I had these grand plans to write a funny blog about the terrible week we just survived. It was the first time I missed a week of blogging in a while so I had plans to make it a really good one.
And then this past Saturday, we received a letter in the mail, and I no longer felt like I could write something funny.
It was from Amy’s OB/GYN…it said her breast cancer had returned…it said she was being treated in a clinical trial of an experimental Genentech drug to relieve symptoms…it said she may not return to practice medicine again. Having worked at Genentech and both Amy and I spending careers at biotech companies, we knew what this meant. My heart sank…almost as low as Amy’s. Life truly is unfair. A woman who dedicated herself to bringing new life into the world was now fighting for her own.
Amy sent Dr. L. a text shortly after receiving the letter, reminding her that we were the couple she saw a few years ago, every few weeks – a crazy, panicky pregnant woman and her husband who cried at every appointment (yes, I actually cried), and to tell her what a profound impact she had on us. Dr. L. responded, “of course I remember you”, that she remembered Amy as beautiful inside and out, and that she would love to see a photo of our family. Amy sent her a photo of Ryan, the life she helped usher into the world.
Amy’s was not an easy pregnancy. She was 38 years old. It was a surprise. It was our first biologic child. She was nauseous for nine months. (Except when she was eating donuts, but that’s a different topic.) She wasn’t allowed under any circumstances to pick up heavy things including Alex, which was devastating and hard to explain to a two-year-old. She was working full time. And most of all, she knew how wrong pregnancy can go. I tried to be supportive. I tried. I failed, I know I did. Friends try. Family tries. Everyone says it’s going to be ok, millions of people have done it before you, but that doesn’t mean much to a woman who knows the other side all too well.
Amy needed a guide. Someone who was warm, but could be straight and tough when necessary. Someone who didn’t say it was going to be ok; someone who was going to make it ok no matter what. Someone who was authentic, who knew what it was like to be a working mom that had a child later in life, because she did it herself. Amy needed Dr. L. and she was there every step of the way. It’s likely that the outcome would have been the same if we had a different doctor, but it wouldn’t have been the same experience.
Amy and I have a running dialogue about the people you meet, often randomly, that have such a great impact on your life. So many of us have family and life-long friends that have helped shape who we are – Amy and I have amazing families and are very lucky in that regard. But then there are these other people that make a big difference too, and it’s big because you don’t expect it. And oftentimes, these people really don’t know how much they mean to you.
Dr. L. is one of those people. We were together for about a year, a pretty short time in the scheme of things, and yet what she means to us is so much greater.
There are others – the social worker we worked with in Arizona as we adopted Alex, the therapist who helped Alex find his voice when he didn’t have one, the professional coach who changed the way I looked at a problem with a 10-minute conversation. So much in the world today is bad; these people are the good. They are people who give parts of themselves so that others can have a chance at happiness.
When I was at Genentech, I started a program with the San Francisco Giants called “Strike Out Cancer.” We wanted to raise money, raise awareness and do something different for the company. Each season we held Strike Out Cancer Day during a Giants game, the highlight of which was a cancer survivor throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, while eight other survivors took the field at each position. One year, Phil, a pancreatic cancer survivor, threw out the first pitch. Phil was an avid baseball fan. He was a retired Oakland cop. He practiced for weeks to ensure he threw a strike (which he did). He knew his time was limited.
About a year after the game, I ran into Phil’s wife at an event. Phil had recently passed away. She told me how Phil’s funeral had a baseball theme and everything was about his love for baseball. She told me how throwing out that pitch was the highlight of the last year of his life. She gave me a huge hug and held tight and just had this look in her eyes. I saw her once more and she had that same look in her eyes. Honestly, I didn’t quite get it. Of course I was so moved to play just a small role in his final year, but I didn’t quite understand it all…until now.
Maybe, just maybe, I was one of those people for her. A random stranger just doing his job that made someone feel something greater than what was ever intended.
I doubt that’s actually the case. She probably was just being nice.