As many of you know, our daughter Ellen has battled serious, excruciatingly painful cancer, received aggressive chemo and radiation treatments, and lately she began immunotherapy, all during the past three years.
I thank you all for making the memories in her mind a happy place for her to visit.
This is a father’s worst nightmare.
*Needless to say, I won’t be posting online articles for a while. I am, however, reading comments posted to my Facebook page. They provide some comfort.
If you’d like to contribute to Ellen’s fundraiser, you can do so by clicking the link below. They need all the help they can get to help with staggering medical bills, and for the inevitable expense that will present itself within the very near future.
Most of you know that we’ve been busy for the past two weeks since our daughter and her family were left homeless and without belongings after a devastating house fire. Once they were settled into suitable shelter and after they were able to purchase a few articles of clothing and other basic needs (thanks to your generous contributions and support), Denene and I headed home.
Along the way north we learned that my uncle, the last remaining uncle on my mother’s side of the family, was rushed to a hospital where he was to undergo emergency heart surgery. The first hospital was not adequately suited to perform the surgery so he was transported by ambulance to a hospital in Delaware, just a few miles from our house. Of course, we were in North Carolina at the time, dealing with the fire situation.
Unfortunately, as the surgical team started the tedious operation, they quickly learned that they, too, were not equipped to handle such a delicate procedure as the one before them. Therefore, once he was again stabilized they rushed him to a hospital in Philadelphia. This hospital, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, is said to be one of the best in the country for the type of procedure needed for my uncle.
We arrived home late at night/early morning from the trip to Ellen’s, and the next morning I was off to Philadelphia where I sat for several hours, making the usual nervous small talk with my aunt and cousin—the stuff people babble about while waiting and hoping for encouraging words from surgeons.
During our wait a paramedic flight team rushed a patient down the hallway directly in front of where we sat. The two EMS professionals were surrounded by a gaggle of police officers, both uniformed and several others wearing plainclothes. Then came family members of the patient.
I told my aunt that the mere presence of so many police officers could only mean a few things. One: The patient was a dangerous criminal who needed lots of security. Two: He was a witness to a terrible crime and needed lots of security. Three: An important public figure and needed lots of security. Four: The patient was a police officer who’d been injured or fallen seriously ill while in the line of duty.
Before long, the hallway filled with even more police officers—motorcycle cops, K-9 officers, patrol officers, detectives, supervisors, and, well, you name it and they were there, and all with wrinkled brows, a serious and intense lack of smiles, and the absence of the usual cop-type joke-cracking and hospital humor. Had to be an injured police officer. No doubt about it.
While anxiously awaiting news about my uncle, a man walked over and sat in the empty chair beside me. He nervously twisted and intertwined his fingers, stopping occasionally to rub a hand over the fingers of the opposite hand and then after a moment or two switched to rub the fingers of the other hand, and then back to the finger twisting. His brow was deeply furrowed and he glanced around the room, obviously focusing on nothing in particular. I’d been there before, in that same mental state, when Ellen was undergoing cancer surgeries and when my parents and grandparents were nearing the ends of their lives. His heart-shattering, emotional pain was almost palpable.
He soon turned to me, a stranger, and said, “My son is a police detective and he and a couple of his coworkers were knocking on a door to speak with someone about a case when he suddenly collapsed. It’s his heart.”
Needing to talk to someone, anyone, he went on to explain how the other detectives did all the right things and, as a result of what was later learned to be a major cardiac event, the young detective, a man half my uncles age, was flown to the same Philadelphia hospital where he underwent the same procedure as did my uncle.
Both operations were performed at the same time, in separate operating rooms.
The anxious father and I chatted for several minutes, with he asking about my former career and I about the career path of his son. Then the man, Mr. Moretti, told me about an officer who’d once served with his son (Detective Andrew Moretti) at the same Pennsylvania agency, the Plymouth Township Police Department.
It was seven years ago, he said, when the officer about whom he spoke, Officer Brad Fox, was shot and killed on the eve of his 35th birthday. At the time, Officer Fox’s wife was expecting the couple’s second child.
Nick, a Belgian Malinois and Officer Fox’s his K-9 partner, was also injured in the shooting, but survived.
