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Christmas News Letters Example 09

Our Son Gets Leukemia.

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01 A practical joke
02 My grandparents die
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09 Leukemia
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11 Marmots and Texas
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12 Accident and Hike

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02 Excess
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10 Sing a Song
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"Hello, I'm Bob Fromuth. Your son has leukemia."

That was December 28, last year. I'd always wanted a dramatic opening line for a Christmas letter, but hoped it would be more along the lines of "Hello, I'm Robert H. Treller from Publisher's Clearing House, and I have some good news for you." As I tell the kids now and again, you don't always get what you want. We had taken Kenneth in to see why his flu didn't clear up. Linda, it turns out, had been worried that he was too pale. She feared the worst, as mothers do, only this time she was right. Dr. Fromuth did a blood test, then introduced himself to me with just those words. In all fairness to him, there wasn't an easy way to say it; I used the same phrase, more or less, when I called my parents, sister and boss to ask for help and explain why I wouldn't be in to work for a bit.

That afternoon we drove to the Lucile Salter Packard Children's hospital at Stanford. Kenneth spent 21 days there for the first stage of his treatment. Linda and I stayed with him, trading off on Sundays and Thursdays. If you have to do it, there isn't a better place on the West Coast to spend time with a sick kid. The late Mrs. Packard, whose husband is the Packard half of Hewlett Packard, headed a fund raising drive in the late 80's to build a new children's hospital. Besides hitting up her friends and thinking up clever ideas for fund raising, she donated some of their own money, too. Her gift was the largest check an individual (as opposed to a corporation) had ever written in the history of banking up to that time.

The building itself is wonderful. Almost every place you turn there is something nice, a little extra feature to make your life easier, the result of clever architects working with a generous budget. Just for instance, there's a day bed in each room (two in the doubles), so the parent can spend the night. It's long enough to be comfortable, even for a six-footer who sleeps on his stomach, and has a reading light.

The people are pretty nice too. Kenneth's attending physician is Dr. Dahl, who doubles as a professor of pediatrics a Stanford. On New Year's day, when everyone in the normal world was watching football and sleeping off their hangovers, he did rounds. I watched him sit on the end of the bed and making quacking noises like Donald Duck to try to get Kenneth to smile. I had a vision of him stepping up to the lectern in a large, crowded lecture hall: "Today's topic is: 'Bedside manners for three to five year olds'. We'll start with duck noises."

After 21 days of blood tests, spinal taps, bone marrow biopsies, intravenous drips and so forth they released him, and a week later his spinal tap was so clear they decided he was in remission. He went back for a three-day visit every two seeks for six months, so they could drip some industrial strength medicine into him. After that it was all as easy as coasting downhill; he is in the third stage, which lasts for two years or so. He goes to LSPCH once a month for a day, gets a shot and a blood test once a week, and takes a pill every day. It sounds like an oxymoron, but his was a mild case of leukemia; he didn't even lose his hair. A lot of the kids on his ward did.

(I wonder about the eight to twelve year olds. What must it be like to stand face to face with Death, so close you can spit in his eye and say "Not today, thank you", spend a month with long, sharp needles and drugs that burn as they go in, then have to wear a hat when you go back to school so the stupids won't make fun of you?)

It's hard to write about the experience; people ask me how Kenneth is taking it and I don't know. I asked him once if he would rather have broken his arm, and he said yes. The American Cancer Society's booklet advised us to make sure he knew he hadn't done anything wrong, and that the hospital wasn't punishment. We tried.

This letter is unconscionably long. I usually try to keep them to a page and a half; a little longer for those of you who get the large print version. The days at LSPCH were as intense as any I've had since Borneo; new sights, new sounds, large contrasts. (Right across the street from the Hospital is the one of the nicest shopping center on the SF Peninsula. It's filled with clean, cheerful, well-dressed people and their children. To get to it from the Oncology ward you go past a lobby that's sometimes filled with a family that has spent the night sleeping on the couches, unwashed, waiting to hear if their child is going to live.)

In other news, Linda continues to ride her Arabians, although less than she did. I'm still reading in bed at night. If any of you liked the Hornblower books, I recommend Patrick O'Brian. Actually, I recommend him to anyone with a sense of humor and an appreciation for classical references. He's pretty good, even if you don't catch all the references; that, and he wrote 17 in his series, so if you like him there's more.

All three kids continue to age and grow. [List of ages, heights, weights and grade in school omitted for privacy.]

[Historical note - this one is from long ago. Our son is a healthy teenager now, wearing size 12 shoes. His waist is thinner than mine but his hair is thicker. All it took was $750,000, two and a half years, 150 intelligent, highly-trained, incredibly competent people at Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford, the support of our family, friends, co-workers and church members, a dozen people who gave blood and Dr. Gertude Elion, who devoted her life to research. She invented the drugs that they used.]

[Second note - I sent Dr. Elion a short note ("Thank you for saving our son's life") and a picture of Kenneth. She wrote back, saying she received about three dozen notes like mine every year, most with pictures of children whose lives she had saved. She added that she valued the pictures more than she did her Nobel prize:
Dr. Gertrude B. Elion, January 23, 1918 - February 21, 1999.
Nobel prize in Medicine, 1988.
Short auto-biography and picture. She also worked on the drugs that make organ transplants possible. All told, she saved more lives than all of the lifeguards who ever worked on all of the beaches in all of California.

This is one page of over four dozen devoted to Christmas news letters. The main Christmas News Letters page has links to more examples, plus some general guidelines and specific suggestions for writing Christmas news letters. If you have an example, either good or bad, that you'd like to share with the rest of the world, send it to me and I'll add it to these pages.

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This page updated: June 24, 2014