**With Immense Gratitude

 

On the evening of April 29, 2004, the day of my diagnosis of stage IV ovarian cancer, I am in a lovely room at Stanford Cancer Center gazing onto the flower gardens, feeling in an altered state of no-consciousness, as if I were watching someone else’s movie. After several hours of the procession of medical staff — professors, fellows, assistants, nurses, and the curious bystanders — a man walks into my room, looking a bit like Santa Claus. My recollection is that I say to him, “And who might you be?” and he announces he is my doctor. There is silence, a powerful sensitivity as we look right into the other’s eyes. The healing begins.

What really healed me? My relationship with Dr. Branimir Sikic, his courage, caring, intelligence, and unwavering commitment to get me well from that very first night. He announced to the bevy of eager surgeons impatiently waiting in the corner, “Nancy has no time for surgery. We will start treatment and chemo immediately.”

He told me, “Yours is a very bleak diagnosis. It will be a rocky road. But hang in there. I think I can help you. I am with you.” In those words, Brandy showed profound compassion. The kind of hope that he exhibited throughout my treatment define the essence of this man.

He looked around the room, crowded with my friends and loved ones, and said, “When all those who love you go home tonight and you start to freak out about what has happened today, here is my home phone number. Feel free to call me.” And I did, at about 2:30 in the morning. And Brandy was as gracious and generous in that phone call as he has always been, ever since.

Brandy Sikic really held my hand and my heart. Our relationship is based on trust. The deal we made was pretty simple: if ever something in my body felt different or wrong, my job was to contact him immediately. And he responded immediately from wherever he might be in the world. He never dismissed my calls or my fears and, rather, guided me through the next step — an emergency CT scan at midnight at Stanford, an emergency visit to Sloan-Kettering when my arm wouldn’t move. Even when Brandy was on sabbatical in his hometown in Croatia, he was within earshot (email and phone call), and he made the critical decisions about my treatments. When the oncology team was considering a liver transplant, he weighed in daily with his directives. Again, no surgery because of Brandy. We did not do the transplant. And all is well.

Few doctors have said to their patients what Brandy once said to me, but I wish they would. “This is very tough. I am giving you very aggressive treatments. If you are on antidepressants, double them. If you are not on them, get on them. And find yourself a solid psychologist, preferably someone who has been through cancer.”

Brandy made it possible for me to really trust — in him, the entire medical team, and the world. I was told that I could not do a lot of alternative methods while I was in treatment, since I was being so closely monitored. When my sweet sister asked if I could have ice cream, Brandy said, “This is not the time to deprive Nancy of any pleasures.”

With this and so many other instances of extraordinary kindness and understanding over the past ten years, Dr. Sikic laid the foundation within my spirit for true trust: an opening of my heart to the amazing generosity of strangers, to the compassion and sensitivity of the chemo infusion teams, to other patients, and to the beauty of my friends and loved ones. When people ask, and they often do, What happened? How did you make it when others did not? I don’t have any answers to that mystery. I do know, for certain, that the opening of my heart, the receiving of the blessings and the love, the sense of abundance of good will coming my way changed my being — during my cancer and forever more.

Those four words, I am with you, are my four favorite words in the world. They sustained me, gave me hope, and transformed my understanding of the healing process. My successful story speaks to the power of those simple, exquisite words.

I am the luckiest lady in the world. I truly enjoy defying medical statistics and being the poster child for Stanford’s Cancer Center.

I am immensely grateful.

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