I remembered including Officer Fox in my long-running Friday’s Heroes column, the posts that recognize the officers who’d lost their lives in the line of duty during the week of the posts. I’d written those articles for eleven years and, yes, I recall most of the names and many of the faces. A few I’ve known personally. One was a former coworker.
So I pulled up the post on my phone and showed it to Mr. Moretti. As he read it, Detective Moretti’s wife entered the waiting room and her father-in-law introduced me as a retired police detective. Then he walked out into the hallway, wading into the midst of his son’s co-workers, work partners, and peers.
I nodded toward the mob of police officers standing in the hallway leading to the operating theater of the cardiac care unit, and said to her, “Were you aware that when you married a cop you married an entire department as well as thousands of law enforcement officers all around the country?”
“It’s true,” I continued. “We’re a family, you know.”
She said she’d entered into their marriage with eyes wide open and knew exactly what was in store for her, and that I was correct, their extended family was one that reached the four corners of the country and all areas between. They’d seen evidence of that when Officer Fox was killed during the ambush attack.
It was then when the surgeon came out to deliver news about my uncle. His condition was serious but he’d survived the operation. There was much to be done in the days following the surgery … one step at a time.
When I finally left my uncle’s room that night, the elder Mr. Moretti stood in the hallway. The smile on his face told the story that his son, too, had survived the surgery. Relief had eased the worry lines that had earlier shaped his forehead and the area around his eyes. His jaw was relaxed and he displayed a cheek-to-cheek toothy grin. His wife stood at his side, tired but happy. The detective’s wife was ecstatic.
I wished them all well and headed toward the elevators, still limping from my recent hip replacement, and with the weight of worry for my own family members resting heavily on my shoulders. On the other hand, I was happy for the Morettis.
The next day, Detective Moretti was up, sitting in a chair, chatting away with his smiling wife and a group of police officers, a crowd so large that many were forced to stand outside in the hallway. I felt extreme joy to know that he’d “made it,” even though I’d never met him. Hey, we’re all family, right?
A few doors down from the happiness inside Detective Moretti’s room, my uncle, still basically unresponsive, was in the process of experiencing a heart attack and severe respiratory distress.
I’d just entered his room when the event began and the room quickly filled with doctors, nurses, surgeons, respiratory therapists, anesthesiologists, and more. Total but highly organized chaos. An hour later he was once again stable and that’s the situation today—stable.
So, my uncle, Pete, a veteran who’d served in Korea, is currently in a Philadelphia hospital room fighting for his life with the assistance of various machines, tubes, a ventilator, blood transfusions, and numerous dedicated and caring medical professionals.
My daughter and her family are living in a motel, with no home and no personal belongings. She’s recovering from cancer and the after-effects of aggressive chemo and radiation. She and her husband and son are emotionally and physically drained. They’re broken and they’re broke. Her hospital bills now exceed well over $1.25 million.
My mother-in-law is still battling serious cancer and still receives chemo each week. She’s weak.
Our wonderful daughter-in-law Stephani was recently diagnosed with a serious, chronic illness that has totally disrupted her life. As a result and after trying numerous other medications/injections that cost a couple thousand dollars each, she must now be hooked to an IV for hours at a time every few weeks to receive infusions of a new drug. She’s desperate for relief and for remission. “If it works, it will be worth it,” she said to me a few days ago.
This is the spot for a long … sigh …
When I walked down the hallway to leave the hospital this past Tuesday night, I overheard Mr. Moretti telling a group of officers that seven years ago I’d taken the time to recognize Officer Brad Fox’s service and sacrifice, and that I’d actually remembered his name after all the time that’s passed since he was killed in the line of duty.
It is my hope that Officer Fox’s wife and children know that he, like all the other officers who’ve lost their lives so that we can remain safe, will forever be remembered for their heroism.
And, speaking of heroism, Officer Fox’s death came as he and his K-9 were searching a secluded area for a suspect who was on felony probation, and who was the prime suspect in the disappearance of his fiancee.
I know, this post was absolutely all over the place, but so are my thoughts and my own emotions. I guess what I want to say most right now is thanks to each of you for your support for me and my family during the tough times we’ve experienced.
