Last week when my phone rang and I checked the caller ID, my heart automatically skipped a beat.
It was the phone number for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where I had received treatment for leukemia. This nervous reaction had become something like a reflex because that’s the number that I see whenever I am waiting for important test results.
When I picked up, the voice at the other end of the line was Melissa Cochran, my nurse practitioner. Half joking, I asked what was wrong, and whether they had dug up something bad from my last test results.
But this time it was different. Melissa told me that the doctors in the hematology program were writing an e-newsletter to let other doctors and hospitals know about their work. The next installment was going to be on treating a complicated case, and the doctors wanted to write about me. After four bone marrow transplants, including a near-death reaction to the last, I certainly qualified as complicated.
In addition to the clinical piece the doctors would write, Melissa wanted to know if I would contribute a first-person piece on the experience. The theme: perseverance.
There are different ways to give back to the people or organizations that helped treat you — and it feels good to do whatever you can. For instance, I have participated in walks to raise money for The Jimmy Fund, the charitable branch of Dana-Farber. I even once spoke at a Jimmy Fund dinner, despite a case of stage fright. I was also interviewed on air for a radio telethon, and participated at a Jimmy Fund golf tournament.
To be asked to write a piece for the newsletter was an honor and a challenge that I took very seriously. I wrote it and sent it in, but then changed my mind several times about what I wanted to say. In all, it went through several drafts before I was satisfied. I wondered if Melissa thought I was crazy, but she told me she was fine with the changes as long as I got it finished by the deadline.
It was hard to put 10 years of perseverance into 500 words. In an interesting role reversal, I asked my son, Ben, who is a newspaper editor, to read the final draft and make suggestions. He is now 28, but it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was helping him with school papers. I waited anxiously for his reaction and was so happy that he liked it.
Part of my theme was the doctors and nurses who helped me through. Another part was the memory of my father, whose motto was “You have to keep moving,” an idea I tried to remember on my roller coaster ride with cancer.
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