I ended last week’s commentary on my wife Connie’s life or death confrontation at M.D. Anderson Cancer and Research Hospital in Houston, Texas.
Connie contracted an infection brought on by the heavy injections of chemo and treated bone marrow. Her only hope of beating this infection was an introduction of white blood cells into her immune system from a blood relative, and she only had two. First was her brother, Henry D. Sturkie III, and second, our son, John F. Floyd, Jr. I had just returned to my office in Akron, Ohio when I received the call from Dr. Jackie Holmes informing me of Connie’s desperate situation.
John was in school in Alabama, and I could not reach him at his dorm. I called my best friend, Jimmy Hill, and told him of our dilemma, and he immediately told me not to worry about John, that he will personally find John and put him on a plane to Houston that afternoon. He did just that. That is the kind of person Jimmy Hill was to friends and others. Finding Henry, her brother, was another story.
I had called the Missouri Highway Patrol. Connie corrected me when I said Arkansas to check on a huge wildlife store in Missouri. The patrol only knew of one store that fit the description, and they said the store would page Henry every 30 minutes. On the second page, Henry heard the page to call the highway patrol. The patrol told him of the situation his sister was in. Henry immediately started for Houston. He arrived, and after some tests, he was immediately hooked to a centrifuge that separated the white blood cells from the red.
John arrived at approximately the same time as me and was also hooked up to the centrifuge for white blood cell collection. Both John and Henry were in the process of supplying life saving white blood cells to Connie.
The fact that Henry was in a certain place at a certain time is divine intervention. Jimmy finding John, who could have been anywhere, is almost as incredible. From the phone call from Dr. Holmes, to my calls to a relative and friend, to finding both John and Henry and ultimately have them arrive in Houston in less than eight hours is a miracle in itself. But we had been warned by the doctors in Houston emergencies could occur. But, thankfully, the introduction of Henry and John’s white blood cells did just what they were supposed to do, kill the infection.
It was during this time of heavy chemo and the bone marrow transplant that Connie got a little, for lack of a better term, mentally unstable. She did not eat any solid food for at least three months, her attention span was almost zero, and she was very unstable. I rented a condo across the street from the hospital for the duration of the experimental program. Connie would want to play “crazy eights,” a very simple card game. After one hand, she would say to me, “You look tired. Why don’t you get some sleep?” I would go to the condo, get undressed, try to get to sleep, and the phone would ring. Connie would say, “You want to play some crazy eights?” I would get dressed and make my way back to the hospital and play one game. She repeated the same process for seven or eight days. I was fatigued, but it wasn’t anything to what Connie was experiencing.
Finally, after a three- or four-week stay at M.D. Anderson, Connie called me and said we are going home. The hospital couldn’t decide to let her go home or extend her stay. Connie made the decision for them. I called Continental Airlines, made the arrangements to transport an infirm patient to Cleveland and ultimately to Akron-Canton airport. We went home.
Connie’s story is one of hope when there was very little. She never asked for much, just to make sure John graduated from college. Through modern science and a lot of prayers she fulfilled her wish and then some. Thirty-five years ago, Connie’s prognosis was five years. Modern science and prayers have taken Connie’s hope and created a reality. We believe Connie’s volunteering for the bone marrow program has been the catalyst for more experimentation and scientific breakthroughs that lead to better outcomes for women and men.
Connie has a message for all women who have felt the ravages of breast cancer, and she has passed her message on to groups large and small. She addressed the 2,000 attendees of the National Convention of the United Auto Workers in California and got a standing ovation.
I started this story by saying I wanted it in black and white for posterity. What I really wanted was a chronicle for our only son, John, so he would forever know what a brave and courageous woman his mother is. Connie did it all for him.