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Posts tagged ‘Stage IV’

Farrell Family Favorites: A tribute to a favorite uncle and his amazing daughter

Two of my favorite ladies!

Two of my favorite ladies!

I opened Facebook today to find two of my favorite ladies smiling back at me. I was so excited to see that my cousin Coleen had chosen one of my favorites from my wedding day as her new profile picture. It’s a candid of Coleen and Mumsy, in their respective roles as maid of honor and mother of the bride, taken as we were waiting to be collected for the beachfront ceremony.

As I looked at those familiar faces, smiling back at me, I felt so incredibly blessed. I am blessed. Blessed to have found the love of my life and made it official before family and friends on what would have been my parents’ 56th wedding anniversary. And blessed, also, to have these two amazing women in my life.

For the last 40 years, they have cared for me, comforted me, supported me, cheered me on, laughed both with me and at me, and helped me celebrate all of life’s milestones – big and small. And even though we’re a few thousand miles apart at present, we all carry each other in our hearts every day.

In a family of 35 first cousins, it’s a dangerous thing to go picking favorites. Difficult, too, since the Farrells are a pretty amazing bunch. But Coleen and I have always had a special bond. The fact that more than a decade separates us in the roster of Farrell descendants has never been a factor.

It was Coleen who dropped everything and drove from New Jersey to Syracuse the night before my surgery a few years ago, so that Mumsy wouldn’t be alone during those tense hours.

Fun in Philadelphia for AFSP's Out of the Darkness Overnight walk to prevent suicide.

Fun in Philadelphia for AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Overnight walk to prevent suicide.

Who walked 18 miles from dusk to dawn with me to raise money for suicide prevention, a cause that has hit both of us far too close to home.

Who, quite literally, held my hand to keep me sane when a nasty infection in my leg had to be lanced. It was painful, yes, but worse was my fear that it would keep me from making it back to the DR in time for my own wedding! (Something I probably wouldn’t have been able to do if not for Coleen’s sister Jean, who diagnosed the problem and started me on a course of strong antibiotics before sending me to the clinic.)

It was she who moved heaven, earth and the passport office in order to stand up with me on my wedding day.

That’s just a sampling really, of the thousand and one ways she has been there for me over the years. This despite all of the challenges life has thrown at her along the way. You’d never know it though, the way she’s willing to drop everything for everyone around her.

While we have always been close, it was during my father’s illness that we went from being cousins to sisters. She, her husband Steve and their three phenomenal offspring (Jillian, Bret and Eric) were such a comfort to my dad during those three long years he battled cancer. And by a comfort, I mean an excuse to shoot off automatic weapons, adventure out on 4-wheelers or snowmobiles and engage in epic Wii tournaments. They brought a lot of love and joy to a man doing his best to hide his Stage IV cancer from the world. And they’ve helped us find the strength to get through even the most difficult of days leading up to and since he took his last breath on January 26, 2012.

Through all of that, I vowed to myself that I’d do the same for them if ever they faced a similar situation. That unspoken promise was put to the test this year, as both Steve’s mom and then Coleen’s father, my Uncle Bill, fell ill.

It has been difficult to watch both from afar, knowing there is little I can do from this distance. But I know that’s nothing compared to what they and our families have gone through.

I vividly remember the night of August 30. As I tossed and turned, I was overwhelmed by thoughts of my Uncle Bill. I finally gave up trying to sleep and decided to write down all the memories swirling around my brain. I was determined to tell him just how much he meant to me and to all of us Farrell cousins that had been privileged to grow up in his shadow.

My mother has seven brothers, but only one big brother. He was everyone’s big brother, in fact. I can’t imagine the pressure he felt – the responsibility he had – being the oldest of 12. At what it must have been like to lose his younger sister Agnes at such a young age. To have been closer in age to his mother, than to his youngest siblings well before the last of the litter, my Uncle Tim, came along.

One of my favorite pictures of another of my favorite ladies, Aunt Cecilia.

Our angel, Aunt Cecilia.

