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Response to Duppers (Reply #24)

Sun Apr 15, 2018, 08:28 AM

28. My dad was the really amazing one

His colleagues have asked me in the past why I didn't follow him into journalism. After all, with his contacts, I would have had a head start most journalists could only dream of. The trouble was, he was SO good and SO well-respected, there was no way I would fill his shoes. Actually I DID end up writing some of the songs used at Gridiron Club events after he died, but officially that never happened, as songs used at Gridiron shows are supposed to be ones penned exclusively by Gridiron Club members.

But he was one of the most respected (if not THE most respected) correspondents from a one-horse town ever stationed in Washington--a one-man bureau. When he hit 75, his idea of retirement was going into Washington (we lived in Virginia) four days a week instead of five. When he was told of his diagnosis, he turned to my mom and commented "so much for clean living."

I'll give you an idea of the caliber of man he was. This is his last column, a farewell to his readers after 50 years at his tiny paper in upstate New York, to whom he remained loyal despite numerous offers to join more prestigious outlets. He was gone less than ten days after it appeared:

Published: November 19, 2000
Page: 9
November 19, 2000
Copyright (c) 2000
By (DFW's father)
This is a column I was hoping not to have to write, especially this soon. Readers of this space know that I have been under treatment for pancreatic cancer for about nine months.

The treatment, mostly medication, plus chemotherapy infusions at an oncologist's office, was part of a study program approved by the Food and Drug Administration and involved chemo applications whenever the blood counts were adequate to sustain it.

It was designed for three treatments, one in each of successive weeks, followed by a week of "rest," during which the cells would have a chance to recover.

For me the treatment went in fits and starts. Only once did I complete a three-week cycle. Every six weeks a laboratory radiological office took X-rays to measure what was happening to the cancer, although pancreatic cancer is extremely difficult to read on X-rays.

About 10 days ago I got the bad news from the oncologist. The chemo treatment, which had been interrupted three times for infections and, most recently was accompanied by a substantial swelling of body fluid, had done about all it could to stem the tumor growth and stabilize it.

One other alternative he had held out was to switch to a different chemo protocol, but he determined that, not only was that treatment less effective than the one just halted, but might well have made me sicker.

He said I had put up an amazing fight and he would never have expected me to last as long as I had.

I was fully aware that the odds on stabilizing the cancer - it could never be cured - were tiny, but I had hoped I might have been in the small minority of those who survived. Ironically, my predecessor in writing politics for (his newspaper), died of pancreatic cancer.

In the course of recent treatment my feet had become so swollen they could hardly fit into shoes or slippers, particularly when I was wearing socks; my legs began to look like a linebacker's, as opposed to my normally skinny appearance, and my belly had grown to a point that made me look as if I were pregnant. It was not unlike the famed Demi Moore magazine cover.

Medication I had taken to get rid of some of the fluid was not working.

And that left: Nothing.

In other words, treatment, except for medication to ease various problems - luckily I have been virtually pain-free during the whole procedure - provided no solution, and all that we could do was prepare for the end.

The obvious question was the length of time I had remaining, and the oncologist volunteered, "It could be weeks, it could be months."

If I had my druthers, naturally, I would choose months, but that is not up to me.

We have already had three visits from specialists from The Hospice of Northern Virginia: an overall supervisor, a nurse and a community affairs expert. This organization is a marvel.

It pays the full cost of prescription drugs - when our company insurance policy was subordinated to Medicare B, the drug coverage my wife and I had enjoyed at 70 percent of cost was eliminated - as well as the rental of a wheelchair. The drugs are delivered to the house.

Signing up for drug coverage for my wife under the AARP schedule would have been too expensive - the highest premium and only a small percentage of drug costs covered.

The Hospice people are on call 24 hours a day, have a small place where patients can stay if their spouses or significant others are exhausted from caring for their loved ones and offer expert medical advice. The swelling in my lower legs and feet, surprisingly, has already gone down with the experimental use of a diuretic drug, generic name aldactone, three times a day, rather than one or two.

The symptom to watch out for is dizziness, and, so far, happily, I have had none.

The inevitability of the situation, however, means (his wife) has had to consult with accounting and legal firms to make sure all the necessary papers are up to date. I have to think about getting rid of mountains of clothes - dressing well was a weakness I never overcame - and piles of books and newspaper clippings and letters from VIPs. If that all sounds suspiciously like the angst Frank Augustine described in his throwing out a lifetime of correspondence, it should.

The family has already put in a bid for photographs, from college, from Army service in World War II, from journalistic trips around the world and superb color photographs of us with Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton and Sen.-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton.

There are all the drafts of lyrics I wrote for 25 years of Gridiron Club shows, notes from the president, members of Congress and diplomats, virtually every one of which is destined for the round file.

With my continuing columns I remain the "dean" of the New York news media in Washington, as well as the correspondent with the longest stretch of news reporting of any newspaperman in the capital.

That must now come to an end, though not immediately, and, of course, I shall fight to push the envelope as far as I can, with the wonderful support I have received from relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbors. They have held us in their prayers, and we are tremendously grateful.

Hearst columnist Marianne Means and her husband, columnist James Jackson Kilpatrick, gave us an orchid plant about three weeks ago, and, in a small miracle, it is still putting out creamy white buds and flowers long after it should have succumbed.

It could be a sign, but we are realistic enough not to bet the farm on it.

There is a line in the song "A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square" that insists, "The age of miracles hasn't passed."

Only time sets the parameters. Until the body gives out (for the spirit never will), then I will have to call it a life.

The hour for feeling sorry for myself has passed. I envy those, like the 90-year-old woman profiled by John Golden in the Times recently; like my erstwhile partners on the tennis court and fellow performers at Gridiron rehearsals.

The incoming Gridiron president, Andrew Glass of the Cox Newspapers, wants me to serve as the club treasurer until my physical capabilities tell me, "Enough." Then a successor can be named.

I could complain that fate had dealt me a less-than-optimum hand, but that would serve no purpose and would ignore the many problems of those less fortunate than I.

I'm still here, and I want to write until the keyboard fails to respond to my fingers and my voice can no longer draw information from those to whom I speak on the telephone.

I don't know how near the end is, nor will I spend time worrying about it. It has been a wonderful life, personally and professionally, and the recognition of that from so many whom I love and respect leaves no room for regrets.

So, agree with what I write or not, don't stop reading. Each day has to bring a new miracle with it.

THAT is where I come from. An impossible act to follow, but one HELL of a role model, wouldn't you say?

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