I attended a viewing/ funeral of a young colleague of mine last Thursday whose life was cut short by AML, a very aggressive form of leukemia. I had several people ask me how it went. My response is below. I felt obligated to share it with people I knew, because I believe there is a bigger opportunityto share her story.
Whether you knew/ worked with Vicki or not, I am sure you have all heard how much she not only loved her family, but also her job (designing treatmentplans for cancer patients). In the short time I knew her, there was definitely no questioning those things, and it was clear that she was one of the best medical dosimetrists I have ever seen. Vicki started from the ground up… going from radiation therapy to dosimetry, and eventually acquiring her masters in medical physics. I have been in the field ten years and have not encountered many like her. Besides working hours upon hours in front of a computer, in a many times “thankless environment” of remote treatment planning, she still found time to be involved in numerous innovative projects, educational ventures, and speaking engagements all with a positive outlook. She was the kind of person who was highly sought after and always in demand. She rarely said no. One of my mentors once said “One of my biggest aggravations in life is when people have a world of potential and choose not to use it” …. WellI think this person would be proud of the type of person Vicki was.
When I learned of her death, I felt regret for not knowing her longer. I had convinced myself during her 10 month struggle that she was going to return to health – after all – it was Vicki. I never doubted that for one minute. When her passing was announced, needless to say, I was in a state of shock. So how was her viewing/funeral? I think I walked away with a few things permanently engraved in my thoughts. One, It was evident where Vicki’s good character came from. I spoke with her mother, sister, and brother. They were very gracious and eager to share stories about her life. The one I will never forget is her sister telling us…. “If it is any consolation, Vicki was at peace. She had left the hospital and her final moments were spent at home” with her husband, Matt, and two children Anthony and Alex (5 yrs old and 10 months) For those who did not know, Vicki was diagnosed one day before delivering her youngest boy. Her sister continued to say that “she had time to write letters to all of her family members, including her sons.” At the viewing, I recall seeing her miracle baby… the 10 month old who was delivered 8 weeks early, when it was discovered that Vicki’s body was riddled with cancerous cells. Thursday night, he was wearing a Steelers jersey (Vicki’s favorite team). I thought about how that little guy will never know his mom.
I thought about my three month old at home.
That night, I remember seeing pictures and a slide show everywhere, showing Vicki during happier times. It was definitely a celebration of her life …. Birthdays, weddings, moments with her sons.
I thought about my own family.
That night, I spoke briefly with Vicki’s husband Matt, her best friend. I wondered how he was going to be able to pick up the pieces. Because of the time spent at his wife’s side in and out of hospitals, I believe he is between jobs. I wondered how they would be doing a year from now.
Why am I sharing this with you? Like I said, I felt an opportunity to share this story for a greater good. The LaCerba family has set up an educational fund for the boys. My hope is that Vicki’s story may be shared with enough people to ease the stress about money. I suppose there are sad stories such as these every day. I guess the situation is harder to swallow when it is someone you knew. It is never easy to accept a young 34 year old mother lying in a coffin with scribbled notes from her five year old draped over her.
If you work in the field of Radiation Oncology and received this, at the very least I wanted you to know what a HUGE loss our profession just experienced. Ultimately, the disease that Vicki spent most of her life treating, is what tragically cut her life short. She battled AML with probably the most brutal chemo regimen there is, bravely and with determination. After Thursday, I felt a responsibility to share my thoughts. Was I hesitant to hit the SEND button on this email? Absolutely. If your are offended for some reason by this request – I have NO regrets.
I have always been magnetized towards people who have something to offer this world…. People who give more than they take…. Vicki was definitely one of those people. Ultimately, we are defined by those who come into our lives (good or bad). I thank God that my life crossed paths with hers….. As short as it may have been, she has made a lasting impression on me.
I still do not understand why God felt the need to take a young, bright mother and wife with so much more to offer this world. I will cherish the wisdom she passed on to me. I once heard someone say: “Spirituality is NOT your beliefs; spirituality is defined by the present moment.” Well, right now at this present moment, I cannot get the image of Vicki holding her boys, saying goodbye to them one last time.
I know times are tough right now and it is difficult to share anything monetarily. Even if you have to forego buying Fruit Loops this month and you can only send five dollars, I truly believe it will multiply. At the very least, forward this to as many people you can. I know emails can be powerful… I have seen the same ones come to my inbox many times…. (I am still waiting on my check from Bill GatesJ) If you have already given, thank you. I applaud Goshen Health Systems for all of their efforts to help this family.
I have asked myself several times why I am sending this. I guess underneath it all…. If the situation had been reversed,
I know she would have done the same for me. Enough said.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Vicki’s colleague & friend, Greg Robinson