He would also be the first to go off to join the Navy and, later, to start his own family with the talented nurse who nursed his father back to health after losing his leg in an accident on the tug boats. This last was his coup de grace, in my opinion, because Aunt Cecilia – like her daughter Coleen – is a walking angel in my eyes.

It was from Uncle Bill that I learned to appreciate the Pecan Sandie above all other commercially available baked goods. And I’d wager I’m not the only Farrell cousin that swore never to get a tattoo after being weaned on the story of how he contracted hepatitis from those he’d gotten in the Navy.

Uncle Bill’s family newsletter, Farrell Family Facts, drew something of a cult following among my college friends. A few even angled for invitations to the Farrell Family Fun in the Sun Social, another brainchild of my dear uncle. And when it came time to plan a Winter Break trip to the sunny Florida Keys, a pit stop in St. Augustine to visit Uncle Bill and Aunt Cecilia was considered a given.

This is how I'll always remember Uncle Bill, dancing with Aunt Cecilia.

This is how I’ll always remember Uncle Bill, dancing with Aunt Cecilia and finishing each other’s sentences.

He was recovering from a stroke at the time, and my mother wanted a full report on his progress. But what I remembered most was how he and my Aunt Cecilia finished each other’s sentences. Not out of necessity, but out of habit. I thought to myself at the time that someday that’s the kind of relationship I’d like to have. And I do, with Andry. Although, granted, my fledgling Spanish may have something to do with that. (A topic for another blog, I promise.)

The last time Uncle Bill was at our house, he mentioned that visit to me and I was so touched. Until I realized, that is, that the reason he remembered it so vividly had more was because Liz and Melissa, my traveling companions for the trip, were both close to six feet tall.

It was these memories and more that I endeavored to put on paper that night. It was just a first draft, which I intended to polish up in the morning. I never got around to opening that document again, though. Because at a little before 6 a.m., a message came through from Coleen.

“He’s gone,” it said.

And with that, I knew I’d already said my goodbyes without realizing it.

It reminded me, though, how important it is for us to show our love, appreciation and gratitude while we can. So this isn’t a eulogy for the dead, but an ode to the living. Because he does live on in each and every Farrell.

Coleen, I love and appreciate you more than you know. You are not just my cousin, but a true sister and friend.

To you, Aunt Cecilia, Billy, Timmy, Jean, Cecilia, Terry and your families; My mom and the rest of the Farrell siblings; and rest of the extended Farrell clan – I send all the love in my heart and strength in my body. Because I know that even now, especially now, we reel from the loss of the man who was at once husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, uncle, sailor and friend.

Uncle Bill, I hope heaven welcomed you with an unlimited supply of Pecan Sandies and old Hollywood movies on-demand. Don’t let my dad and Uncle Rich take your last nickel at cards. Give Mom Mom a kiss for all of us.

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America’s Health Care Crisis: A Project Chenango redux

Rebecca Sands Bliss won her insurance battle for the right to receive potentially life-saving cancer treatment at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Her story was what inspired me to pen the Project Chenango installment on Health Care.

Rebecca Sands Bliss won her insurance battle for the right to receive potentially life-saving cancer treatment at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Her story was what inspired me to pen the Project Chenango installment on Health Care.

For the last six weeks I’ve been exploring some of the biggest issues Chenango County. In doing so, my eyes have been opened – both to the extent of these challenges in my hometown and to how universal these issues truly are. Now I realize I could easily be writing about almost any community, in New York or elsewhere in the U.S.

The Evening Sun, the publication with which I’ve been collaborating on the 12-part Project Chenango series, has graciously decided to make these articles free to all readers. They, too, believe these pieces are relevant to a broader audience beyond their traditional readership.

I encourage you to read them if you haven’t already. And if one resonates with you, please share it to help broaden awareness of some of these important topics.

Over the next few weeks, I will be revisiting each of the articles in the series here on my personal blog. Doing so will give me a chance to share some of my personal thoughts on these topics, as well as additional information that either didn’t make it in to the original series, or that has come to my attention since it was published.

