What Linda Started!

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2 September 2011 2,220 views No Comment

What Linda Started!
by Julie Davey, her friend and sister survivor.

I am privileged to be here today at the City of Hope with Linda’s family, friends and co-workers as well as the doctors we shared–Dr. James Andersen, our surgeon, and Dr. Lucille Leong, our oncologist, both of whom will pay tribute to Linda as well. She is gone but not fogotten.

Linda lives on in so many ways, in so many hearts. I am honored to tell you about one aspect of my soul sister and how Writing for Wellness got started and continues to expand even today.

On my way to an appointment here at City of Hope, right after the 9-11 tragedy, I saw a man in a volunteer’s blue jacket leading a small group of very young pediatric cancer patients (dressed in their pajamas and wearing surgical masks) right in front of the Pediatric Building which is now the Women’s Center. They apparently were on a field trip from their hospital beds and they were happily waving their arms, skipping and marching under the direction of the young man, who I surmised was a volunteer. I immediately realized that volunteers could actually help patients feel better, walk with them, talk with them, smile and help them out. I decided then and there to become a volunteer, to give back. I felt very emotional and at my appointment with Dr. Leong,  I announced, “I want to volunteer here; I can drive a golf cart,” knowing that despite never having driven one, it was one job many volunteers did–wearing their blue coats and chatting with patients as they drove them to their appointments on this large campus.

Dr. Leong, knowing my background as a college writing professor, asked, “Why a golf cart? Maybe you could do something more in line with your background.” She picked up the phone and called her friend, Jeanne Lawrence, who arranged for me to meet Linda Baginski right after my appointment.

When I walked in, Linda smiled her big smile, welcomed me, hugged me as if I had been heaven-sent, and said she had just been hoping that a writer might show up because she had an idea for a class for patients, caregivers and staff. She even had the name for it “Writing for Wellness.” She said all this in one long sentence without taking a breath.

She went on to tell me about Pink Links, Hands on Harps, and Art for the Heart classes already underway and a writing class would provide another dynamic of expression for those on the cancer journey. We sat down and immediately started to plan. I assumed the classes would start in a month or so. Linda, the do-er, had other ideas.

She decided classes should begin immediately, stating that people had immediate needs. And, within hours, Linda and I had an outline for the class, a place and time to meet and she had called her supervisor Annette Mercurio and gotten approval to begin. Within that week, the first class had been advertised and we started. That was in 2001. People came that first night, they wrote their hearts out, including Linda herself, Jeanne Lawrence, Annett Mercurio, Marilyn Rhodes, Shirley Otis-Green, Joan Smith–all present with us today and many others, some of whom, like Robert Prado, are no longer with us. I was surprised that everyone was willing to share what they had written, even though I didn’t ask them to read aloud. They wanted to. Again, Linda’s Legacy.

After teaching the classes for several years and collecting what I felt were beautiful, inspirational and even humorous writings and poems from those “students” who had come to my class, I organized the writings with the help of Bill Matteson and others into what we thought might become a teacher guide to help people elsewhere in hospitals and medical centers teach the same class, showing and reading what others had written to inspire and encourage patients and caregivers.

Instead, the teacher guide became a book, published in 2007, with the foreword written by City of Hope CEO Dr. Michael Friedman, present with us here today, and Dr. Lucille Leong. Our book, with writings by 60 former students, is now being used in hospitals, wellness center, churches and senior centers in many places throughout the United States, all profits and royalties going to City of Hope. Linda’s Legacy.

Besides being on the acknowledgement page along with Dr. James Andersen, Dr. Friedman, and Dr. Leong and others present today, Linda’s own words appear in many of the chapters–her poetry about women with breast cancer, her humorous writing about how her husband, John bought her a Harley–one of her life’s dreams.  Another of her writings was a tribute to the late Hattie Anderson, who Linda knew and who gave generously to City of Hope and cancer patients.

The class Linda started and named continued for nine years, every other Wednesday during the daytime when staff, patients and caregivers were on campus and could attend during the lunch hour. We always provided the lunch–chicken soup being a regular. The spreads grew into potlucks and many attendees joked that they only came for the food.

I moved to Orange County in 2009 and the class here at Biller Center is now being taught by one of my former students, Carole Palmquist. She also assists Pat Dudley who is teaching the class at  Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital, Whittier. Carol has taught the class at her church and in her home.

Just last Friday, Joan Smith, (please stand, Joan) who attended the very first writing for wellness class in 2001, began teaching her own series of classes at Leisure World in Seal Beach. Again, Linda’s Legacy.

