They are here to learn

April 21, 2015 by Andrew Robinson in

This past Friday OTN produced a fundraising event for Paige’s Butterfly Run. Paige’s raises money for the pediatric oncology unit here at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. It was our 4th time producing “Funk Cancer” and the event was held, as usual, at Funk ‘N Waffles here on the hill. We had some wonderfully talented musical performers donate their time and talent and some companies donated merchandise to raffle off. We raised $1,000 reaching our goal. And on top of all that, the weather that night was delightful. It was a successful evening.

Now, some might ask, “What does raising for money for pediatric cancer at a restaurant have to do with television programming?” A fair question and one I have asked myself. The short answer is, it has nothing to do with television programming.

So why do this?

Let me start with context. OTN is part of an educational institution. The students who work here at OTN are at Syracuse University to get an education. Of course they have majors and selected areas of interest but contextually, they are all here to learn. And I am of the mind that learning doesn’t end at a textbook or syllabus. There are learning opportunities all around them . . . and us.

Growing up of course I learned a great deal from my family and my teachers. But as I ventured out into the working world I learned a great deal from the people I worked with and friends I met. And not everything was professional skills related.

I learned a lot from an old girlfriend on how to dress well. A very good friend of mine, although he didn’t intend to teach me this lesson, taught me how to stand up for myself and have more confidence in my own opinions. An old boss of mine taught me the importance of listening mostly because he wasn’t very good at it. It was a lesson on what NOT to do. Just as sidebar, that boss of mine taught me a great deal of other things and we remain friends to this day and I would not hesitate for a second to seek him out for advice. He was, and is, a very smart man.

But one lesson I learned came from my childhood; it was that bad things can happen to good people. When I was seven my father was diagnosed with cancer and for the next couple of decades he was in and out of remissions. One cancer would go away and another would take its place. This went on until three cancers and 20 years later he passed away on August 31, 1983. I was 28. He never met my wife or his two granddaughters.

Fast forward to May 6, 2009. It was a Wednesday. It was my daughter Rachel’s 17th birthday. It was a cloudy, dreary day but we were prepared to celebrate Rachel’s last birthday before the magic number 18.

At about 1 o’clock that day I got a call from my younger daughter’s doctor. The previous weekend Anita had been in the hospital to remove a nasty gland that had been giving her trouble for a few weeks. She had been in for two needle biopsies previous to that and all the tests came back negative so we thought, this was routine. Glands can become impacted we were told.

“I’m sorry to say Andy that the tests came back and Anita has cancer. Anaplastic Large Cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I have set up an appointment with Dr. Sills at Upstate for her tomorrow at  . . . . . . . “

She was 14 at the time and it just started to blur away. I remember a few things from those first few hours. How am I going to tell Anita? Should I leave work now and get Kitty? Who is Dr. Sills? How and where am I going to tell Kitty? How bad is this? Is she going to die?

It was a bad thing that happened to good people.

I have often said that if lucky and cancer could be in the same sentence that was us. She was stage 1 and the only gland affected was the one that was removed. In other words, it was caught very early which meant that her treatment regime went from a possible six months to a year down to two months.

But this was still cancer and the drugs they poured into my daughter were toxic. We were counseled that the drugs might cause problems for her in her later years. Perhaps she might develop heart problems and she’ll be at risk for getting another cancer . . . for the rest of her life.

While Anita was being treated at Upstate we were the beneficiaries of Paige’s Butterfly Run. They provide financial assistance for families who have children being treated for cancer. Need money for food or gas? How about wigs when they lose their hair? That stuff can get expensive and if you’re one of the unfortunate ones who have kids who are in patient, and you’re traveling back and forth, a lot, stuff adds up.

Anita had chemotherapy for a little over two months and at the end of July she was done and her doctor said, “Based on her diagnosis, her age and how well she responded to the treatment, I don’t expect this to come back. One can never be sure but her prognosis is excellent.”

Whenever I get a little down I always remember those words and remind myself, whatever is troubling me at the moment, it could be worse.

So four years ago when Anita had been cancer free for two years, I thought this might be an opportunity to give back to Paige’s Butterfly Run so “Funk Cancer” was started. And to date we have raised almost $4,000.

As a family, we don’t talk a lot about Anita’s cancer. As a mater of fact, we hardly talk about it at all. And we take our cues from Anita. She never, and I repeat never, asked why me? She was the most stoic, determined cancer patient you’ll ever see. I don’t think she wanted the cancer to define her and it hasn’t other than giving her a perspective that most kids her age don’t get.

As for the lesson? I guess I just wanted my students to know that bad things can happen to good people. Cancer knows no boundaries especially when it comes to kids. We lived it so the lesson comes from a very real place. But we’re past it now and the question is, what do you do?

For me, as an educator, I felt it was important to share this lesson. Yes, the story and journey of Anita and how she coped was important but I also want part of the lesson to be; give back. We’re in a big scary world sometimes and very few of us get by without the help of other people. Paige’s was there for us and as long as I have air in my lungs I will be there for them.

They came here to learn. I am here to teach. It might not be in the syllabus but I think it’s a good lesson to learn.

Andy- The GM