Disclosure: The person that I am writing about is a close family member that is, in general, a very private person. Though they have social media accounts, they did not announce the news on that platform that I am about to state here. They decided to let the family and friends know individually and through word-of-mouth. Due to this, I am going to omit pieces of information that may disclose their identity. Though I will be discussing their health, I will only be giving snapshots of the complete picture of their experience.
I made sure that I was granted permission by this person with what I can and cannot share before posting this blog as well.
I know that we try to keep our blog light-hearted, but I wanted to take this opportunity to present a few things. I wanted to mention some wonderful organizations that help our military families in order to bring awareness for them. I once worked for a company that matched charitable donations, give perks like wearing jeans for a month if you donate to their featured charity and, if you volunteered 30+ hours in a calendar year, they give you $500 to donate to the charity of your choice. So, I was always looking to donate my time and money somewhere. Whether it is through programs with your job, or if it is the end of the year and you want to get a tax break through charitable donations, I hope that this article can inspire you to help these organizations out also. Plus, with Memorial Day coming up, I thought that the subject would be apropos.
If you already do something similar, such as sending care packages to the deployed troops overseas, or you volunteer your time and skills with veterans transitioning back to civilian life, then that is great! Keep doing your good deeds! (However, if you happen to fit in any of these other organizations in the future, then I will be happy too!) I was aiming to bring these organizations to light to those who were like me – unaware that they exist — and present the good that they do to support the military and their families.
So, as far as my story goes, it begins a little like this…
A family member, who is in the US Military, was deployed overseas in South Korea. They became ill while there (they mentioned that they started to not feel well before they left for Korea, in fact), and they had to be hospitalized. Eventually, it was found that they would need more extensive tests and monitoring, so they were sent stateside to Walter Reed National Medical Center.
The uncertainty was whether this almost 30-year-old has a blocked gall-bladder or lymphoma.
At first, we weren’t sure if visitors were allowed. Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is one of the largest, prestigious military medical centers in the country. They serve active military, military families, returning war heroes, veterans and the Nation’s Leaders. In the civilian world, we have the Mayo Clinic and John Hopkins; the military version is Walter Reed. I didn’t realize this at the time, but Walter Reed is on an active Navy Base. I was confused and wondered why I can’t just take the next flight out there to be there in support. Only authorized persons and military (active, returning or Veteran) are allowed on base.
Well, now that makes sense!
Tests eventually confirmed what was feared: Preliminary Stage III, Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma (a form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma).
My response was kind of like the one I had after seeing Avengers: Infinity War –
OMG! 😲 WTF?! 😱 WOW! 😨
They (the medical team) were going to treat this aggressively with at least six rounds of chemo. Then, follow with a scan after the third round to assess what is left of the cancer.
They will be here for a while…
As far as support, they had a buddy from the same squad come with them from Korea. The buddy was tasked to stay with them until family could arrive.
I was researching transportation and housing for the area. Air and train fares were about the same (the best fare I found at the time was $100 one way). Hotels were at least $200/night (if you were lucky) and AirBnB was quoting me almost $1000 for a 28-day stay (or $250/week, which wasn’t too bad, but still).
We finally heard that we can come and received instructions as far as where to stay. For me, the decision was easy – I’m going.
When I arrived there, my first reaction was, “Wow, this place is massive!” The base is really nice – it actually doesn’t feel like a base to me (I will explain why in a little bit). The last Naval Base I was on was at Great Lakes Naval Base for my clinical rotations. Maybe it was just my first experience with military-anything, but Great Lakes felt more like a military base to me.
I missed their first round, which they had as an inpatient. Aggressive cancers need aggressive treatment and there wasn’t any time to waste. I made it there a few days before their second round, which was given on an outpatient basis. The only ramifications from the first round that was visible was their loss of hair – they had to shave their head.
Housing is provided for military and veterans families by the Fisher House Foundation. Families can stay free of charge while their loved one is in the hospital or receiving medical care. The homes are located at military and VA hospitals around the world. The houses have a private bedroom and bath, with a common kitchen, laundry facilities, a dining room and living room. I have done my fair share of travel and, to be honest, I felt like the room was much nicer than any of the hotel rooms that I had been in before.
Some of the families that were at the Fisher House included active members and Veterans. Some are here short-term, and others come every month for treatment/services. There are also those who arrive due to an emergency. There was one lady, who I am going to name Joanna (name is fictitious to protect her identity), that had arrived because her son was injured during his deployment and was sent to Walter Reed for treatment.
Hearing this made my heart sink, but I know that he is in good hands with the medical team here.
There is a program called Luke’s Wings that provides flights to reunite injured military and veterans with their families. Some of the residents at the Fisher House are here thanks to the transportation provided by this organization.
The USO on base has a pretty nice building as well. There is a large “living room” area with seats and a fireplace. There are a few rooms (that can be divided) that are used for meals or other special events. Sometimes, food will be brought in from local vendors (Chik-Fil-A, Subway, etc) for lunch – which can be announced, or unannounced. One room is for watching sports (and sponsored by the NFL.), and they have another room with computers and a printer also. The USO is for active military (and their spouse/dependent) only. It allows them to have a place to relax and unwind.