These Project Chenango Redux pieces will be in no particular order. But for this first piece, I’m going to revisit the most recent installment of the series.

So, without further ado, let’s talk a little bit about…Health Care.

(As always, opinions expressed here in this forum are my own. I welcome your thoughts and constructive feedback on these topics as well.)

Last night, I received a message via Facebook from Rebecca Sands Bliss, who allowed me to tell her compelling story in last week’s article.

Rebecca, for those of you who haven’t already read that piece, recently won a major battle with her insurance companies. Her reward? Receiving the potentially life-saving treatment she needs to beat the rare cancer she was diagnosed with earlier this year.

Her message last night, though, stopped me in my tracks. She’d met another person battling cancer whose treatment had also been delayed by her insurance, she told me via Facebook messenger. Only this person wasn’t as lucky as Rebecca. Because during the two months this woman was forced to wait, her cancer spread. It’s now terminal.

I was both outraged and heartbroken when I heard this. Honestly, I didn’t want or need further proof of how tragically flawed our healthcare system is.

There are brilliant scientists, doctors, nurses and other professionals all working to advance medical science – who have passion and drive to treat the whole person not just the disease. And then we have the other side of the equation: those who treat patients like a number, or a policy – not a person trying to get or stay well.

Health care reform is a difficult topic to discuss. Nothing raises the political hackles like this does, especially since you can’t talk about it without mentioning the Affordable Care Act.

I refuse to call it Obamacare because, quite honestly, I don’t want to see if your political aura tends toward red or blue. This is something we REALLY need to talk about and once it all goes bi-partisan, it’s too easy to miss the big picture.

This is more than a political football we’re talking about here, my friends. It’s peoples’ lives.

Rebecca’s story may seem like a one-off, an extreme case. But here we have another woman’s story that confirms it’s more than an aberration. How many other of those more than 500,000 new cancer cases a year experience something like this?

(More than HALF A MILLION PEOPLE diagnosed with cancer EACH YEAR. If that statistic doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.)

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when we’re talking about the number people who are not being served well by changes made as a result of this mammoth piece of legislation. I mean, do you know anyone who has found affordable care as a result of the changes, or has easier access to care because of it? Perhaps they are out there. I’m not saying they aren’t. But this is what I’m hearing about:

Individuals and families who are drowning under ever-increasing premiums. Businesses making tough decisions about staffing as a result of their additional burden. People going without insurance because they can’t afford it. Yes, it’s a calculated risk, but they are banking on the fact that their out-of-pocket expenses plus whatever fine they may have to pay to the government will still be cheaper than the cheapest premiums they can find.

And let’s face it – those high-deductible health care plans? Useless if you can’t pay the deductible. (And see what they’re doing to small hospitals.)

The biggest myth of all is Medicare. Let me tell you, when I hear about seniors who need a part-time job after they retire just to cover their health care costs… Isn’t that a red flag? My mother pays close to $300 a month for her SUPPLEMENTAL insurance. She didn’t anticipate that expense when she and my dad saved for their retirement.

I’m not going to lie – one of my considerations when I decided to spend time in the Dominican Republic was the fact that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do – focus on my writing – and continue to pay my COBRA. It went up to over $500 roughly a month after I accepted my severance package. Here I have pretty decent coverage for around $35 a month. Yes, I had to pay cash for the surgery I had this year, but it was still a fraction of what I would have paid in the US, between premiums, co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses. (And, yes, I received excellent care.)

It’s not the hospitals and providers that are to blame for all of this. They are victims of the debacle of a health care system just like the rest of us. You see a giant number on the bill sent to your insurance company or to Medicare, because they’re only getting reimbursed ‘pennies on the dollar.’ A direct quote from a hospital administrator in my article.

So who IS it benefiting? I’ll let you fill in that blank.

I’ll give you a hint, though: New York’s second largest industry may have something to do with it.

Now, if only we could stop shouting across the aisle long enough to do something about it.