A few weeks ago, I had put out a challenge to friends of mine to honor medical personnel who are making the sacrifices, too many, the ultimate sacrifice, by putting into words, by example, of just how extraordinary these people are, whether you know them personally or not. The fact is, they exist. And they are making a difference.
Lynn, pictured in between two other fellow long term Hodgkin’s survivors, is a long term cancer survivor such as myself, her late term issues, some different, and some similar to mine. The following is her story that she wished to share on “Paul’s Heart,” in her own words.
Thanks to Two Great Doctors
A FaceBook friend, from one of The Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Survivors’ groups, asked us to post about favorite doctors and/or nurses. There are two doctors in particular I will never forget.
While my husband, who was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force, and I were living at George AF Base, California, I discovered a swollen area near my left clavicle while packing to move to a new base. I showed it to him, and we decided we could wait till we arrived at Moody AF Base in Georgia. Apparently, Scott was more worried than I realized, because he told a Flight Surgeon at Luke AF Base in Phoenix, while traveling to Georgia. We had stopped in Sun City, AZ to visit Scott’s Mom and sister, Karen, for Christmas before moving. Scott had bronchitis and went to be checked. The Flight Surgeon told Scott to bring me out the next day. Testing was done, and nothing could be decided until I had a biopsy. So, it was decided the biopsy would be done at the base in Georgia. Before we left the Flight Surgeon’s office, I asked him what he thought was wrong with me. He said it could be Cat Scratch fever, Hodgkin’s Disease, or something else. The biopsy would tell.
We traveled across the U.S. sometimes silent, and sometimes talking about what was going to happen. I was also pregnant with my first child. We were both very excited about having a baby, but concerned what was wrong with me. We arrived at Moody AFB in early January. I went to the Base Hospital as soon as possible to the obstetrics department. It was decided, because I was pregnant, not to do the biopsy right away. Finally, on March 9th I had the biopsy.
A few days later, I was called to Dr. Jerome Cohen.’s office. He was a young internist, probably in his late 20s. He was a very caring person. I knew what he was going to tell me, so I sat and wrote my questions out to take with Scott and I. Dr. Cohen. had a difficult time getting the words out. I finally said, I have Hodgkin’s Disease, don’t I? Through tears, he said, “yes”. I asked him my questions, “Would my baby be ok?, What would I have to go through? Would I die?” were just some of the questions. I was told through tears that I would have my son at Moody and then be sent to Biloxi, Mississippi at Keesler AFB, because it was a bigger facility.
All went well with the birth of our son. He was very healthy. We named him Ryan Scott. I was able to stay home till the end of April when Scott drove me to Biloxi. His sister, Karen, came to watch Ryan. When I arrived, I was given a Staging laparotomy (all your major organs are biopsied, appendix and spleen removed). A doctor told me I had Hodgkin’s, Stage II A. I had a few days of care on the surgical ward and went home for a few weeks. It was great to have some time home with my baby and husband. In June, I went back to Keesler AFB to begin radiation treatment. That was the treatment decided upon by a Board of Doctors. This time back is when I met Dr. Rand Altemos.
He was only a few years older than me, not very tall, with brown hair. Dr. Altemos was friendly and caring. I soon found out that most of the patients called him, “Sugar Bear” like the bear on the cereal commercials. Dr. Altemos checked on me everyday at rounds. Several times, he came in, sat on the end of my bed, and looked at baby pictures I had just received in the mail. I think I was extremely fortunate to have someone like Dr. Altemos as my oncologist. I was 25, had a new baby over 300 miles from me, had cancer and didn’t know if I was going to live or die. Dr. Altemos was there comforting me and reassuring me.
In October I went home to our base housing at Moody AF Base. Scott and I were so happy. We could finally try to be a normal family and try to put the past behind us. The day after Thanksgiving, Ryan and I drove to Decatur near Atlanta, GA to visit Scott’s father and step-mother. Scott was leaving the next day for peace-time war maneuvers at Nellis AF Base near Las Vegas. Scott called me over the weekend from the Atlanta airport to tell me he had been delayed. He also told me how much he loved me and our son. He kept saying he needed me to know how much he loved me! I think now it was a premonition. Scott was the navigator in an F-4 and the pilot’s name was Rick. They were killed in the F-4 doing peace time war maneuvers.
That first week was a haze. My parents came, Scott’s parents and sister came, and Scott’s grandparents came from Florida. My parents were watching Ryan while my father-in-law, Dick, and my stepmother-in-law took me out to get a dress to wear to the funeral we hoped we could hold on Saturday. That’s when Scott’s grandparents showed up at our Base house. My Mom handed Ryan to his great-grandmother. Very soon, she yelled for my Mom to take back Ryan, clutched her chest, and began to fall.
My parents caught her. The ambulance was called, she was taken to the A. F. Base Hospital about a mile away, and my sweet Dr. Cohen became her doctor. As soon as we were told when we came home, we went to the hospital. Dr. Cohen met us and told us time would tell. We stayed for awhile until Dr. Jerome told us to go get rest, and he would call if anything happened. About 1 am my phone rang, and it was Dr. Cohen telling me to come quickly because Scott’s Grandmother Jane wasn’t going to be with us long. I got dressed and rushed over. Dr. Cohen came out to meet me. He shook his head and said he couldn’t believe all I had been through. I went into her room, held her hand, and told her I loved her. Dick and Lou had not arrived yet. A sheriff’s deputy had to go get them, because there was no room phone and no cell phones back in the 1970s. Eventually, they arrived, and I left so they had time to say goodbye.
Dr. Jerome was another caring doctor who went the extra mile for his patients. I always hoped that I could someday see Dr. Jerome Cohen and Dr. Rand Altemos to thank them personally.
They were doctors I have never forgotten.