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My special warriors

July 28, 2013
By SHAUNNA DUNDER HERSHBERGER - Lifestyles Editor ( , Times Leader

It's not been an easy month for a lot of us at The Times Leader, especially with the passing of longtime colleague and friend Rich "Hoot" Gibson after a hard-fought battle with mantle cell lymphoma. Personally, I didn't know Hoot as well as others may have, but I'm grateful that I made an effort to get to know him over the last year.

Being a fellow survivor myself, I did what I could to offer Hoot some support and wisdom. I visited him in the hospital and talked with him about some of the drugs he was getting, the side effects he was having or could expect, and just other general tips I thought would be helpful to someone undergoing chemotherapy. I remember once I noticed he was getting a drug with a notoriously deep red color that I always called "Kool-Aid," and I warned him that after he received it, not to be alarmed when he went to the bathroom, because it tends to turn your urine red. A few days later when I spoke to him again, he said with a laugh, "Hey, you were right about that red one!"

Over the course of my diagnosis and treatments, I made several special friends along the way, some of whom have since given up their battles and gone on to bigger and better places. Dora McGivern was the first friend I made during chemo. She had a serious type of breast cancer, and I remember talking with her during her first ever chemo. Later, Dora sent me a card and told me how scared she was that first day of chemo, but after talking to me, she felt so much better. Dora achieved remission, but her cancer returned and eventually prevailed. I still think about her a lot.

Kareem was one of several friends I made in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit in Morgantown. I always saw him power walking the halls, pushing his IV pole. He'd always wave to me when he passed my door. Despite the fact that he faced numerous complications from his transplant, he had the tenacity and determination to try everything he could to knock his disease out cold, but unfortunately, what he gave just wasn't enough.

Terry was a kind young man, always wanting to do things to help everyone else, even at the risk of his own health. When I was fighting pneumonia, he brought me his heavy comforter so I could wrap it around myself during those awful cold chills. On a humorous note, Terry seemed to be the bane of the nurses' existence in the BMTU, as he had the tendency to just totally disappear from his room, only to be found later in the Family House doing laundry or some other no-no. On a return visit to Morgantown a year later, I was stunned to hear he had died - his cancer returned after his transplant.

One of the kindest people I met was Dodi, a young woman with a wonderful husband and three adorable little girls. Dodi's husband, Randy, happened to be staying across the hall from my mom in the Family House. Randy cooked food for us, and we visited with both of them the night before I was released to home. Mom and I happened to run into them the day we were packing our car to go home, and I remember how concerned Dodi was for me, reminding me over and over to wear my mask when I went anywhere and just to be careful. That winter, I learned from a mutual friend Dodi and I made there, Stephanie, that Dodi died in the fall when her cancer returned.

On the positive side, Stephanie is doing well. She had just been diagnosed with leukemia and was undergoing chemo when we met. We stayed in touch through email and recently reconnected via Facebook, and it's just so great to know she's doing so well. I love looking at the pictures of her with her now long hair standing with her little boy, who is growing up so fast.

The people on this list are very special cancer warriors who touched my heart. Even though I only knew (or know) most of them for a short period of time, I have vivid memories of how they each touch my life. I can now add Hoot to this list.

During the time he started his journey, I feel like we developed a special "cancer warrior" bond that only those who have fought the fight can really appreciate or understand. As a fighter, Hoot was positive and inspiring, but also realistic. He'd wrap up extended stays in the hospital by stopping in to work on the way home. He talked excitedly about the possibility of covering more games once his treatments were finished.

When it came to his treatment regimen, Hoot didn't miss a beat. I'd visit him and he'd tell me to the minute at what times he would be receiving which drug. We compared "notes", but I only had a few of the same drugs he had. Still, I could definitely appreciate how the drugs affected him, and I did what I could to offer some helpful tips. He seemed appreciative - and I know my spirits were always lifted after visiting him and seeing just how strong a fighter he was.

Hoot's death affected me even more than the deaths of my other friends, possibly because I was able to follow through with him along his entire journey. His illness really hit home for me. I know what I've already been through, and I realize that things could have been much worse. Towards the end, I could tell everything was starting to wear on my friend, although he never, ever gave up hope.

Of course, this is not the way I'm going to remember Hoot. We talked often about the Browns and the NFL in general. His love of sports was so evident by the way his eyes would twinkle and a smile would curl up on his lips. During college basketball season, when I previously worked at the paper, Hoot brought me a few programs from some of the conference tournaments - I believe I have one for the PAC-10 and the Big East. In exchange, I brought him programs for the two ACC tournaments I attended. I marveled as he told me the places he'd been and the things he'd done in his life. "I really don't have a lot of things left on my bucket list," he told me on more than one occasion.

Knowing that he lived his life to the fullest was one of the best things I learned about Hoot. I certainly hope that if I live to be 60 that my life will have been as full as his was.

His battle is now over, but that's because his purpose on this Earth was finished. He is now serving a higher purpose and looking down on all of us from behind those distinct eyeglass frames.



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