There are a number of programs and activities on base that are available. They had a Mother’s Day Brunch, Bingo Nights, a Bowling Alley, and Movie Nights.
They had a May the Fourth event where they had a showing of The Last Jedi, as well as Star-Wars themed drinks and trivia. We were definitely interested in that (and I will talk more about this below)!
So, Day 1 of Round 2 was upon us. We reported to the infusion room. The medical team only wanted to see if they (the patient) will tolerate the dose before sending them on their way home with the rest of the medicine. While we were there, I saw some volunteers from the American Red Cross.
All cards on the table: I have a love-hate relationship with The Red Cross. I read an article about where the donations go for a number of charities. I don’t have it anymore and I am unable to find it now. It was from some years ago when I was looking up on how to help after either one of the Hurricanes or after the Fukushima Accident. Anyway, for the Red Cross, a majority of the funding went to administrative costs, and not necessarily to their causes. So, for a while, I had not been donating anything to the Red Cross. However, I have been softening my stance on them. When we had a family member pass suddenly in 2016, it was the Red Cross that was able to get this one and their sibling back home from their military posts. Also, the Red Cross volunteers that I saw on the floor were passing out snacks to the patients and their guest. Through a search CharityWatch.Org, the American Red Cross has a B+ rating (on a grading scale from A for Excellent, and F for fail).
Okay, they have helped us, and if an organization helps me or my family, I give back. Plus, they seem to be getting better according to the charity watchdogs, so I am willing to give them another chance. If anything, I can always volunteer my time so I know that the resource that I am donating (time, effort, presence) is going where I want it to go.
For Tuesday to Thursday of Round 2, we came back to the infusion clinic to get his infusion bag replaced for the pump. On Friday, we were sitting the infusion room for the 3 hours to receive the last infusion. They would have a 21-day break and then report back for their third round, and so on.
Another program that I had learned about was Yellow Ribbon Fund, Inc. They provide services and programs to help injured American service men and women during their treatment. They also provide support services for their caregivers/family as well. Some of the services provided include: caregiver support groups, hotel stay for the family, rental car/transportation, day trips, free legal advice, and other programs. Some of the additions to the base were due to the Yellow Ribbon Fund as well, such as the addition of a playground and grills for the military families to enjoy. They help make the military bases more of a community (and that is why I had felt that this base did not feel like a military base).
So, getting back to the May the Fourth festivities on base…🤓
Food was provided in part of the Gary Sinise Foundation. We also learned that Gary Sinise would be back on base on the week of May 21st with his band and Robert Irvine for an outdoor cookout and entertainment for the residents. The trivia was multiple choice and there were five questions (at first). The two prizes were Lego sets of Star Wars tie-fighters to go to the first and second place winners. The first-place winner was decided right away, but there was a 5-person tie for second place (that included myself and my family member). So, after the third tie-breaker trivia question, it was down to myself and a lady dressed as Princess Leia. The question was: “How many puppeteers did they need for Jabba the Hut?” It was a multiple-choice answer and I was stumped between 6 and 9 puppeteers. Well, I chose 6 and the answer was 9 (which Princess Leia got). Good game, though!
We had other celebrities too – the Washington Nationals came to visit Walter Reed during our Round 2 visit. I didn’t get a picture of that because I was rebooting my phone at the time and they just showed up.
Terry Bradshaw also came by. Though we had a sighting (and photo), we didn’t get to say “Hi!”
Other big news items that happened while we were there:
The three detainees from North Korea were treated there.
We did not get to see them…
Melania Trump had surgery there also.
We did not get to see her either…
The President came to visit Melania all week.
Nope, we didn’t get to see him either though we heard the helicopters when he arrived and left. Also, no one can enter/leave the base while he was here.
So close, right?
My visit ended towards the beginning of their next round. Our family is tag-teaming it through month-to-month. I will be coming back soon during another round.
With Memorial Day upon us, it is a time to remember and reflect on the impact the members of the United States military and their families have on us as citizens and as a country. In my reflections and thoughts for this year, with all that had happened, it sums up as follows:
I am eternally grateful to Walter Reed, the Fisher House Foundation, USO, the American Red Cross, and the Yellow Ribbon Fund for all the help they have given to my family, and to other military families.
I am in awe with the services and social support that is provided for our service men and women. It also makes me happy that these services are available for them.
I am eternally grateful to the military, their families, the war heroes and Veterans and the sacrifices they made to protect us and our freedom. To me, they are the reason that America is great, and to continue that, we should continue to provide the support and help that they need.
Thank you for reading! I have included a list of the organizations below. I kind of feel like my words do them no justice. However, I also hope that this post was informative and has inspired you to donate to their cause.
Full Disclosure: I did stay at the Fisher House during my time there, and I did have a rental car through the Yellow Ribbon Fund. I am not receiving compensation or anything from either organization for mentioning them in this post.
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center: http://www.wrnmmc.capmed.mil/SitePages/home.aspx
Fisher House Foundation: https://www.fisherhouse.org/
Luke’s Wings: https://www.lukeswings.org/
United Service Organization: https://www.uso.org/
American Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org
Yellow Ribbon Fund, Inc: http://www.yellowribbonfund.org
Wounded Warrior Project: http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org
Military One Click (comprehensive list of Military-Focused Charities & Associations): http://www.militaryoneclick.com