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We never know when the very last time will be that we get to share a moment with someone.  A beautifully written letter I received in the mail last week reminded me of this.

My doctor, one of the most gentle, kind physicians to oversee my wellbeing, passed from cancer last month.  In an act of compassion, his wife wrote to his patients letting us know of the news.

When I moved back to Los Angeles from Canada in 2007, I learned my former gynecologist from years before was not covered by my new Health Plan.  Though I have often preferred a female in this role, I was referred to Dr. Irwin Frankel with the highest recommendations.  He was exactly as described…very caring, compassionate and thorough.

Dr. Frankel invested the time to hear my story and understand my fears when it came to routine cancer screenings; something generated having witnessed my late husband’s diagnosis.  He took particular care to make sure I never left my appointment wondering about the state of my health.  When I moved into cancer survivorship coaching, he supported me and shared not only how he felt this was so important for those facing the illness but also just a little of his personal story of understanding this through losing his own daughter to cancer.

During my last annual exam this spring, he once again took time to reinforce his belief in my work.  He remarked on my courage and strength to be making a difference with a disease that had taken so much from me as he hugged me goodbye.  He knew, he said, that I would do great things in this field.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Dr. Frankel had been diagnosed with cancer himself.  Looking back I see chances are the tears that rimmed his eyes that day contained the truth of his story.  As his nurse walked me to the door, I found myself wiping away my own tears and saying how incredible he was and how much he cared for his patients.

I am, of course, sad to lose this man from my life.  Dr. Frankel was grandfatherly in his appearance but current with his concerns for patients.  He wasn’t afraid, as almost every other medical provider in my life was, to inquire into the challenges of intimacy faced by a young widow and be sure I had a safe place where I could talk to him about it.

My care has been passed on to someone Dr. Frankel highly recommends through the most personal message from his wife and widow who, in doing so, honors his memory and all he stood for as a physician.  Even in death, his patients were a priority.  My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his long time staff who will so sharply feel his absence in the coming days and months.

I am grateful the very last time our paths crossed, Dr. Frankel and I shared a moment of understanding how deeply cancer cuts when it takes our loved ones and that, as providers, we can make a difference for those affected by it.

Though I am often quite conscious of the fact we never know and there are no guarantees beyond this moment, the letter from the courageous Ellen Frankel is a reminder with each interaction between ourselves and those who care for us…and those we care for…is the possibility it is our final interaction. 

Being mindful of the last words and experience we wish this to be is inspiration to bring awareness to whether we are giving a gift of engagement in that moment or something lesser.  Thank you, Dr. Frankel, for the gift of your compassion and kindness and your belief in me.  May you rest in peace.


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