So yes, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You guys mean the world to me—you’re family—and I wish I could somehow repay your kindness and extreme generosity.
Officer Bradley Fox, 34
Plymouth Township Pennsylvania Police Department
September 13, 2012 – Officer Bradley Fox was shot and killed by ambush after responding to reports of a hit and run. The suspect opened fire as Officer Fox approached, wounding both Fox and his canine partner. Officer Fox is survived by his expectant wife and daughter.
Today marks the end of another year. This one was especially turbulent for me and my family. But above all the bad, of course, came the filling of most of the top portion of a half-empty glass.
As many of you know, both my mother-in-law and our daughter, Ellen, were each diagnosed with serious cancer. They underwent surgeries, a couple each, and they received chemo and radiation.
Our daughter’s primary physician initially mis-diagnosed her troubles, telling her several times during several visits, to deal with the intense pain and other horrible issues, and told her to take Tylenol. He also dismissed obvious signs and symptoms as nothing more than “female problems.” In the meantime, and I won’t go into detail, but she lived a life of crying and moaning while doubled over from excruciating pain, while experiencing an agonizing and extremely anemic hell, for more than a year.
Then, fortunately, she visited a specialist for an entirely different issue. It took him only a minute or two to realize that his patient was in serious trouble and had her rushed to a local hospital for immediate, emergency surgery. Her condition, the troubles dismissed by the original doctor, were life-threatening. Thank goodness the specialist recognized the deadly disease symptoms because we learned that the surgery likely saved her life, that very day.
Then came the cancer diagnosis
During the emergency surgery, doctors discovered the disease, and it didn’t look good. Had the primary care physician performed any sort of typical exam for the type of problem he would have caught the cancer a year earlier. A FULL year sooner.
The oncologist overseeing Ellen’s condition decided to approach with a full-on super-aggressive attack. She wasn’t messing around. Chemo and radiation were started right away and, as a result of the intensity of the regimen, the powerful treatments took a huge toll on Ellen’s body and mind and emotions, as well as ruining her family financially. As a result, they’re struggling to meet even the basic human needs—food, clothing, utilities, and shelter.
Next came the hurricane, a storm that devastated her city and community. Homes just down the road from Ellen’s house were destroyed by wind and water. Fortunately, Ellen’s home is still standing, but it received damage from heavy rains and floodwaters, damage that included ruining their septic system. They now use a pump to drain the bathtub and sinks and there’s a Port-a-John situated at the end of their driveway. This is how a cancer patient, who’s in pain most of the day, must live. Still, her faith is strong and prayer helps her go about her daily life.
Ellen applied for and was denied public assistance. Disability was also denied. In the meantime, Ellen’s husband’s work hours have been cut as result of company shutdowns of related factories. The cost of medication alone is more than their monthly income. The hospital forgives some of the expenses, and many of you contributed to Ellen’s GoFundMe campaign (please click here to contribute), as well as a few of extremely generous private contributions (no amount is too small). But those dollars are gone and bills still arrive and the medication is ongoing, some for life. By the way, Ellen and I are extremely appreciative for your assistance. I’m forever grateful and will never forget it.
My mother-in-law continues regular doses of chemo. Her surgeon and I chatted, in private, immediately after operation and he said her situation was not great. But, what he didn’t know is that, despite her years, Denene’s mom is a strong, independent woman. Cancer and the life-changing, body-altering surgeries were nothing more than a bump in the road for her. She took it all in stride and pushed forward.
Like Ellen, her faith is strong and she relies on prayer to guide her way. Her family is close and devoted to one another.
As soon as she was able Denene’s mother returned to a fairly normal lifestyle, including yard work, hairdresser appointments, shopping trips and, of course, going to church on a regular basis. She drives to her chemo appointments with the company of a friend. She’s tough.
Ellen and my mother-in-law are fighters. They’re strong. And they’re survivors.
Ellen’s last scan showed she’s cancer free. Not pain and sickness and emotionally free, but cancer free. It’s a miracle we didn’t see coming.
At her last scan, my mother-in-law’s results showed her cancer had reduced in size. Still serious, but less of it and what’s there is smaller. They recently increased the dosage of her ongoing chemo. Hopefully, we’ll soon learn that she, too is cancer free.
Many of you contributed books and other reading material, and gifts, and prayers throughout these ordeals. Those things meant the world to Ellen and my mother-in-law. They helped them escape the world for a little while each day. They’re both avid readers and thoroughly enjoyed the books, and other things. Ellen told me that she often read a book in a single day. The stories took her away from it all for a while.
During all of the above, we, while living in California, we were forced to evacuate our home due to one of the huge wildfires. We watched as the smoke began to rise over the hills in front of our house. A day later ash piled on my vehicle and in the yard and on walkways. The air grew thick and smelled like a water-dampened campfire. Then we saw the sky turn orange and soon the flames reached into the sky above the golden, dry hills.
We loaded our valuables and important papers and fled to an area out of the evacuation zone. A former co-worker of Denene’s owns a very nice condo located in a city near where we lived and she gave us the key and told us to stay as long as we needed. We had no idea if our home would be standing when we returned. Fortunately, it was. The threat of fire continued throughout the entirety of last summer, with many communities near us being totally destroyed. People lost their lives, including firefighters.
Meanwhile, my left hip was hurting, a lot. With each step it felt as if someone jabbed an ice pick into the bone. I visited my doctor who said it was bursitis. No exam, just an opinion. She gave me an injection. I saw no improvement and the pain grew much worse, to the point that I was limping like the Festus character on the old TV western, Gunsmoke.
I convinced my doctor to send me to a specialist who ordered x-rays. Again, a diagnosis of, “I don’t see anything work. Take Ibuprofen. It’ll pass.”
Well, it became far worse. I didn’t want to walk because it hurt so bad. Another doctor visit. No luck. Another x-ray. Nothing wrong, they said.
Then we moved to Delaware. Another extremely stressful point in our already turbulent lives. We moved to be closer to our family.
As soon as our health insurance went into effect I visited a nurse practitioner at the University of Delaware. She ordered x-rays and, wait for it, she learned that there’s absolutely no cartilage in my hip joint. It’s bone on bone with three bone spurs wedged between. She said she couldn’t imagine me dealing for so long with the pain this caused. She sent me to a hip specialist. He agreed. A total hip replacement was the only solution
My surgery is scheduled for this Thursday, January 3rd. Again, no cartilage in the joint. It was impossible for even a non medical person to look at the x-rays and not see this. But that’s the care we received from Kaiser Permanente in California. I must say, it was the worst I’ve ever seen. Denene, too, and she’d know since she been in the medical field her entire adult life, including managing hospital labs, teaching at medical universities, contributing to medical textbooks, and running clinical trials for drugs she and her teams developed that are now on the market.
As a result of our move to Delaware, Denene left a job she absolutely loved. So switching was a difficult choice to make. And there was the whole moving thing where it’s inevitable that belongings are lost or destroyed. Along with a move comes the stress of finding a house to purchase, selling the old home, and so on. We were lucky to have sold our sold our California home extremely quick and I credit that to a wonderful and extremely efficient Realtor, Phyllis Ballew, with Berkshire Hathaway. We found a really nice home here in Delaware, a place that’s in a state of chaos right now due to a large remodel project that includes a complete custom master bathroom re-do.
The contractor we selected for the bathroom job, after a serious search (we’re picky), is Delaware contractor R.A. (Ron) Barker. He and his crew are wonderfully meticulous down to the finest detail. Since I’m just hours away from hip surgery, having a new bathroom is essential. I think they’ll have it completed just in time. It’s a large space that required a ton of work and they’ve gone above and beyond to accommodate us. The room isn’t finished but already looks amazing.
Since I’m barely able to walk from one room to the other (I rely on a can I’ve named Virgil. Get it? Virgil Cane?) it’s practically killing me to not do some of the work myself. But it is what it is.
I’ve shared all of this to express my deepest gratitude to each of you for the support you’ve shown for me and my family over the past several months. It’s been a tough year and I don’t know what we’d have done without your generosity and kindness. Believe me, I cherish your friendship.
You guys are the best and wish you all an extremely Happy New Year.
Again, thank you from the bottom of my heart!
