Time to introduce and honor someone else who made a big difference in my treatment and recovery.
Emily Rhinehart has been my manager for the last six years, and was at the time of my diagnosis. As you may have read here, she was one of the first persons I shared my symptoms and what I had been thinking was happening (some kind of blood disease, I thought) before the first diagnosis. She was also the first person after Sam I talked to about my diagnosis. She was also the first person whom I broke down and cried while talking to when first diagnosed, and probably the only person other than Sam that I cried in front of during this whole experience.
Emily has been a delight from the beginning to work with. She’s smart, inquisitive, and entertaining to talk to. And to her credit, she’s always told me what a good job I do [wink], and has been very supportive. But more than any of that, her just being there that first night, and helping me through that first moment of weakness, was a moment I’ll never be able to forget.
Emily also played a big communication role throughout my recovery. In the six months I was on disability leave from work, she kept in contact with Sam and me, and kept everyone in AIG — both the consultants nationwide and the healthcare underwriting group in San Francisco — updated.
There were a LOT of people in AIG who made a difference, and I’ll post about them later. But for now, I have to thank Emily individually for helping me through that first night.
In the pic below, Emily is the woman with the shocking white hair. The other person with her is Claudia. Claudia was the consultant who was hired while I was recuperating, and became both a peer and a good friend. The picture was taken at the end of the Bay to Breakers in 2003. We walked together, NO running.
On December 21, even though I had a appointment with a hematologist that I implicitly knew would change my life, I went to work. At least I think I went to work that day, I can’t remember for sure what I did that day after the Christmas party with my co-workers. My appointment was at 4 in the afternoon. When I went in, the hematologist looked at me, looked at the bloodwork my primary care physician sent, and went into the other room. When he came back, he told me those words that changed my life — “You have leukemia.”
“You have leukemia.” I knew it was coming, but it still shocked me. I was numb.
He had no way of knowing what kind, or what the prognosis was, without further testing. So he went in the other room to had made arrangements for me to be worked up at the Hemotology Clinic at Stanford Hospital that next morning. He gave me the name of the hematology fellow — I remember talking to him on the phone in the first hematologist’s office that afternoon — and directions on where to go in the morning. I was scheduled for 7 am that next morning.
I went home. Sam was asleep (he had been working nights, and had to work that night, so he was sleeping to be ready for work that night). We talked a bit, and Sam reiterated that no matter what I would go through he would support and care for me during my recovery. He was terrific and supportive. He went back to bed, since he had to work.
I then didn’t know what to do, who to call. I tried calling my sister and for some reason she was unavailable, as was the rest of my family. Then, all I could think of was to call my boss Emily in Atlanta at home and tell her, well, I wouldn’t be at work for a while. I don’t remember much of the conversation, but I do remember breaking down on the phone with her. I was crying, she was crying. She was terrific, and said she would keep in touch with Sam to know what was going on.
More of what occurred that day in the next post.
So, after finding the initial bruises in Vancouver but ignoring them, I continued on with life. I did continue to get bruises, and I found myself having trouble walking up the two sets of stairs to get into our condo in Milbrae, CA. But my consulting work, with its travel and desk work, was still doable.
The second week of December 2001 after the Vancouver trip I went to Louisiana for work. I met my manager Emily, who accompanied on the site visits. I was doing consulting with hospitals, and we went to one hospital. Months later Emily met the hospital staff we met that day at a conference, and mentioned that I had leukemia. They told her they thought something was wrong with me that day, because they had discussed after I left that I seemed pale and my nail beds appeared blue. Creepy.
I must have thought something was up, although I don’t remember it. Emily tells me that at dinner that night I told her I thought I had something wrong, since I was having bruises. She says I thought I had some kind of blood something, but wasn’t sure. She says she downplayed it and told me that she didn’t think anything was wrong. Good thing she’s an infection control/risk management expert and not a diagnostic hematologist.
While in Louisiana, I spent a couple days extra and spent time with my sister Karen and brother in law Rex. That weekend before Christmas they took me to a special dinner at Brennan’s. It was a great event. My sister also remembers me saying something about a blood disorder at that time, but also wasn’t sure what it was. I do remember walking around in New Orleans and thinking I might be sick.