Sunday, August 12th: Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk in Honor of Dr. Evelyn Hall

Sometimes there are posts that take a long time to write.  I get blocked and it could take me weeks to get a post the way I want it.  This one took me a year.  I would start, stop, erase, weep… start again.  But here it is – all done.


You ever had that person in your life that never judged you?  The person who said that whatever you did was fine with them as long as it was fine with you?  That person for me was always my Aunt Ev.

I remember bringing over a guy I was dating, and asking her what she thought.  She looked at me, and without sarcasm or judgement, she says, “You know Eva, sometimes things are good for what you need and who you are right now.”  Then she went back to her vanilla ice cream.  She was right, it was what it was, and… well… he’s not in the family photo you see at the top of your screen – let’s just say that.

When I moved to DC, I immediately found her office, and she became my son’s pediatrician. When I walked into her office for the first time, it was like walking into my mom’s office.  Some of the pictures were even the same.  As her hands moved over my son checking him out from end to end, it was like watching my mom’s hands.  They had been trained by the same professors at Howard University Medical School, and as she chatted with me – no matter what was wrong, I knew it was going to be alright.

I had known her – literally – my whole life.  I have pics of she and my mom in their mini-dresses and perfect afros pushing my brother and her daughter, Kim, in strollers, while my mom was very  pregnant with me.

When I came to see her with kid number 2, and breastfeeding wasn’t working out, she says – “Well, Eva, do you WANT to breastfeed?” I told her I did.  She didn’t try to convince me to continue or to stop.  “If you plan to breastfeed, prepare yourself BEFORE you have a baby. Did you beat up those nipples?” I looked at her wide-eyed and confused. “You have to turn ’em, twist ’em, pull ’em! That is what HE is going to do.”  I admitted that I hadn’t done any of that.  “Okay then, so, if you don’t breastfeed, it won’t be the end of the world. So don’t worry.  They make all sorts of formulas, and millions of kids use it and turn out just fine. You do have options.” That made me feel pretty great.  The weeping slowed to a sniffle.  “So you want to do this?” I nodded. “If you really want to breastfeed, here’s what you do… get a glass of wine, relax, feed him, and eventually you both will be sleeping soundly.”

She told me all of this in her trademark calm tone, calm face, and matter of fact style.  By the time I left her office, face dry, I was totally ready to breastfeed – or not – either way, no matter what magazines, books, or ads told me… Aunt Ev said it was my decision, and it was.

I woke up sweaty, crying, and in a panic one night when we were out of town.  I sat straight up, and continued weeping.  I hadn’t had a nightmare for years, but this one seemed so real.  My aunt had died, and I didn’t even know.  That was the nightmare. I started googling her name and “obituary” and nothing.  My husband assured me that she was okay, and that I could call her when we got home.  I didn’t.



The next week, I cut my hair, and couldn’t wait to tell my Aunt Ev.  So many people were giving me grief about it, but I just knew she’d love the idea.  I couldn’t wait to hear her say, “Look at you! You GO girl!” I meant to call her – but I didn’t.

That week, my aunt died.  There was a funeral.  There was an email.  I had missed it.

That awful nightmare – that awful awful nightmare.  She had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – one of the deadliest cancers – 5 years earlier… right after seeing my third child as a newborn.  I just knew she had beaten it.  I used to call my mom and chew her out for not calling and talking to her best friend from med school.  I would preach to her about how little time she may have, and that she needed to talk to her.  For all of my preaching – I didn’t practice any of it.

For days afterwards, I remember getting in the shower, running my hands through my short hair – and crying like a baby.  Then one day it stopped abruptly.  I could see her face looking at mine as if to say, what on earth are you crying for?  I am gone, but you are still here.  I did me – now you go do you.  I could see her vividly, with her blinks in rapid succession, and lovely laugh.

My brother and his wife, my mom, her daughter with her husband, her sister, her nephew, her son in law, her close friend, and my husband and I attended the private memorial service a few months later.  Aunt Ev’s sister was there – she had her face.  I couldn’t stop looking at her.  Aunt Ev’s daughter was there – she had her laugh.  I knew I wouldn’t hear it much that day.  My mom broke down, and I didn’t know what to do about it.  All I could hear was Aunt Ev saying… “Maaaaahnica – what is all THAT about?” Thinking about what her reaction would be, made me smile inside.  I didn’t cry.  I swallowed hard, and thought about the sound of her voice.  How she looked over each of my kids in her office, told me they were perfect, and gave me her approving smile.

I still go to her office, and we see her old partner in the practice, or the new doctor that has since joined in her place.  It was a long time before there was a new doctor in the office. I think we all had a lot of hope.  She had outlived the prognosis for the majority of diagnoses of pancreatic cancer of 6 to 10 months.  Only 6% live for 5 years.  My son’s tennis coach – saw him one day he was fine.  Summer camp started 6 months later and I remarked to my husband that he didn’t look well.  By the end of July, he was gone.  It seemed like one day Apple was announcing the new iPhone, and the next we were mourning Steve Jobs and the fact that he would never see the greatest accomplishments of the company he helped to rebuild.

Cancer steals.  It steals nights of uninterrupted sleep from worried family and friends.  It takes from us the promise of more days, more celebrations, and more love.  In 2010, an estimated 43,000 people in the US were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and almost 37,000 died from the disease. Pancreatic cancer has one of the highest fatality rates of all cancers, and is the fourth-highest cancer killer among both men and women worldwide. Although it accounts for only 2.5% of new cases, pancreatic cancer is responsible for 6% of cancer deaths each year.

I have told you how amazing my Aunt Ev was – and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Her daughter, who got her “don’t talk about it – do it” attitude straight from her mom, has founded the Howard County Pancreatic Research Walk along with Michelle Madison in honor of her mom, her aunt, and Michelle’s uncle and friend (who lost her battle just one week after diagnosis).  I will be there.  Please join me.  If you haven’t lost a friend or family member to pancreatic cancer, you can walk to keep it that way.  If you have lost loved ones, or have a friend or family member still in the fight, walk with me to honor them.

Click here to join the Socamom team:

We will be walking on Sunday, August 12, 2012 at 9:00 am (Registration begins at 8:00 am).

Event Details:

Participants will walk or run the 2.4-mile paved pathway that meanders around the lake. The route is handicap and stroller accessible.  Dogs are permitted at the park on a leash. We ask that you please respect the property and clean up after your dog.

Directions: From Route 29 (Maryland), take Route 108 west, towards Clarksville. The main entrance to the park is about one mile on your right. Parking is available on site.

Hotel: Homewood Suites by Hilton Columbia (mention Lustgarten for group rate)

Event Location:  Centennial Park, 10000 Route 108 Main/South Entrance, Ellicott City, MD 21042

Registration Begins at 8:00 AM – Walk Begins at 9:00 AM.

Pledge Minimum of $50.00 includes your own personal donation, and/or donations you collect in support of your participation in the Walk. Checks should be made payable to The Lustgarten Foundation.