Another reason why I love my "Art With Heart" projects is Leukemia's thumbprint in our childhood in the 50s/60s. I am experienced and appreciative of helping and helped. It is February and in remembering our family February folk, Uncle Joe's story came to mind.
When our Uncle Joe was diagnosed with Leukemia, still in his twenties, we were not really surprised - in a very hardy large family, Uncle Joe had been the one to fall ill and have accidents easily - but seemed to have won thru and grown up handsome and happily married and loving Father We thought he'd outgrown his issues, but now maybe not, because it was the 1950's and people did not do well with leukemia - they died. To this day he is the only cancer patient among them. He was in his early twenties. NOT fair.
All the brothers lived in town and overnight we were no longer just an easy breezy family but on a mission to fight and win for Uncle Joe. There was NO GOOGLE - but we raided our encyclopedias and medical books and the local libraries for helpful information, and extra time in church and prayer at home for God's grace in this new and frightening scenario.
One of the uncles was genius at finding the business end of research data for our education on the topic, and we learned that the disease was "THE project of the moment in medicine" , so we applied for help. Soon, various clinics, practices, hospitals for tests and treatments followed - and sometimes there was some remission - a new word in those days - only for the thing to come back with greater virulence than our violence at it could overcome.
And the money! Entertainment's Danny Thomas was very active with telethons to raise funds for his Saint Jude's Children's hospital for Leukemia . We children ran all over the place fundraising for him and many of "our-rown" contributed well, praying to Saint Jude for a cure for Leukemia. Polio was recently cured, so why not?
We'd find the money. HMO's were not that great - we had Blue Cross / Blue Shield, but Uncle Joe's coverage lapsed after a time unable to work and pay premiums. But Medical care still costs money. The family was large, and good-hearted, so we all contributed any loose cash. I was approaching ten years old, and my parents had money but expenses and I remember being old enough to become alarmed for our own security, when this extra cash outlay went on for some years.
In addition, they all took turns giving their time to care for Uncle Joe on site, at home or in hospitals,....and even then it was not enough. I remember the house getting frantic on the topic and there were tears of frustration....and no normal days for normal family life at home.
The "Negotiators" among the uncles got busy, looking for funding - a concept we never broached. We have money- we pay. NOT this time. And now, the rest of us did our part in prayer and care.....and one day we got a call: " Done and done! The Kaiser Foundation was studying the disease and, if Uncle Joe would share data about his illness for research purposes, they would pay the bills!
Mister Pugh, the representative for Kaiser was the Hero of the Hour ! He met us all and spent time with Uncle Joe concerning his care and signed on as responsible for the bills, while being minimally invasive, so as not to tire him or corrupt the existing care.
We were euphoric ! We knew Uncle Joe was gravely ill and yet hoped that the new money would empower the healing miracle. The frantic looks on my parents faces went away - a bit of "normal" returned and even good humor. There were new hopes and expressions of gratitude to Kaiser. The children sent charming thank you notes in childish hands and added them to the sentiments of the grownups to let them know they already did miracles, bringing the minds of Uncle Joe's folks back into sanity. "Mister Pugh of the Kaiser Foundation" was the holy name in our home.
My little brother and his pals and cousins would dance about, playing with the name. "Yay ! Mister Pugh of the Kaiser Foundation! " - then, thinking it brilliant....." Mister Peeeeeyouuuu of the Kahdeezer Foundation" ( a slang word in those days for flatulence ). NOT every okay to say, really... regaling ...running thru the kitchen where the grownups were meeting, causing Mother to look to Father, with that glance that requested disciplinary action for mischievous boys....but not this time: "Let 'em run for a minute" - Dad replied..... and all agreed.
Why the new zany stuff I wondered - soon, one day the mystery resolved when Dad returned from one of his care visits to Uncle Joe. He leaned against the kitchen counter and cried, tears of loss and failure and resignation. " He's not going to rally again. He is going. He could not even lift his arm into his pajama sleeves. And I had to help him in the bathroom." to his family soon joining his sorrow. We learned the meaning of "loss" too too well. Years of struggle and work had passed, and only to lose the battle. I guess we all lose the battle one day, but that day, we could, at least, be pleased with how well we responded to one another and lived "team family" to help another. We did our parts and our personhood and through tears, we could still see our love was stronger than ever. Soon afterward, Uncle Joe was released from this long suffering and we all agreed that, as beautifully as he held up, he'd surely go straight to heaven. We still think so.
This is one family response story. I realized later in life, that I had come to believe all families were that good - that responsive - that social - that "team" and that happy to do it! We ended up with a nice collection of memories, some real world skills to apply on another day and some extra health of our own for the strength and insights that come with helping.
We are all different. Not everyone should get helpful. But we should all keep aware of need and at least be ready to call for help, for ourselves and others, in ways that save the day. No risk - fine gains. yes.