People show up in some of the most interesting ways, especially when a sudden tragedy strikes. On April 21, 2010, Jeff was in excruciating pain and was sick. I took Jeff to the ER and within 24 hours Jeff was in septic shock and placed on full life support. None of us knew if he was going to live.
Our friends and family all wanted to help Kelsei and I in any way they could. Our focus was on Jeff –all the offers of generosity were rarely directed to something specific they could do. And truth be known, I just couldn’t think of anything. It was those friends that just took the initiative upon themselves, didn’t ask, that provided us some of the best support. My previous work colleagues (also my friends), bought us a parking token which allowed us to go in and out of the garages all day for just one price. Our neighbor hired a lawn service to mow our yard (and instructed them not to run over the bluebonnets). Several of our friends, brought food to the hospital and ate with us in the waiting room. We were excited that it was not hospital food. Another friend went to our house (broke in) and cleaned out our refrigerator, “so it would not smell of bad food when we came home”. Many, many others offered food, ran errands, etc. People visited when they could and sent their get well wishes. The outpouring was amazing and all of which we would have never asked for and in many cases would not have thought of to ask for. All of these generous acts enabled us not to worry about the “norms” of life, but to focus on one’s fight for life; not to mention encouraged Jeff’s recovery.
After a few weeks, we left the hospital, confused, scared, relieved & grateful. Confused because we still did not have a definitive diagnosis; scared because we weren’t really sure of what to do; relieved because we were out of the hospital; and grateful for all of our friends and family and their displays of care and love.
Our confusion and fear remained as we followed up with visits to the doctors who were assigned to Jeff while in the hospital. . These doctors did not exude trust or confidence. They were not explaining what we were dealing with or what to expect. They gave us mixed messages. They argued about the diagnosis and what the next steps should be. We knew these doctors were not the ones we wanted. We decided to get a doctor team that we trusted. We made the call to Dr. Alejandro Preti.
Dr. Preti came highly recommended by doctors and nurses at Methodist Hospital. We also knew him and his expertise through Jeff’s grandfather’s (Elmo Watson) cancer journey. On our first visit, Dr. Preti clearly explained what kind of cancer Jeff had, even drew a picture on the white board of what was going on in Jeff’s body. He wrote down (and correctly spelled) the name of the cancer and the treatments / drug names that he was proposing. He spent over an hour with us, answering questions (even some we didn’t know we had) to ensure that we understood the current situation and what we were going to do about it. Best yet, he NEVER said: “you have ??? number of months to live”! EVER! We appreciated the time, explanation, understanding (the drawings were awesome – not that he is an artist), and especially not having the burden of a time clock counting down in the back of our minds.
Jeff courageously adopted Kelsei’s phrase “Yay for Life!” – Let’s make today the one we live!
After a couple of trips through Methodist ER, Dr. Preti engaged a surgeon to determine if we can surgically remove the cancer tumors to the extent of a liver transplant. This type of cancer is difficult to detect on MRIs and catscans. It was challenging to understand the extent of the cancer. As the surgery commenced, they quickly learned that Jeff’s cancer was expansive stage 4 and that surgery was not an option.
On the day Jeff was released to go home, we determined we all needed a vacation to escape our real world. Within an hour we determined where we were going to go and booked flights and made the rest of the arrangements. Aloha, Hawaii! We have wonderful friends who live on Oahu and they invited us to visit them on the island. It was an amazing trip – Jeff felt so good after a week, we stayed another and went to Maui.
When we returned to Dr. Preti’s office (relaxed and tanned), Dr. Preti was so impressed by Jeff’s recovery and how he looked. Dr. Preti said, “I wish I could prescribe a vacation for all of my patients!”
As the months went on, we became frequent visitors to the Medical Center and Methodist Hospital ER, which always resulted in an admission. During those trips, we grew to know and befriend the amazing nursing staff on Main 8, as well as some of the patients. You could even say Howie became legendary on Main 8.
We would develop relationships with other patients and their families and exchange stories of diagnoses and journeys. While some families received emotional and financial support from their family and friends, some incurred this burden solely by themselves which put a substantial hardship on them. Some of these journeys were well supported with families and friends; while others could not afford it.
There was a young man about 20 years old that we met the last trip to Methodist. Our visits overlapped for approximately two weeks. During this time, I noticed he had only a couple of visitors on the weekend. The rest of the time, he was alone. One day I asked him about his family. He responded that they could not afford the cost of coming to the medical center, parking and food at the hospital cafeteria. They struggled just to get him care and every time he was in the hospital, it set his family back even further. That broke our hearts because we know how important it is to the healing and fighting process to have a strong support system.
Another family we met was just starting their journey with the recent diagnosis of cancer. I remember that state of confusion. By this time, we had experienced so much and I was feeling like an old pro. . We spent some time talking with this family about things to expect and little nuances we had found that had helped save time and money. We suggested they park at Scurlock Tower which is cheaper than the garage next to the hospital. We also told them about parking tokens—-I wish I could have handed her one right there on the spot. We told them the hours the cafeteria served “good foods” vs. mediocre. We told them about the other cafes in the hospital and good delivery food that is cheaper in the area, etc. Since they were from our area of Houston we told them the best routes to get to get to the hospital and home. We helped them by telling them at the start of their fight about many of the cost savings and short cuts they could take to ease their financial burden. It took us weeks and even months to learn about these aids because there wasn’t that source to go to when we first entered this world and although they would have figured all this out on their own, we were able to give them this information at the start. We shared these “little hints” so they could focus on helping their loved one fight this disease. We definitely understood the indirect “other” expenses of having cancer – the cost to park your car each time you enter the garage, the cost of eating out, gasoline, and the time (a lot of hurry up and wait). Some even had loss time at work because they had exhausted their vacation or did not have any paid time off. And of course there are the costs to maintain the home even when no one is there. The grass still grows and someone has to cut it. The plants have to be watered and the paper and the mail have to be picked up.
We also know from experience that patients are stronger in their fight, cope better with their treatments and recover faster when they have family, friends, and others in their support system near them. We also know that people want to help when someone is going through a difficult time.
Cancer creates significant burdens – financially, emotionally, physically, etc. Many times the treatments and hospital stays, etc are covered by insurance but a lot of items are not cover by insurance. We created Yay 4 Life! to provide families with some help in those areas of the “indirect expense” and to enable patients to have family and friends to stay close when they are needed.
There are a lot funds raised and donated for cancer research which will help patients of the future. We wanted to help current patients have the support they need to gain strength, create memories and…Live LIFE!!