Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's the price you pay for the gifts you get

When I was a kid this phrase occurred to me whenever I seemed to have more stress than I wanted in life (especially doing homework!). It's come to mind lately when I think of Adam and Evan going through the transition from 'ordinary' times to 3rd yr med students with 36 hour shifts starting at 6 AM. As Evan said 'Damn, this is really hard!' You can't know beforehand exactly what it's like to be a doctor. Marika also has gone through tough times recently in simultaneously taking a heavy course load and studying for the medical college admission test.
Yesterday, I thought of this phrase also during Bonnie Opper's funeral. The turnout was enormous and it was obvious that she had touched so many people. The entire experience has left me thoughtful about what we leave behind. Since we had our transplants the same day, it naturally reminded me that my longevity is not great.
I've received a lot of gifts in my life. I've mentioned 3 already and a 4th (Karen) many times. I need to add my sisters (Genie and Meryl)and my cousins, who have given me so much, including new bone marrow. Taking photos is another...I don't have to work at it very hard, and the results seem to give a lot of pleasure to people. The books I wrote in 1995 and 2000 were similar; I don't know exactly where they came from. I'd put medical research in the same category; it wasn't something I expected and it's been very rewarding.
Having leukemia and surviving is also a gift, believe it or not. When my friend Jim Goldstein asked me if this changed my perspective, I said no. That was soon after I returned to work and my mind was filled with the urgency to pick up all the pieces. But gradually I realized that I do see the world differently. For one thing, I'm happier. This is it for me; I don't have forever so I'd better pay attention to how beautiful the world is. In one of his books, Carlos Castenada's character Don Juan told him to 'take death as your advisor'.
Bonnie's death was sad for about 1 day. Then I realized that it's the price you pay for the gifts you get.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Losing Bonnie

Our friend and fellow stem cell transplant recipient, Bonnie Opper, died this morning. We are devastated. We did not get to say "goodbye" to her. Our community has lost a gentle, loving, devoted wife, mother, daughter, sister and human being.

This photo was taken on October 14th, 2010.

We were having our monthly dinner at Outback Steakhouse in Lansing. We were celebrating our one year anniversary of stem cell transplant. Bonnie and Steve brought their daughter, Callie, who ordered her favorite "macaroni and cheese." I had just handed out a photo album of our past year year of recovery to Bonnie and to Mark Cornell, our other transplant recipient.

They turned the pages, recalling the moments we all shared together on the hospital unit during the transplantation and the months of recovery that followed. We laughed. We cried. We rejoiced.

We had a wonderful evening together that night and Bonnie brought the "carrot cake" which we also had at our "100 Days" celebration dinner together. It seemed as if it was going to become a "tradition." It seemed as if it was going to be another good year for all three of us.

It wasn't to be.

We have lost a comrade, a friend, a survivor who did not survive.

We will remember her.
You were one of us
'Til you were taken away
Life won't be the same.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thanksgiving Gratitude and Beyond

Goodness. It's been a long time since I've updated our Raff Update blog site. My apologies.

I'm showing two photos of our family over the Thanksgiving weekend. Marika and Evan and my mom and my brother all arrived for our four-day celebration of cooking, eating, and enjoying our time together. Our house is just the right size for our family reunions. Adam and Laura couldn't join us but hosted their own feast in LA with some invited friends.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, we look ahead to the Winter Holiday vacation. Marika arrives tonight (!) at the Detroit airport for a long four week rest -- although it will be filled with MCAT study time mixed with visiting friends and relaxing.

Evan is in NYC doing a general medicine rotation until next week. He flies back to LA for a required medical school exam but will be here in Michigan on December 19th for a couple of weeks with us. Adam is coming on December 19th (coming in on the same flight from LA) for less than a week when he'll leave Michigan and head to Boston to meet up with Laura.

My mom is coming here in a few days from Kentucky and will drive with me to Rochester, NY for four days to help my brother get his new apartment set up. He moved to Rochester a month ago for a new job and I offered to help him make his apartment into a "home."

Gil is working happily at the hospital and here in his Milford office. He loves having the kids around and he is enjoying good health. He also has become intensely interested in the stock market and can spend hours of his free time reading books written by successful traders and comparing various trading systems. He still loves photography but the weather is not conducive, so reading inside next to the fireplace is the winter activity of choice.

I'm staying healthy and working out at Pilates or at our local YMCA five days a week. I still spend a lot of time working with Willow to make her into the kind of dog we can love and take anywhere without worrying that she'll misbehave. She is one sweet girl. Jamie continues to be a good role model and mentor.

Hunkering down for another long Michigan winter but I can gladly report that it's been a rather sunny month of December so far. Nothing dreary or too gray.

Yes, the sun sets early (5:02 pm today) these days and the sun reappears after our morning has already started (7:52 am today) but it's been a good beginning to the season so far and we're rather used to using our winter months as a time to sit, relax, reflect, cook and eat good healthy meals together.


Once the sun goes down
We hunker down and savor
The quiet moments.