Monday, March 31, 2014

Writing can be a way of giving back

When the phone rang last week and I checked the caller ID, my heart automatically skipped a beat.

It read 617-632-3000, the Dana-Farber phone number. It was an instinctive nervous reaction because that’s the number that rings when I am waiting for important test results.

It was Melissa Cochran, my nurse practitioner. Only half joking, I asked what was wrong and whether they had dug up something bad from my last test results.

But it was something different. She said the doctors in the hematology program are writing an e-newsletter letting other hospitals and doctors know of their work. It is in conjunction with the marketing department so that doctors elsewhere might refer patients to Dana-Farber. The next installment is on treating a complicated case, and they wanted to write about me. After four bone marrow transplants and a near-death reaction to my last transplant, I would say I qualify as complicated. In addition to a clinical piece that they would write, they wanted to know if I would do a first-person piece on the theme of perseverance.

I have tried to give back to Dana-Farber in whatever ways I can. I participated in a walk to raise money for The Jimmy Fund; I was a virtual walker because I was sick at the time, but the money raised was good anyway. Once I spoke at a Jimmy Fund dinner, which was totally not up my alley due to stage fright, but I did it anyway. I was interviewed on the weei nesn jimmy fund radio-telethon, and, finally, I watched a hole at a Jimmy Fund golf tournament.

(When I was asked to watch a hole, I had no idea what that meant, but it turned out I was there to validate a hole-in-one for which the prize was a car. Mostly I sat under a tree and enjoyed the day.)

Writing the piece was an honor and a challenge. I wrote it once, sent it in, and then changed my mind several times. I wondered if Melissa thought I was crazy, but she was fine with the changes as long as I got it in by last Friday.

In an interesting role reversal, I asked Ben to read the final draft and make suggestions. It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was helping him with school papers.

They are going to send me a link, which I will post here. Part of my theme was the doctors and nurses who helped me through it and also the memory of my father, whose motto was “You have to keep moving,” which I tried to emulate on my roller coaster ride.

I needed to do some research to get the spelling of last names correct. It broke my heart to look up the obituary for my nurse friend Vytas Durickas, who died in 2010f at age 57. Up popped the smiling face that helped me through many difficult spots.

But then it was nice speaking to my tough-love nurse friend Myra Muir. I called her at my old floor, 6A, to get her last name. She asked how the kids are and said to come visit sometime soon. I've gone up there before, and I think they like seeing the transformation from sick patients to healthy people.

Her words of wisdom from five years ago are ingrained in my memory. When I asked her after my second relapse how I could go through it again, she said, "You can have your pity party for a day, and then you'll put your boxing gloves on."

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