Healing Through Giving
“My first wife Dana suffered through three different acute leukemias. After a journey through diagnosis, remission, recurrence and treatment that lasted more than 10 years, she passed away at age 46. I couldn’t change the outcome, but I learned that you do what you have to do. You have to face life and move on. For me, that means trying to make things a little better for others who are on their own cancer journeys.
Dana was first diagnosed with leukemia in 1997. She was treated at the Lombardi Cancer Center at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. Things were looking good, but in 2006, she was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), scarring of the bone marrow caused by chemotherapy and radiation— the same thing that broadcast journalist Robin Roberts had. Dana underwent a bone marrow transplant at University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore and had follow-up treatment at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. About a year later, she was diagnosed with another form of leukemia. Eventually, the leukemia won. My wife, Dana Orleans Kishter, died on March 1, 2008.
Cancer treatment is miserable. That’s why, in 2006, during Dana’s bone marrow transplant, she and I decided to donate 18 TVs and a library of DVDs to the Greenebaum Cancer Center at University of Maryland Medical Center to help patients and their families pass the time during treatment. Being able to watch a movie takes their minds off of being sick for a little while. It also lets patients know that the hospital understands what they’re going through and wants to make it a little easier for them.
About three months after my wife’s death, I agreed to be on the Board of Directors of University of Maryland Medical Center, and within a year, I was involved in improvement projects at the Greenebaum Cancer Center there. I began an annual practice of underwriting the employee Christmas party, and for the past six years, I have given the party for a couple of hundred people. In addition, I actually go every year, help serve the food, meet everyone and let them know how much I appreciate what they did for us.
Besides serving on the board at University of Maryland Medical Center, I also serve on the board of the American Cancer Society.
A few years ago I remarried, and my wife Emily is as dedicated to making a difference for cancer patients as I am. Emily’s grandmother, with whom she was very close, died of pancreatic cancer in 1990. Together, our goal is to improve the lives of patients and their families as they go through treatment. We are happy that our contributions can facilitate important changes.
I knew that Dana would want me to go back to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and do something meaningful there, so I asked them about their specific needs. I combined that with the insights I gained from seeing what she went through, and Emily and I decided to underwrite the renovation of the outpatient chemotherapy infusion area at the hospital’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, where Dana was treated.
More than 75 patients a day receive treatment at the Lombardi Center, and sometimes they’re there for five or more hours at a time. Often they are alone, scared and bored. This project offered an opportunity to have a significant impact on their lives.
From my experience with Dana’s treatments, I am very aware of the influence that the clinical environment can have on a patient’s outlook. Emily and I wanted to create an environment that would be more pleasant and make it easier for cancer patients to endure those long hours of treatment. The renovated 5 North Infusion Clinic will have all new, much more comfortable infusion chairs, fresh paint, and beautiful new flooring and window treatments. There will be new restrooms, and to show appreciation to the staff for all they do, there will be a new nurses’ station.
Our goal is to create an environment that makes patients and staff feel better about being there. We especially want patients to feel better about themselves while they are there. Theirs is not an easy journey. There are ups and downs, good days and bad days. Often it’s like going through hell. We can’t control the diagnosis or outcome, but we can try to give patients and their families a little bit easier time of it through their treatment. We can give them an environment that says we care about them. That’s the least we can do.
You don’t give because you want something in return, but when you see your name on that plaque, it is definitely an emotional thing. It’s an expression of my love for Dana and a way of honoring her. It’s an expression of appreciation to the medical staff who provided her with incredible treatment, and in particular, its honors Dr. Craig Kessler. It also is a reminder that you have to face life and move on. Life is life. It is what it is. It’s about being strong and moving on. And when a project like this is completed, it is especially meaningful to meet patients who benefit from the improvements you helped facilitate.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done at our medical institutions, and it can’t happen without the support of private donors. Budgets only go so far. Without the gifts of individuals, our medical institutions cannot be their best. It’s up to us to contribute. That’s why I encourage anyone considering making a gift to think about two things. First picture yourself as a patient who needs chemotherapy or another treatment. Think about what that looks like and feels like. Then, think about your overall financial situation, and if you are blessed enough to be able to contribute, please do so. As a financial advisor, I can tell you that you can’t take your money with you, but you can make a lasting impact on the lives of others.” —Neil and Emily Kishter