Classes are continuing at the Wellness Community in Phoenix, at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, part of the University of Washington Medical School; Huntington Hospital in Pasadena; University of Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson, a wellness center in Maryland and I personally have taught classes at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. A 7,000-member church, Cornerstone, in northern California has offered the class for four years, taught by Kathy Vader who wrote her own teacher guide for the book, which is now offered online. The writing for wellness book is also available as an e-book as well. All of these classes use our book as their text and workbook. Linda’s Legacy.

When she was re-diagnosed with cancer, it was during the time the late James Cremin, a cancer patient and Hollywood producer, attended my class and started filming it for his documentary he titled, “Visions of Wellness.” The first day of filming, Linda was in class and when I asked for volunteers to read what they had written, Linda was the first to raise her hand and jump to her feet. Her powerful poem, “The In-Between” can be viewed online at www.writingforwellness.com. The text of the poem is at the end of this article.

Linda’s Legacy.

Linda is beautiful, articulate, determined, feisty and, thanks to James forever on film, upbeat and grateful for life itself. She is the Linda we all remember.

Please visit that site to see her and how her words continue to inspire others to fight cancer, remain positive and live life with gusto. Hundreds have watched the film. The last time I checked it was more than 800. I have shown the film when I have been a guest speaker in Denver and Atlanta. Everyone is especially moved by Linda’s words.

Those present here today who are, like Linda was, published in the book, please stand. You are all part of Linda’s Legacy. We will continue her work.

Now I will end with the selection that also finishes our book. These are words of another Linda, Linda Bergman, a good friend of Linda Baginski’s who is a famous Hollywood writer/producer and attended the writing for wellness classes.  She almost gave up on life itself and wanted to stop  chemo and go home to die,  after being diagnosed with chronic leukemia on her 50th birthday. But, through the tenacity of her doctors here and her children Adam and Sarah, and her husband Chuck, who begged her to try just one, last clinical trial to cure her leukemia, she reluctantly agreed. Four months later she was cancer-free. Her life was forever changed and she chose to give back her time and energy to her fellow cancer patients and work with Jeanne Lawrence as a volunteer at the Patient and Family Services Desk, reassuring patients and giving them hope through her own example.

I spoke with her yesterday. She is in northern California with Adam, getting him settled in a new house. I told her I was going to end our tribute to Linda and asked if I could read her own words from the book. She said she was delighted, “I loved being called, the OTHER Linda,” she told me.

Free At Last
I have reached my goal. I am no longer the victim, but am assisting those who’ve come behind me. I see it on the patients’ faces when I get the opportunity to say, “Oh, you have leukemia? I HAD that, too.” I see the light in their eyes as they search mine for answers. No, we don’t always have the same disease, but they know I speak their language.
They know I can be trusted.
They know I have faced the demons and lived to tell about it.
They know I am disease-free and standing in the midst of the storm shining a light to them.
They know I love them because I AM them!
-Linda Bergman.

Linda Bergman’s words were also read aloud from our book this past May at the Waldorf Astoria Spirit of Life Awards luncheon, a major fund-raiser for City of Hope, by Ann Levine, president of the New York City chapter who presented the award and a copy of our book to ABC’s anchor and breast-cancer survivor, Robin Roberts.

Again, Linda’s Legacy.

Thank you. Let’s all continue Linda’s work.

 

Living the In Between
Linda Baginski

“Your cancer has returned,” she said.
“Yes, it has been many years since the first time, but that’s not uncommon.
Yes, it is not curable, but will now be treated like a chronic disease.
You should be fine,
Until you are not.

You will take a prescription X for a number of months,
Have blood drawn every other month,
Have an infusion once a month,
And see me on alternate months.
Then you will have some scans to let us know.”

Let you know what?

“In between the treatments we will do some scans
To let us know if they are working.
If the cancer is stable, shrinking, or if it is growing.”

Oh. In between…

“Yes, in between the scans and the treatments you should just take it easy.
Be positive. Enjoy yourself.
In between you should live,
Until you stop.
In between you should do all the things you’ve always wanted to do
Until you can’t.
In between you should start putting yourself first
Until you are last.”

But in between is so short and so segmented.
In between is so disjointed and disconnected.
In between is frantic and fragmented.
In between is terrifying.

“Yes, but that is all you have: the in between.”

No. No, it is not.
And I know what I’ll do.
I will widen the in between to each corner of my life.
I will erase the chalk lines.
I will fling back the curtains, stick my head out the window, and yell.
There will be no in between here, just a sum of many parts, a grand total of all.
I will inhale the love all around me, not hold me breath until you call.
I will surround the full circle with loved ones so dear.
Close the gap of uncertainty.
Exhale the fear.
I will not mark the calendar with Xs in black.
Will document my blessings, not list what I lack.
Move over in between, I forbid you to stay.
Make room whole living,
Honor fully each day.

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