Marika had just gotten home from Santa Barbara having finished her sophomore year at UCSB. She had completed a rigorous week of final exams and was ready for much needed time to catch up on sleep.
At the time, I was still taking antibiotics for a diagnosis of pneumonia which had landed me in the hospital the week before for a course of IV antibiotics.
Due to the pneumonia, we had just cancelled our trip to Santiago where Gil was going to give a talk and we were going to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. Surprisingly, at the time, Gil wasn't disappointed that we had to cancel our travel plans. "I'm really not feeling that well myself," he said.
When what we thought was a bad case of the flu worsened during the weekend, Gil's internist had him come to the ER. One look at the lab work and the diagnosis of leukemia only lacked final confirmation by a bone marrow biopsy.
That began the odyssey for the next seven weeks of diagnostic workups, identification of chromosomal defects, treatment options, insertion of a central venous line and the first of many weeks of chemotherapy, platelets and blood transfusions and total parenteral nutrition to keep...his...body...going.
A huge call-out to Dr. Zekman who directed Gil's treatment and gave hope when we were nearing despair. He directed Gil's care, called in specialists and coordinated all aspects of a very difficult situation.
Marika and I kept his spirits going in the early days. The boys and Laura arrived very early in the course of Gil's hospitalization to visit and buy the Kindle and the lightweight laptop that would keep him connected to the outside world. (He wouldn't be stepping out into the world again for seven weeks.)
Sisters Genie and Meryl came. We were all tested for donor matching potential. Genie drew the lucky number! Perfect match. She went back to California waiting to be called back when the time was right.
Childhood friend Barry Mennen came from NY to spend a weekend. Cousin Peter came from Seattle to lend support.
Fast forward. Gil came home in August for a month to get strong and regain his lost weight (all 35 pounds).
He had decided to seek the offered stem cell transplant here in Michigan at the Karmanos Cancer Center. In preparation for the transplant, he was readmitted to Beaumont for a second course of chemotherapy.
Adam came back to visit twice. Evan came. Marika left to go back to school as a Junior.
Admission to Karmanos in September was the beginning of the most hopeful of all treatments -- the final course of chemotherapy to destroy all his stem cells in preparation for the "rescue" Genie's stem cells would provide. Scary stuff.
The story, as you know, has a happy ending.
Gil is almost eight months post-transplant. He has the immune system of an eight month old baby. He is nearly off his immunosuppressive medications but it is not unusual for stem cell recipients to be on these medications for a full year. He is "looking good!"
We all learned a lot about blood cancers and neutrophils. We learned about the importance of family. About the generosity of friends. And we drew heavily on the karma points in the Raff spiritual bank.
We made good friends with fellow transplant patients who we continue to have dinners with each month celebrating our good fortune.
Thanks to each of you for your small part in Gil's recovery -- from neighbors who brought food, to friends who tended my garden, to visitors who kept up Gil's spirits, to nurses who gave great care, to colleagues at Beaumont who covered and kept things running smoothly.
With full gratitude and hope.
Knowing what it takes.