We can live without our breasts and without our prostates, but we cannot live without our lungs. It’s time all of us get over the predilection of smoking being a reason of unworthiness. – March 17, 2007
(Letter written on July 11, 2003 to Mark Laret, CEO of the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center)
I have written this letter so many times over the past two years, and could never get it just the way I wanted. Two men I just finished reading about in Thoracic Today summer 2003 saved my life. It has truly made me wonder how many miracles these men have performed. Of course I feel unique, as there was a real and special reason my life was saved. I realize the many wonderful stories and lives changed by your staff are numerous, but I would truly like you to hear mine. You saved my life. My story is a very long one. I just turned 56 on the first of July. I will spare you most of those 56 years and begin on May 23, 2000.
My husband and I had been on vacation in Cancun and I had come home with a cough feeling quite ill. I went to a local doctor who would see me during my lunch hour. He scheduled me for an x-ray, which I had that week. I was told I had the start of COPD and should stop smoking. I followed his advice, and quit smoking. Things were all right the following year. I was employed by the Superior Court and had been given the largest criminal calendar in the country and was very proud of my work. I was tired, and run down, so that year my husband and I went on a vacation for a rest.
When we returned I was not rested and continued to feel run down and tired. I ended up unable to breathe and was in the emergency room being treated for a possible heart attack. The emergency room staff took an x-ray of my chest, and the doctor informed me that I had a mass on my right lung. I was told I would be transferred to another hospital, St. Helena, in the Napa Valley. I was then referred to a heart surgeon in that hospital. I was subjected to all the various tests. The doctor scheduled me for surgery the next day. I was told he would do the best he could, but may end up closing me up. My lung capacity was quite bad at that point, and he informed me I would be an invalid if he could remove my lung at all. I questioned him regarding my chemotherapy, and he told me he would discuss that later, depending on the outcome of the surgery. As we were speaking of my progress he discovered I had a very bad cough and cold. He decided to postpone my surgery for a few days, gave me antibiotics and sent me home. He asked me to obtain any medical records from the past, so I picked up the x-rays I had taken the year before.
Needless to say my family in Southern California was going bezerk. My sister (miss computer whiz) faxed me some information regarding your hospital and circled Dr. Jahan and Dr. Jablons names and pleaded with me to visit for a second opinion. My niece, Sandy Daniels was also conducting an investigation of her own. Her husband, my nephew, Howard Daniels works for ABC and had mentioned to me to Arnie Kleiner, who spoke with Joe Ahern who recommended UCSF and mentioned me to the “CEO of UCSF.” Anyway, I made the appointment using all of the above and was scheduled to see Dr. Jahan the next week.
I went to my appointment with the surgeon at St. Helena, took my records, and listened to his plan for me. He wanted to remove my lung and gave me a very grim prognosis. He then took the x-ray from 2000 from the jacket and gasped. The tumor, which was killing me, was there on that film so plain I could see it myself. Frightened is the word that comes to mind. I had been calm and accepting to this point. I remained calm but not accepting. I am not afraid of dying. It is all the other stuff that really frightens me-suffering and having my family see me suffer. That is not acceptable. I postponed my surgery and informed him I would like to seek a second opinion.
I met with Dr. Jahan and Dr. Jablons. Each took time not only to explain everything to me, but also to do this with compassion, honesty, and concern for my wishes. My fear vanished. I now had a plan of action and two doctors who would help me through whatever lay ahead for my family and me. They never promised me anything but respect for my wishes. I am a miracle they made happen.
Every day that I live is a precious gift.
I do not believe in holding on to life at all costs and I do not believe in feeling sorry for myself. I would not be alive if all the people, my family, Mr. Ahern, Mr. Kleiner, Dr. Jahan and Staff, Dr. Jablons and you had not helped me in my journey to live.
Dr. Jahan was a wonder during my chemotherapy prior to my surgery…my tumor was not responding, as he would have wished, but he persevered. He is the most human of human beings and such a sense of humor. He was always there for my husband and I. He is passionate about his work and equally compassionate with his patients.
Dr. Jablons was awesome… he does not like to operate if he feels he cannot remove all of the cancer but would do what he could, due to my history. He is truly a genius and performed magic during my surgery. (He told me he had help and I believe he did.) I had many people peeking in at me while in the hospital wanting to see the miracle woman.
June 4, 2003
The last visit I had with Dr. Jahan, I brought with me a picture. I gave this picture to Dr. Jahan and I told him that he and Dr. Jablons saved my life, and there was a reason for it.
When I was a very young girl I gave up a baby, at birth, for adoption. I was not allowed to hold her. The Los Angeles County Bureau of adoptions said they found a wonderful family for her. I named her Lydia. They named her Michele. I did not know that until five months ago.
She has been trying to find me for most of her life. I had been registered with many organizations, and needless to say so many more when I had no time left. She found me through the Salvation Army in February. Her adoptive mother passed away when she was 23-she and her mother never bonded. Her adoptive father, with whom she was very close, passed away, of lung cancer, the day I had my surgery at UCSF. He lived in Florida. He and his wife had been divorced when Michele was only 12 years old. My daughter lives in Saranac, New York, with her husband and four children. She has met her four brothers. I have been able to hold her in my arms and touch her. I have been able to baby-sit my grandchildren. I have seen all my children together for the first time. She has met her grandparents, who have lived with overwhelming guilt for 37 years. She holds no animosity towards anyone. I speak with her almost everyday. She wants me in her life and she knows I love her. She has wanted this all of her life. The healing happened the day we met. It was as if we had never been separated.
Oh, her husband is a thoracic surgeon at Saranac Lake Hospital, New York. I cannot express to you, or anyone, how I feel. It is beyond explanation and absolutely, absolutely a dream come true. My surgery, my miracle, was September 25, 2001. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul.