Saturday, June 26, 2010

My friend Deb

In early December, my long time friend Deb lost her battle with breast cancer.  She endured a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, gamma knife surgery and two open brain surgeries.  She died right after I came home from my first week of round 2 of IL-2.  Jim and I attended her funeral, and I wrote a long rememberance of her life and our relationship, that unfortunately was eaten by the internet before I could post it.

We met in 1990 when Deb came to work for Cleveland Clinic and I was assigned to her workgroup.  She was a wonderful boss, very supportive and sharing.  I had just been moved to the benefits department, which terrified me... I didn't know anything about employee benefits!  I learned though, and we went through many changes together with our team... a new computer system, benefit changes, a less-than-successful attempt at telephone enrollment for annual changes, etc.  In 1996 Deb moved on to another company and I was sad that I would not be working for her any more, but we remained friends.  I got to hear  stories of her kids, as they grew up from the small kids I met when we first worked together; she shared in my happiness when I met and fell in love with Jim.

A couple of years later, she returned to the Clinic, to a different part of HR, and eventually moved back to the building we had worked in together.Even though we didn't work directly together, we were both involved in some of the same projects, and we made time to have lunch together more than occasionally.

Our respective cancers were discovered within a year of each other, which we used as a bonding experience.  Even though we had different cancers, the feelings we had were similar and it was nice to be able to talk to someone who understood those feelings, someone who didn't try to make me feel like I should just "think positive" and "don't dwell on the bad things".  Not that Deb wasn't a positive thinker - she inspired so many people with her attitude.  It was a life outlook that she had prior to her illness; one in which she saw the good in people.  She was a very hard worker and was always thinking about what would be in the best interest of the Clinic.  If I made a cynical comment about something, she would laugh, but she didn't often let  the politics of corporate life get her down.  She was realistic about those politics but didn't let them harden her.

It was the same way with her illness.  She wanted to fight as hard as she could to live; she loved life and wanted to continue it for a long time.  But she knew that it was possible that she might not be able to kill the cancer.  We had a talk early last year, while she was still working, about death.  She had gone to the funeral of an elderly relative.  The priest, in his eulogy, spoke about how we all feel that it's good to live, but that it's also good to be in heaven with God.  Deb really took that to heart.  I think she felt comforted by that thought; on the other hand, she was sad about leaving her family behind and about the heartache they would endure.  I totally understood what she was saying, as my big worry is dying young and breaking the hearts of my family, most especially my girls.  It's easy to say that we, the patient, shouldn't worry about that, because our loved ones will survive and move on.  It's not so easy to not feel guilty or sad about being the cause of their sadness, however.

I always had hope for Deb, always thought that if anyone could beat the odds, it would be her.  Maybe I was in denial, I don't know.  But it didn't seem right that someone who knew so much about her disease, who fought so hard and was willing to try anything to get rid of it, would be unsuccessful.  I miss her still... having good talks, listening to her vent about some work or life issue, hearing her say "hey, lady!" upon seeing me in the morning.  She gave me good advice that I continue to use; every so often if I struggle with wording an email or some such, I will wonder "what would Deb say" and know what to do.   She was always so concerned about me; checking in to see how I was doing when I was recuperating from surgeries, etc.  When we went to Columbus last summer to meet Dr. Olencki's team to see if I qualified for IL-2, Deb called me that morning to wish me well and let me know she was thinking of me and praying for me.  Meanwhile she was at home on long-term disability, losing her eyesight because of her brain tumor.  But she worried about me and took the time to let me know.  Our last conversation was just before Thanksgiving; we only talked on the phone for a few minutes because that was all she could handle, but while she had difficulty with speaking, I knew that Deb was still there, just inside her head, having trouble using the body that was being taken away from her.

Deb supported Susan G Komen for the Cure, with her time and efforts.  In 2007 we both signed up for our building's team for Cleveland's Race for the Cure.  I decided to bring the girls downtown with me, and recruited my friend Sherry to come with us.  It was a cold morning, and I forgot my cell phone, but managed to talk to Deb when we got there, as we were planning to meet up for our team photo.  Nobody else from our team made it there early enough to be in the team photo:

The girls were very young; Rebecca was 4 1/2 and Carly was not quite 2.  Sherry and Deb's husband Jeff are the other adults in the photo.  Deb was rocking the Energizer bunny ears!

Jeff has taken up the mantle of raising funds for Komen in Deb's place.  She was a top fundraiser for our area, and while Jeff doesn't feel he can do as well, he'd like to try, in her name.  You can click here to support him in raising funds for Komen.  I am hoping to walk the 5K but will settle for walking the mile in her memory.

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