Stella Doyle (Sorli) was born on April 24th, 1926. This is how Jack began her story to me. Recounting with bright eyes that Stella means star, as he spoke about his mom in this, a tribute, to a beautiful woman who conquered so much yet left this world so young. She was just 59 when she died, the same age Jack is now.
Stella was a nurses aide at Malden Hospital, working the night shift, sharing one car with her husband who worked days and caring for Jack. She’d come home from work, cook for him and sleep while he watched TV. Stella’s story though began long before Jack was born. A healthy young woman she married young and had three beautiful children with her first husband. Unfortunately after years of abuse Stella decided she needed to leave but in an age where well connected men could rule a small town her abusive husband won custody of her children and she was forced to leave them behind. Years past and no matter how hard she fought she couldn’t win her children back and this weighed heavily upon her soul.
Eventually she met and fell in love with John Doyle Sr. and my friend, Jack was born. He explained to me how his mom, Stella, struggled with alcohol and depression as a result of her deep guilt and plight to get her first 3 children back. Her husband John would threaten to just go take them and she’d beg him not to make waves but he didn’t want to see her suffer, just to make things better for her. When Jack was 8 everything changed when Stella’s first husband finally called to say ‘come get your children’. All at once he found out he had an older brother and 2 sisters he had never met. They sat him down and explained what half siblings were and that they would come to live with them.
Life went on, children grew up and Stella continued to struggle as she saw the effects abuse had taken on the children she left behind. When Jack was 23 he came home like any other day, saw his parent watching tv and made his way up to his room only to hear his dad frantically yell for him. Stella was having a seizure. They dialed 0 on the rotary phone to call for an ambulance. The Dr. sat them down and explained his mother has quit drinking cold turkey and because of the amount she was drinking when she stopped her body became subject to seizures. Stella had taken the bold move to kick drinking and it was at this point Jack felt he was able to really get to know his mom for the woman she was.
The tides turned now and Jack got to know this loving woman who was his mother. His father was able to again see the woman he married and life seemed to be changing for the better. Only as it turns out right after this she began experiencing medical issues and severe bleeding but didn’t seek treatment for what they think was 8 months. As her symptoms progressed her husband finally told her to see a Dr and when she did she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. They told her she had to have surgery, they sat Jack down and told him, and understandably her husband was upset and wanted to know why she didn’t say something or see someone earlier. Dr’s told her if she had come right away the surgery could have been less invasive.
Stella had a radical hysterectomy which removes not only all the female reproductive organs but tissue down to her pelvic bone. Jack remembers driving her to Lynn from Malden for chemo treatments, how she lost her hair, lost weight and was very sick. This went on for a number of months, starting and stopping but eventually she started to get better after the treatments stopped. She grew hair back and Dr’s thought they had got it all.
She came home with excitement and good news and she was feeling well. Again they were happy. This happiness lasted 1 year, just 1 before it came back and it was aggressive. This time it had reached her lymph nodes, brain and throughout her whole body and there was nothing more they could do for her. Jack felt robbed. He had had 1 year where he really got to know his mom after the drinking stopped and before the cancer and now he didn’t want to lose her.
Stella’s long history as a nurses aide at Malden Hospital meant when she couldn’t stay at home any longer they were able to put her in the ward where she worked so her coworkers could spend the nights with her and check in on her. Jack, his dad and one of his sisters would go and spend every day by her side. One night Jack had a conversation with her where he told her how much he loved her and not to worry, it would all be okay. He stayed till 4 am until his sister told him to go home and rest and they’d come back tomorrow. They left to try and sleep and as he fell asleep his sister left and went back to the hospital. As she walked into the room to sit with her mom one last time Stella took her last breath.
With much sadness Jack recalls how his dad got the call and yelled to Jack, she’s gone. He remembers hearing his dad’s voice crack and Jack immediately felt he should have never left her side, that he should have been there. From the diagnosis to when she passed was a couple of years. From the time the cancer came back to the day she was gone was mere months. She was incredibly brave and never came across depressed or made anyone feel sad that she had a terminal illness. She came out and told her family what day she was going to die, she said it to prepare them and said she knew because as a nurse she’d seen it enough times to know. They didn’t realize it till later that she really did predict what date she would pass and they were floored by that.
Jack honored his mother and father’s memories by sharing their story, by telling me about their love and their love for him as well. He also shared he himself had basal cell carcinoma which was removed. While he feels he puts things off like his mom he does go to the doctors when he needs to and hearing his own Dr say you don’t want to end up with skin cancer was scary as each time he hears the “c” word he thinks of his mom, Stella.