It’s just after 1 a.m. and I’m sitting on a plane heading to North Carolina where I, as a father, will be forced to hand over the safety and well-being of my daughter, Ellen, to a surgeon I’ve never met. I understand a robot will also have a “hand” in this operation.
All her life, I’ve tried my best to handle the woes, small and large, that came her way. From bee stings, scrapes and scratches, to sports injuries and dumb luck and more. I’ve tried to be there. Fix things. That’s my job.
This time, I’ve failed her when she needs me the most. I can’t fix cancer. I would if I could. I would also, without reservation or hesitation, change places with her. Can’t do that, either.
Again, I’m stuck and at the mercy of a surgeon and her robot, neither of whom I have yet to meet.
Ellen and I touch base at least once each day, by phone, Skype, and sometimes via social media. Our chats last anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours. There’s typically no rhyme or reason or purpose for our conversations other than to share a bit of dad/daughter time.
As I mentioned, I’m on a red eye flight to the East Coast and the plane is graveyard quiet, and dark. Not a single light other than the glow emitting from my laptop. The constant buzz of the engines has worked its magic on most of the passengers, Denene included, who are snoozing away while my mind is darting in a zillion directions.
One of those side avenues leads me down a path where a ton of thank-yous are in order. Many of you sent gifts and cards and messages to Ellen and she was surprised and thrilled to see so many wonderful things show up on her doorstep and in her mailbox. I can’t begin to express how much this has meant to her, and me.
At a time in your life when you sort of feel as if you’re facing “it” alone, well, it’s heartwarming to have so many good friends show so much kindness and generosity.
Okay, the captain has just turned on the fasten seat belt sign, and rightfully so because I feel as if I’m attempting to type while inside a child’s bounce house at a birthday party for 100 youngsters.
The bumpy ride, though, reminds me of a time long ago when Ellen was still a teen. She I decided to go for a bit of off-road 4-wheel-drive adventure where we hit a super deep muddy hole and nearly overturned my vehicle. Of course, we giggled like two little kids and even thought about making a repeat trip through the bottomless pit but decided to leave well enough alone.
Monday’s coming fast, the time when I’ll have to turn Ellen over to the surgeon. They’ll wheel her down a hallway and back again several hours later. It will not be me who fixes her. Instead, I’ll remain behind with Denene, Tyler (our grandson), and our son-in-law John.
I know, I’ve already handed off my little girl to her husband. Did so many years ago, and he’s a good husband. A good man. And a good father. He, too, would trade places, and he, too, must trust my little girl/his wife, to a stranger.
We, as a family, are fortunate. We have each other, and we have Ellen who, by the way, is one of the strongest women I’ve ever known. She’s a wonderful daughter, mother to Tyler, and wife to John.
She’s the glue of their family.
And she’s still my little girl. Always will be.
Not so long ago, Denene’s mother was diagnosed with a serious cancer and had major surgery as a result. She started chemo a few days ago.
For days you guys prayed and sent kind words, gifts, books, and messages. Since her surgery and while going through chemo, my mother-in-law has been back to church and even out to dinner with a ladies group. She’s not well, but she’s living life. Thank you all for sticking with us.
And now, we have Ellen who underwent emergency surgery a few days ago and will be back in the surgical unit again on Monday.
If you have any left at all, a couple more prayers would be very much appreciated. And, thank you for understanding that for the next several days, at least, my online activity (blogging, etc.) will be limited. I’ll keep you posted about the surgery, though (on Facebook).
And, I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my little girl. She is, you know … my little girl.
By the way, Ellen and I recreated our off-road adventure the last time I was there for a visit. Denene was at her mother’s tending to her health issues and I was at Ellen’s to take her to begin the first of her cancer tests. Obviously, with Denene two-hours away, there was not an adult present in our vehicle when Ellen and I made the decision to stomp the pedal to the floor and hope we came out on the other side of the mud and deep ruts. An adult would never, not in a million years, approve of what we’d done.
Yes, we still giggled like little kids, even decades later. Of course, driving off-road in a pit of mud while driving a rental vehicle seemed a bit less insane.
Ah, nothing like a bit of quality dad/daughter time … But it was a memory we shared and doggone it, we did it again simply because we could and because, for some reason, it felt like the right thing to do … at the time.
And she’s still my little girl.