People who’ve supported me
One of the things I want to do in addition to just providing the history is to identify, praise and honor those who made a huge impact in my recovery. You never recover from such a devastating disease without a lot of help from a lot of people. So upcoming posts will be about individuals who made a difference.
And help takes a lot of forms. First and foremost it’s those who were there at the bedside and during the recuperation. But it also it’s anyone who send a card, called, emailed, prayed for me, or just kept me in their thoughts. There will be more people than I can ever get to, and if you don’t see yourself on the list yet — just wait, I’ll get to you.
But I have to start with Sam. Click the link below to read more about Sam after the jump.
Sam is a terrific person, and did more single-handedly than anyone during my diagnosis and recovery. He was my partner at the time, and he was the main “caregiver” to use the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society terminology. He was there from the first admission, through every significant side effect, through it all. He was the communication link between the doctors and staff at the hospital, and me and the rest of family and friends. (Being an ICU nurse at the time helped.)
I had one big advantage over Sam — a lot of the really bad times I don’t remember. Many of the events you’ll hear end in a morphine drip for the pain, or in some way me resting. Sam had to live through it all, with all the worry and stress. He never got to get away from it.
As I’ve thought about the past five years in preparing for this blog, I came back so many times to what Sam did during those days. I couldn’t have made it without him, and can never thank him enough. I think we’ll always have those days as a link between us, no matter where we go in life.
This entire blog, in fact, is dedicated to him.
Published January 27th, 2007
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.
Another really really really important person who I have to honor for her support is Susie Engard.
I met Susie as a long time friend of Sam, but in just a very brief time after meeting her we became really good friends. We shared a joy for hiking in the Bay Area hills, movies, and, of course, eating. Within a few months of moving to the area a typical weekend involved doing something with Susie.
But for purposes of my initial treatment and recovery, Susie was the one who was there that very first day at Stanford. She was there for most of those events of that day, including both the very good (the very good diagnosis and prognosis) and the very bad (the five, count ‘em, five bone marrow biopsy attempts that first day). And during the subsequent hospitalizations, she would frequently come over in the morning after work (she was also working night shift as a nurse at that time). I was fortunate not to have much nausea and vomiting during my chemo — plenty of other problems, but not that. She was there for the only time I recall vomiting while in the hospital. (Hey, no one ever said it would all be glamorous.)
After those times, and through the outpatient chemotherapy, Susie was there, supportive. She also gave me the best Christmas gift I ever got, while hospitalized at Stanford with that initial treatment December 2001, when I was just about to embark on the difficult part of the treatment and recovery. It was a battery powered electric candle. On the card on it, she wrote, “To remind you there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Thanks for providing that light in all you do, Susie.
If you didn’t know my situation before I was diagnosed, you may wonder why my family have not been a part of the history of the diagnosis and treatment thus far. So you’ll know, at the time of my diagnosis I was living in the SF Bay Area, and my sister was in Kenner outside of New Orleans and my brothers were living in Central Texas, where we all grew up. My parents had both passed away a few years earlier.
But that doesn’t mean that my brothers and sisters weren’t a big part of my support during the initial diagnosis. Sam had been in contact with them all, and they had agreed that immediate trips out there weren’t necessary at that time, and that future trips during the recovery would be better. But I do recall talking quite frequently during that first admission over the holidays in 2001. And, they all came out at different times in the first few weeks of 2002 after I went home, as you’ll see.
While we’re not physically together as much due to the distance, I love my siblings, and really appreciated their support. Here’s a great photo of us all, from about 1966….
…And all of us in a similar photo taken about 35 years later (I’m thinking 1999-2000).
I was the baby. The oldest Bruce, on the far right, was the first to come out to see me in SF, and he came on my first trip home. Unfortunately he had to go back home about the time I had to be readmitted, but it was great to see him.
My sister Karen is the next oldest, and she was very active helping Sam with as many administrative things from the first days — insurance, disability, etc. That’s her. Always very helpful. She came out a couple of times, if I recall correctly, once when I was on my second hospitalization and once after I came home (or perhaps she was there at the end of the admission). I describe Karen as a cross between Katie Couric, Mother Theresa, and a drill sergeant (being six years younger than her she pretty much raised me, so it wasn’t until not long ago she stopped doing that motherly, helpful, slightly bossy thing).
