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Cancer, a Cure, and a Celebration

By Grandma Ellen

My brother, Martin, and my husband and I were walking down Broadway in Manhattan a few years ago, after a huge Sunday brunch at E.A.T.S.  Martin mentioned that he could barely walk, as he was so tired.  And, oh, by the way, he had noticed a lump in his lower abdomen.  We suggested that he make an appointment with his internist.  He did that the next day.  His visit to the doctor’s office soon after, revealed not only the lump but also swollen glands.  The doctor scheduled him for a biopsy.  Our daughter, who was living in Manhattan went with him to the surgery procedure and saw him home afterwards.

His doctor called a few days later with the bad news that Martin had Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Disease.  He was all set to schedule treatment at Lenox Hill Hospital.  One of my husband’s medical school classmates, however, was the head of the cancer center at the Duke University Medical Center and suggested that Martin be treated at Sloan Kettering, one of the nation’s foremost cancer treatment centers.  He offered to call his colleague there, and very shortly he called back to give us the name of the oncologist who would be in charge of Martin’s treatment.  Martin’s primary care physician wasn’t at all pleased that he would not be receiving treatment at Lenox Hill.  Frankly, we were more concerned with Martin’s well being than with the doctor’s feelings.  


The treatment began with a call from the oncologist at Sloan Kettering.  He introduced himself and told Martin that, together, they would beat this disease because Hodgkin’s disease was the only cancer that was actually curable (this was a few years ago, mind you).  The oncologist scheduled Martin’s treatment to begin the following week, and told him that he would receive chemotherapy every two weeks for a period of six months.  This would be followed by seven weeks of radiation. 
I told Martin that I would like to come up to New York and go to the treatments with him, but he absolutely refused. 

So began, my twice daily calls to my brother.  He lived in the Bronx and took the train into work in Manhattan, and I worried that he would pick up germs on the rides in and back.  I worried that he would have nothing to eat because he was a bachelor.  He assured me that he could buy food in the shops close to his home.  But I cooked a bunch of stuff and put it in his freezer when I did go up to see him.  There I found most of it a year later, when he had completed the treatments.  He hadn’t had much of an appetite all those months, and by the end he was very thin.  Worried that he might be cold during the winter, my son and his wife sent Martin a cashmere sweater, and he wore it all during his treatment.  Eventually, it practically fell apart, but Martin refused to part with it because he considered it his good luck sweater. 

MARTIN DID NOT MISS ONE DAY OF WORK DURING THE ENTIRE EIGHT MONTHS.  His doctors, his will to fight, and his “Good Luck” sweater saw him through the grueling treatments to recovery.  AND A CURE!  The oncologist told him that if the disease did not recur within a year after he completed the treatments, he would be considered cured.  It has been several years now. 


January 23rd is my brother Martin’s birthday.  The birthday following his battle with cancer was a “special” birthday.  It was special because he reached the age of 65, and special because he reached the age of 65 at all.  His friends at THE NEW YORKER magazine were grateful.  Ergo, they celebrated the day with a surprise cocktail party at the Algonquin Hotel. 

The hotel staff roped off an entire section of the lobby, cozy with settees, chairs, and strategically placed tables for trays of hors d’oeuvres.  Martin’s arrival was set for 6:40.  Guests were requested to be at the hotel by 6:15.  Brendan Gill was the first to arrive at 6:00 o’clock.  Following him shortly were a score of other bold-faced names from The New Yorker masthead.  The last to come was Susan Woldenberg, accompanied by Webster, her beautiful, beloved, poisoned-by-lead-paint-but-in-recovery Duck. 

Six-forty came, but not Martin.  Seven o’clock came --- and went.  Seven-fifteen, too.  Finally, one of his colleagues hopped across the street to the magazine and told Martin that some friends were waiting to see him at the Algonquin.  He showed up at 7:35.

It was worth the wait!  Martin did a hilarious stand-up routine, going around the room person-to-person, sharing experiences that he had enjoyed with each of the guests.  These gestures astounded Brendan Gill who had known Martin for years as courtly, proper and reserved.  (In the movie ‘Bright Lights, Big City”, which took place at The New Yorker, Martin was portrayed as a humorless, eccentric fuddy-duddy.)  The REAL Martin stood up and entertained the crowds at his party.

Shortly after 8:15, the guests began to filter out.  By 8:35, almost everyone had said their good-byes and wished Martin well.  Webster strolled out of his cage to quack a “Happy Birthday”, accompanied Susan out of the hotel, and everyone was gone.

Grandma Ellen and Granddaughter
Ellen Baron is a wife, mother and grandmother who has had three distinctive careers:
1) as an editor at an educational laboratory;
2) as a businesswoman who ran a private-label group at Black & Decker, and then served as Director of Marketing for a consumer electronics start-up company; and
3) as an academic administrator who was director of a post-baccalaureate business program.

Her 'Just Jobs' (as opposed to "Careers") included piano teacher and French tutor (her undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis having been in French).

Now retired from both careers and jobs, Ellen serves on the Maryland State Attorney Grievance Commission, as well as the Boards of several non-profits. She has lived in England, Switzerland and Germany, as well as St. Louis, Boston, a suburb of Washington, D.C., and, now, Baltimore, MD.

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