Helping others is the last phase of recovery.
Gary Stromberg co-founded GIBSON & STROMBERG, a large and influential music public relations firm of the sixties and seventies. The company represented such luminaries as The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Muhammad Ali, Barbra Streisand, Boyz II Men, Neil Diamond, Ray Charles, The Doors, Earth, Wind & Fire, Elton John, Three Dog Night and Crosby, Stills, & Nash. He also spent time in the film business co-producing movies such as Car Wash (Universal Studios) and The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh (Lorimar/United Artists). Stromberg has also written three books, The Harder They Fall (Hazelden - 2007) and Feeding the Fame (Hazelden - 2009) and a third book for McGraw-Hill Publishing, entitled Second Chances, which was published in 2011. He's currently working on a fourth book, She's Come Undone, for HCI Publishing, which will come out next spring.
I’ve learned a great lesson from my battle with leukemia: Helping others is the last phase of recovery.
But Laura (not her real name) is going to die!
We’d been dating for a few months when she started complaining of stomach cramps. She didn’t seem too concerned and when they persisted and I suggested she see a doctor. She told me she didn’t have any health insurance since she left her last job. The new job she had just started would provide the needed insurance but it didn’t kick in till the end of the month, so she’d wait it out. Nothing to worry about.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, Laura’s stomach pains continued. She went online to try and self-diagnose and came to a logical conclusion that she had a hernia. She was sure of it. She said she could feel the lump right under her belly button, growing slowly and causing her moderate, but manageable pain. She only had another week and she could see a doctor under the new insurance plan. It all seemed okay.
One Sunday, Laura said that the pain in her stomach had increased and we agreed that we should go to the ER at a local hospital to get her checked out. We were concerned the hernia could rupture and then she’d be in real trouble
Fortunately, the ER on this Sunday evening was not crowded and Laura was shuttled off to see a doctor after only a short wait. I told her I’d hang out in the reception area till she was finished with her exam. An hour later, she called me on my cell to let me know that more tests were being taken and I should go home. She’d Uber home when she was finished.
Later that night, Laura called me from the ER. “Guess what?” she calmly asked me. “I don’t have a hernia. I have cancer, and they are admitting me for extensive tests.”
The results of those tests were not just bad, they were catastrophic. Laura had stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which had spread throughout her body. While not discussing it further, we both knew that she had just received a death sentence.
After the initial shock subsided, I tried to comfort Laura as much as I could by assuring her we would get the best treatment available and that scientific breakthroughs are happening every day. I told her I would battle this thing with her, and that she should not give up hope. Miracles do happen—I’m one of them.
There is no way to express the feelings you experience when given a diagnosis of cancer. The word itself hits like a razor, cutting through soft tissue. “Am I going to die? Will it be painful? Will I be alone?” The mind races with thoughts of gloom and doom.
Laura did everything she could to fight with grace and dignity. Surrounded by friends and family that comforted her, she put up a brave and determined effort in confront this horrific foe. But in the end, cancer won.
I watched Laura go through all the phases of the disease. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. She got to the last phase pretty quickly, which allowed her to transition in relative peace.
Watching her go through this was enormously painful for me and brought up frightening memories of my own encounter with mortality. But I feel blessed that I was able to be there for her.
Rest in peace, Laura. You are loved and not forgotten.