Friday, April 22, 2011

Time to Say Thank You!

Time to Say Thank You!

by Bob Ritter on Friday, April 22, 2011 at 6:44pm
We've just come home from Vassar Hospital after Mary's surgery.   As many of you know we got great news from Dr. Angela Keleher, the greatest breast surgeon in the world, that Mary's cancer was not found in her lymph nodes.  So, as far as we're concerned, yesterday Mary went from "cancer patient" to "cancer survivor."  What an amazing difference that perspective makes!  What an amazing accomplishment that is.  It is an amazing reality that we are incredibly grateful for.  A gratitude that we have so many people to thank for!!

I don't know where to begin so I'll begin at the beginning.  Thank you to Dr. Murray, Mary's OBGYN, who established a good working relationship with Mary and established a comfort that helped Mary to make it a regular practice of going for breast and cervical screenings and to know her breasts.   That meant that Mary, who was accustomed to annual screenings, also knew to go in 3 months early when "something wasn't right."  Thank you to the radiologist Dr. Lewis at Mid-Hudson Medical who immediately read the results and referred us stat to go to Dr. Hannah Brooks, the surgeon from Mid-Hudson Medical.  Thank you to Hannah Brooks and your assistant Marcie.  Your fast, smart, and extraordinary attention to Mary's condition were nothing less than remarkable.  Calls to home in the evening, rushing tests so we could "know" on Thanksgiving eve, were huge for us!   The sensitivity and compassion you showed Mary and me are etched in our hearts forever.  And, you brought us to Dr. Jason Rubin.  We love Dr. Rubin.  He is so much more that our Oncologist.  Not many people can say they looked forward to seeing their oncologist - but we can.  I would be remiss if I stopped short at saying you're brilliant because there is so much more to your care than that.  The drugs and care that Dr. Rubin prescribed and the Dyson Infusion Center administered so well gave us the first true feeling of hope.  With him Mary began the fight and we always knew Dr. Rubin was in our corner and after each round you nursed her wounds, the side effects, and picked Mary up, and me too, so Mary could face another round.

The news of cancer can spread fast, if you choose not to hide it, which we didn't, and when our dear friends Barbara and Allen Kram, who also work at Health Quest found out, they introduced us to Dr. Angela Keleher, who is a world renowned fellowship trained breast surgeon at the Dyson Center at Vassar Hospital.  The treatment would culminate with surgery and as soon as we went over the plans for that with Dr. Keleher we knew that this would be a magnificent climatic event.

For months it lead up to yesterday.  Consultation after consultation Dr. Keleher never let us think about anything but success.  She walks in the room and the confidence in those twinkling eyes and the smile that illuminates her face capture your attention as you absorb every crisp word that she speaks.  Between Dr. Rubin and Dr. Keleher there was only one way I ever imagined Mary's cancer could go.  Thanks to these professionals and their great staffs* I was able to believe every day that the day would come when Mary could declare that she is a survivor!

* I mentioned great staffs above in general but I would like to call out some of the names of these wonderful people at every level:  Sandi, Bonnie, Tammy, Josephine, Kathy, Sara, Emily, Wanda, Mary, Brooke, liaison Ann, Ann A. and her assistant Amy, and others who always made Mary feel special.  

With breast cancer, especially when a mastectomy is involved, there's another Doctor with a very important role.  You can live without your breasts.  But society puts special pressure on women that can only be answered by artistry of a plastic surgeon.  Dr. Keleher introduced us to the person who builds back what she must take away, Mary's breasts.  Dr. Sepulveda is truly an artist -- a sculptor of flesh.  As I watched him study, and mark off, I was completely confident that he would do more than repair the physical damage.  He would provide her with physical beauty and in doing so, deny the cancer any last chance for claiming a victory over Mary.

Doctors aren't the only ones with healing skills and hands.  Mary's acupuncturist Elisa and her masseuse's Maureen and Heather supplied Mary essential energy.  As the chemotherapy depleted Mary you nourished her and helped her to fight.  Surviving cancer treatment is as important as surviving cancer.  You held Mary up in mind & body the entire way!

But medicine and the brilliant professionals who dedicate their lives to our lives know that their patients need more!  The patients need a support network.  That's all of you.  Anyone who is reading this is one of those important people in this experience.  I want you to know why.  I remember Mary and I going out to dinner together just after we found out.  We were still processing the concept of cancer.  Practically nobody knew but us, not even our parents or children.  Mary and I felt so confused and scared.  It's true, when you get this kind of news your world turns upside down.  At that time I felt like I needed to grab hold of something in my mind that I could use to center myself.  (I'm not sure if I am explaining the feeling in a way that makes sense. ) Before we said anything to anyone I made a personal decision that getting through this was going to be one of the single greatest experiences that Mary and I ever faced together and that it would strengthen our relationship and teach us precious lessons about life that we would value for the rest of our lives.  But I believed that in order for this to happen we had to reach out.  I respect people who choose a private path.  But Mary and I made a choice to be very public with our experience.  I made the announcement to family and friends in an email and have spoken openly about it ever since.  Mary, who is ordinarily rather private, exposed herself through a blog she started.  We hid nothing.   What happened next was beautiful.

All of you reached out to us.  We know people have different ways of doing it.  Some called, some sent cards with beautiful notes, some knitted, some texted, chatted and posted, some offered help, others offered prayers.  Some of you cleaned our home, others sent something to our home. Some of you simply thought about us, which was enough, even if you didn't let us know you were doing it.  Believe it or not, we knew you were thinking of us, even if you didn't know what to say.  Some of you sat with us to play a game, some of you sat with us during chemo.  You designed and made pins.  Mary's studio, Angela, the other teachers, and all her students, was a deep well of love and support.  Our friends at Vassar Temple were always there for us too.  Doi, Emily, Sandra, Perla & Chuck, Chuck & Roni, Seth, Wendy & Stan, Joel & Nadine, Dave, and Rabbi Golumb.  There's also people like Dana and Lori and Neal who are passionate in the fight against cancer and reached out to us to help us in our fight and who will keep on fighting for all of us.  Special acts of friendship from Shelly & Chris, Barbara & Allen, Todd & Lilly, Bobby & Barb, Stephanie, Myleen, and our family -- sisters, brothers, cousins, nieces & nephews, aunts & uncles.  Our children Alex & Sarah who showed maturity and wisdom along with their love and dedication.  Each of you and all of you answered our call.  All of you in your own wonderful ways gave us the support we needed.

Thank you everyone!!   If you ever find yourself in a situation, such as ours, always know we are here to answer your call.


MJ10 said...

Congratulations Mary! You have shared an amazing story, many times making me laugh and other times bringing tears to my eyes. I am so happy that there is one more survivor in this world.
Wishing you a speedy and healthy recovery!

Lisa Buglione said...

This is a very heart-warming blog Bob, although unnecessary....What I mean by that is you guys are such beautiful, kind people and a wonderful family that just being there in anyway possible would come naturally to anyone :-) Lisa

bwayfan said...

Thanks to both of you Meg and Lisa! Its a pleasure to keep our connection alive after all these years. From childhood to adulthood! Love to both of you - Mary