In the summer of 2009, I was USC’s representative to a one-month leadership program for senior women university administrators. Held on the beautiful campus of Bryn Mawr College outside of Philadelphia, this institute was no summer camp. Forty-seven of us from universities and colleges throughout the country were together from 7 am for the start of breakfast through 9 pm when we were done with a speaker, group assignment, or workshop – and then we had readings and “homework” for the next day, six days a week. Out of the month, I only made it into Philadelphia twice: once for church and once to visit the Museum of Art.
That’s all to say that the program expected a lot out of us and that it was an intense experience. Fortunately, if one has to be sequestered with 46 other women, at least these were incredible women. It’s amazing how well we all got along, how much we came to respect one another, and how close we became. I was never part of a sorority in college, so my HERS “sisters” are the closest I have come to having sorority sisters.
This coming summer when I have a board meeting in Chicago, I already am planning to detour a couple of hours to see one HERS sister at the University of Iowa. And I can’t wait to get back to New York to eat at the restaurant run by the husband chef of another sister. Someone periodically will activate the group email with a question or announcement, and that’s our chance to hear each other’s “voices.” One goal of this institute is to help us have our own “old girls’ network,” and I marvel that I now truly have friends from Rutgers to the University of Alaska.
The three other women who came from the LA area and I gravitated to one another while at Bryn Mawr and we have stayed close. We get together every six months or so to get caught up on each other’s lives. Yesterday at our brunch, the others shared their office trials, tribulations, and triumphs. . .and then Elizabeth asked, “Well, Susan, how is work for you? How is everything going?” And I said, “Well, work is fine. . .but here is what really has been going on for me.”
They were, like all of you, stunned and practically speechless (not completely, because, after all, these are HERS women, who can handle anything). And their first question, as with many of you, was, “how is your daughter handling this?” With them, I didn’t feel I had to be falsely cheery and gloss over the realities. In fact, Naveena is particularly knowledgeable and empathetic, having supported her brother through a two-year serious siege of non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma a number of years ago. She continues to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society; one of the most fun outings I’ve had this past year was the Indian dinner her mother cooked for a LLS fundraiser at her brother’s downtown LA loft.
So they were a good group with whom to try out the disappointing Friday news that my IgM blood protein level, the indicator of lymphoma presence, has gone up, and not down, since the last test at Christmas time. Friday’s test result definitely was not what I was hoping for. My doctor is on vacation, so I haven’t heard from her yet, but I’m now anticipating she will insist on at least a couple more chemo cycles. My Boston bone marrow biopsy indicated very positive initial response to the chemo, but it seems I’m still a ways off of even partial remission thus far.
They reminded me, as I’ve been reminding myself this weekend, that this is a long-haul proposition. Friday’s IgM level is just one data point. I could not have imagined when my dean recommended me for the HERS program and asked me to apply that I would gain such good friends out of the experience. I’m glad they join you as part of the large circle of those who care and keep up the Greek chorus of positive words and spirit.