During his year and a half of cancer treatments, my father, Al Sweet, came into contact with some extraordinary doctors and nurses. There are three who stand out for me.
When Dad was first diagnosed with leukemia in 2003, he was admitted to St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown for his first round of chemotherapy. Since I was living in Meadville, Pa., at the time, I had rearranged my work schedule so that I'd be home to support the family however I could. Dad asked me to drive him and Mom to the hospital because he didn't want Mom to be alone.
None of us knew what to expect going in. We'd heard so many different things about what the treatment would be like and what the experience would be for those of us who would be visiting Dad. We had a lot of questions, and we were all scared.
One of the first people we met on the oncology floor was a nurse named Laura. Unfortunately, though I can still picture her clearly, I can't remember her last name. Though cancer treatment is always scary, Laura explained things to us and took away some of those fears. She gave us matter-of-fact details of what Dad would experience throughout his treatment, how the doctors and nurses could treat the side effects he might experience and the ins and outs of visiting hours and things that visitors could and couldn't bring and do. She didn't just help treat my dad's cancer, she soothed us all. Laura was a constant, comforting presence during Dad's first stay at St. E's and on subsequent visits, and she became one of Dad's favorite nurses.
Another of my dad's favorite nurses was Debbie Dorchock, who had a knack of putting Dad at ease, especially if he had to have a painful procedure like a bone marrow biopsy done. ''If he was going to have it (a bone marrow biopsy) done, he wanted her in the room,'' my mom, Liz Sweet, told me. ''He was always more comfortable when she was there.'' I didn't know Debbie as well as Mom and Dad did, but Debbie's presence was a comfort to my dad, which in turn was a comfort to his family.
Dr. William Tse worked at University Hospitals in Cleveland when my dad was undergoing treatment there, and he oversaw my dad's case. He's since moved on to a different hospital out of state, but he's someone I'll never forget.
Sometimes doctors would travel in packs and a bunch of them would come into Dad's hospital room, ask a few questions and move on. But Dr. Tse really took the time to get to know Dad and the rest of us, too. Of course, Dad wasn't shy about talking up his kids, but with all the patients and families Dr. Tse must have seen, he always remembered that I worked in journalism and what my younger sisters were studying in college.
However, the thing I remember about Dr. Tse was that he cried when he told my parents that we were out of treatment options. Cancer is a nasty disease, and my dad likely wasn't the first patient he had to give that news to, but it was as emotional an event for him as it was for our family.
One of the last things Dad said to Dr. Tse was that he hoped Dr. Tse would be able to use his case to help others. A few months after Dad's death, Dr. Tse contacted my mom. He'd used Dad's case in a study he was working on, and he wanted our family to see what he'd done. We drove up to Cleveland, and Dr. Tse and a colleague presented us with their findings.
I know I didn't understand most of it, but I appreciated that he made the time to show us that he'd followed through on Dad's dying request. Dad may have been just a statistic in that study, but he was more than that to Dr. Tse.
Though Relay For Life is dedicated to those with cancer as well as cancer survivors, those who care for cancer patients - including doctors and nurses - are not forgotten. It's inspiring to see so many doctors, nurses and others involved in the medical profession packing the track to publicly show their commitment to a cure. But beyond that, it's the kindness they show to our loved ones that makes them truly unforgettable.
Wyko is the features editor of the Tribune Chronicle. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org