The one next in age to me is my brother Terry. He came out during some of the worst times of the second hospitalization, when I really wasn’t doing well. It was terrific to see him and see how he supported me — he’s a very busy school superintendent but still found a way to come out. While I honored to be his “best man” at his wedding, I always will think of Terry as one of the best men I know.
I have to give thanks as well to the support of my extended family as well — my uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, niece, etc. I am absolutely certain that if I had been ill and recuperating in Texas I wouldn’t have been able to chase them out of my hospital room, and they would have done anything for me. I know Karen, Terry and Bruce kept them all updated, and I got several cards and letters from them. They’re great.
Here’s a great photo of some of the extended family from Bruce’s surprise birthday party in January 2004. Scary, I know, but they’re family.
One of the most important groups of people who supported me were my AIG collegues and friends, both in San Francisco and around the country.
I’ve already talked about how important my job was to me, and as I discovered a big part of why it’s important is the people. No one from AIG was able to come to visit, and to be honest being in semi-isolation and not feeling well having visitors from the SF office was not something that would have been good, anyway.
But I got so many cards and emails from all over the country. Like I said, I called Emily first after family when diagnosed. I know Emily had been in contact via email with both those around the country and in SF. And as soon as I had been able to email, I sent messages to all work and family to keep everybody updated.
I have a box in which I keep the get-well cards I got. I gotta say, there must be several hundred in there. Sam would bring in grocery sacks filled with cards that had come in the mail. Everybody in AIG Consultants at that time had sent a card. Most were funny; some were spiritual; some people sent numerous cards, seemingly one each day.
The people in the SF AIG offices didn’t send as many cards, but almost everyone sent emails. They would provide support, but in several cases, they’d talk about what was going on in the office — as if they were just wanting to keep me up to date on news. It was great — made me feel normal in a very abnormal time…..
You’ll never know how much all those cards and emails helped. It really made a huge difference in my outlook. I’ll never be able to express the gratitude I have for the outpouring of support those cards and emails represented.
I can’t name you all individually, but you know who you are.
Here’s a picture of the AIG Consultants for healthcare nationwide from the summer of 2002 at our staff meeting in Georgia. The folks who showed that support are around the table. (I call it the “Last Supper” picture, with the then-head of Healthcare consulting at the head of the table.)
And another pic from Stone Mountain. (Boy was it hot that day….)
While I don’t have pictures of the claims people in the SF offices who provided so much support, here are more pics from the Christmas party with the UW side of the office from December 2001.
See, I was loved.
I was the very fortunate beneficiary of support during my illness and recovery from a lot of people in a lot of areas — family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, business partners, — many many types of people. Some I’ve talked about so far, and others I will soon.
But there were a few surprises. When I say surprises, I don’t mean people, although some people I weren’t expecting to hear from. It was how I reacted that was the surprise. Certain people, either during my recovery, or the first time I saw them after, told me that they thought of me often, they prayed about me, or something similar. The big surprise was my response. I knew. I knew they had, and I had felt it. Not that I had felt it at that moment, but somehow, inside, I’d think, “Yes, you did. I know.”
It happened in a couple of instances with people who told me they had prayed for me. One of the people at AIG Consultants I work with, Bev Cottle, told me that she had prayed for me in her church on most Sundays. Another person I hadn’t heard from in over 30 years, an old school friend in my older brother’s class, Brenda Taylor Baranowski, sent me a very nice letter that said she had her Sunday school class pray for me every Sunday, after she had heard about it from my brother Terry. I’m not a terribly traditionally religious person, but I somehow knew, and I knew it had made a difference.
I got the same feeling from every email and card, that said “our thoughts are with you,” I got it. It really makes me believe in the interconnectedness of life.
My favorite was from another AIG co-worker, Kristina Huff. She told me, when we got together as a group at an AIG Consultants national staff meeting the summer after my recovery, that on her refrigerator she had a map of the US, and a star over California. (She was in Georgia at the time.) She told me every time she went to the refrigerator, she’d look at that map, and that star, think of me, and say a prayer for my recovery.
You know, I’ve been working on this blog for over the month. Thinking about what Kristina told me was the first time I started crying. Yes, Kristina, I knew. Thank you.
And thank all of you.