Though she had never had migraines, Anita said she had suffered a four-day severe migraine-type headache before the trip and had mild headaches along the route and while in Wyoming. Her peripheral vision and short-term memory were significantly impaired, her sister said.
The group visited Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming. The next day, Lisa asked Anita if she remembered being there. Anita responded with a shrug of the shoulders, a big smile and, “No, but I’m on vacation. I don’t have to remember.”
Lisa suspected something was seriously wrong though Anita remained gleeful and affectionate.
“The trip was long and it was hot” said Jef. “She was a trooper — happy, smiling, hugging me a lot and saying I love you often.”
The temperature during the ride reached 120 degrees, so the couple borrowed an idea from a biker they met at a gas stop and carried 10-pound bags of ice between them.
“She would move the ice bag around, even dribbled cold water on herself to help with the heat,” said Jef. “The day we were to leave Wyoming, Anita woke with a severe headache, so she slept for eight hours while I drove to get the new tire. She awoke refreshed, but unable to find her way to and from the bathroom.”
Jef and Lisa knew they had to get her home. Given her medical training, Lisa did a cursory neurological exam on her sister and contacted the family’s physician, Dr. John Carson, with the details as the couple made the long, hot trip back to Ramona.
Carson arranged for an MRI at Scripps Memorial Hospital. Testing was done on July 30 and on Aug. 3, the biopsy revealed that Anita’s headache was caused by a GBM tumor. These tumors are usually a malignant and rapidly growing type of brain cancer. They usually start in the “glial” cells of the brain that go between and around the brain’s nerve cells, according to Wolters Kluwer Uptodate.com, a website the Zick family used to research and understand Anita’s situation. The prognosis for survival was not good.
Anita remained hospitalized until Aug. 3, when she came home to her family and a medication protocol administered under the guidance of the staff from The Elizabeth Hospice in Escondido. With the ever present smile on her face, Anita told her mother that she wanted to live out the rest of her life as well as she could, knowing that treatment would not prolong or add quality to her life. The family respected her wishes and decided that her death on Aug. 12 would serve a higher purpose, her mother said.
They talked to Jacopo Annese, Ph.D., director of The Brain Observatory, a research group at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). Though his program has suffered funding cuts, Annese agreed to research Anita’s brain, saying, “this donation is a way for Anita to live on and to continue giving back to the community,”
Understanding that researching potential causes of GBM is important, given the aggressive nature of the disease, Donna and the Zick Family Trust paid to preserve Anita’s brain.
Knowing how to avoid it if possible will save lives, they said. The family said donations in memory of Anita Zick may be sent to The Brain Observatory c/o Dr. Jacopo Annese, Ph.D, program director, University of California, San Diego, 3510 Dunhill St., San Diego, CA 92121 or to The Elizabeth Hospice via donate.elizabethhospice.org/form.
“We can make a difference with this,” said Donna “I feel that my job here is not done. Anita will make a difference.”
The family invites the public to a celebration of Anita’s life at Ramona Airport, Chuck Hall Aviation, Gate 2 Hangar F3, 2898 Montecito Road, on Friday, Aug. 23.
Refreshments are planned at 6 p.m. with the celebration of life at 7.
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