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"The Volunteer Spirit"


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http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/05/jobs/ ... f=business


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MY parents were raised in Madonna d’Olmetto, a small town in northern Italy. Later, as adults, they emigrated to the United States, and married in New Haven. My two sisters and I were born and raised in Hamden, Conn.

My father was an entrepreneur. He started his first business as a cobbler and expanded to selling shoes. Later he bought and sold real estate. My mother was a wonderful seamstress who could create anything without a pattern. She went to work in a men’s suit factory in New Haven. She also sewed for the Red Cross, so I learned about volunteering early in life.

I’ve always liked to write. I have an M.A. in communications from Fairfield University in Connecticut. My big break came in the early ’60s, with a job in the phone company’s public relations department. I was the first woman in management. The other women were so excited. I was directed to write a training script for the telephone operators; the women worked big switchboards, plugging in telephone jacks, connecting and recording long-distance calls.

A friend asked me if I wanted to work on the campaign of Dick Lee, who was running for re-election as mayor of New Haven. Dick eventually offered me a position as head of P.R. for the redevelopment agency. He was a visionary who made remarkable changes in the city. I learned more from him than I ever did in school.

I started working in the cancer field when I was hired by the Cancer Center at the Yale School of Medicine in 1975. The National Cancer Institute financed these new comprehensive cancer centers around the country. This was an interesting time. People had just started saying the word “cancer” out loud. There was little information out there for patients, but tons of material for doctors and nurses. We set up a hot line service, 1-800-4-Cancer, to answer people’s cancer questions.

My first day on the job, my boss asked me to visit organizations co-sponsoring our phone service. I started with the American Cancer Society. When I finished my meeting, I was invited to head the society’s communications committee. Alongside my career as a medical communications consultant, I’ve been volunteering for the society now for 30 years.

As I was working to set up the phone service, my sister Eve Potts, a medical writer, became my best customer. Her friend Shirley had lung cancer and kept asking questions. One day Eve told me that Shirley had a bad sore throat and thought her cancer had spread. She was afraid to call her doctor. I asked whether Shirley had had a recent radiation treatment. Her sore throat was a side effect.

Eve, who had four children, relied on the pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock’s book. “Why isn’t there a Dr. Spock book for cancer?” she asked. A query letter, a sample chapter and a few appointments later, we had a contract with Avon Books. It was the luck of the uninitiated. We set up our two electric typewriters in Eve’s furnace room to start our simple question-and-answer book.

Our 900-page book, called “Choices,” was first published in 1980 and has been updated three times. It is a mixture of the medical and the mundane. Patients told us the cancer experience was like going to a foreign country. You don’t know the language. You don’t know what questions to ask.

In the 1970s, cancer was seen as a death sentence. Now, if one treatment doesn’t work, there’s another to try. According to the American Cancer Society, 60 percent of cancer is preventable. We have tests to detect cancer early. Our job is to get people to change their behaviors — stop smoking, lose weight, exercise.

There are more people living with cancer today than dying from it. I feel honored to be chairwoman at this time when there’s so much progress.

As told to Bobbi P. Markowitz.

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(NYTimes.com, "That Volunteer Spirit" By Marion Morra as told to Bobbi Markowitz, October 4, 2008)


The information contained in these articles may or may not be in agreement with my own opinions. They are not being posted with the intention of being medical advice of any kind.

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