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Alumni Essays

Goodbye Again

Nadine RogersNadine Rogers

When I arrived at the School of Public Health 16 years ago, I believed that I was beginning a magical journey. Somehow, I felt that if I understood how to communicate health messages, no one that I loved would die early again. You see, I’d lost my Dad as a freshman in college. He was only 51 years old, and I’d always imagined that he would walk me down the aisle one day. As it turns out, Daddy had diabetes, which without treatment, ended lots of dreams. So, when I arrived at Hopkins 10 years later, my motivation was to make sure that I had enough knowledge to fight back death when it came calling again. Somehow, I imagined that a JHU PhD would be a talisman against loss.

I graduated in May 2002, with my rambunctious, flag-waving, Trinidadian family making its presence felt. It turned out to be the last time that we all gathered together at once for such a happy occasion. In 2007, I said goodbye to my mother—a trailblazer and politician—as breast cancer took her away. In spite of the fact that I am my family’s only daughter, and that I held a PhD in public health from Hopkins, my mother hid her misshapen breast and its inverted nipple from me. By the time we sprang into action, it was too late. Diabetes…breast cancer…these treatable diseases killed both of my parents.

Three years later, we said goodbye to the family’s oldest member—my grandmother. A long-retired nurse-midwife, who’d survived a premature birth and childhood polio to live to the ripe old age of 83 years old. Granny was different. She was determined to live the longest, fullest life that she could, and she took every prescription that her cardiologist gave to her. She had cardiomegaly—in other words—her heart was enlarged; but Granny didn’t let that stop her. She cooked wonderful meals, but she watched her sugar, fat, and carbohydrate intake. She took daily walks at 5 a.m. with a small group of neighbors. Granny was active in the church and the community. In fact, she went out and volunteered with autistic children on the morning of the day that she died. Granny was our family’s heartbeat and, with diligence and discipline, she stayed with us much longer than we’d imagined possible.

Just last month, we stood at the graveside again; this time to say goodbye to our beloved stepfather. He’d suffered from a rare and chronic blood clotting disorder known as essential thrombocythemia. When we first heard of the diagnosis in 2008, my brothers and I declared war.  We proceeded to have several detailed conference calls with the hematologist via Skype, so that we could understand our stepdad’s needs and treatment plan. While the disorder is the result of gene mutation, a simple daily drug regimen allows for normal functioning and reduces the risk of stroke and heart attack. One of my brothers took Dad to buy his first prescription. I called twice weekly and always managed to ask, “Dad are you taking your medicine?” My youngest sibling flew home often and looked through the fridge to make sure that Dad was eating properly. My brother’s young, hip friends showed up at the house, unannounced, to make sure that Dad was OK. However, Dad was too crafty for us, and he preferred the advice of herbalists and alternative practitioners to the costly prescription medicine that would have saved his life. We did everything that we could and death still won.

Perhaps, in the midst of all this loss, I have learned that death ultimately wins. In spite of our knowledge and care, our loved ones will leave us. We cannot hold up our incredible Hopkins training as a talisman against death.

However, what we can do is try to influence how people think about living. If I learned anything from my grandmother, it is that a focus on quality of life and joy in living may result in more years of actual life. Certainly, with my mother and my stepfather, I wish that they’d been able to see what more exciting things they had left to do, if they would just get that mammogram, take that tamoxifin…take that hydroxyurea. Wading through people’s complex beliefs about doctors, hospitals, medicine, and fate is no joke, particularly in old and intricate cultures like the one that I came from.  Nevertheless, my Hopkins training has prepared me to find new and more creative ways to deliver important health messages to the people that I love.For example, a breast cancer awareness bookmark was carefully nestled between the pages of my mother’s funeral program.  I often embed health education messages in my annual holiday letter. If I receive an ill-informed e-mail chain letter, I reply to all with the facts and a link to the relevant Hopkins web page. If a friend asks for health advice, I show them how to find the best doctor for their situation and I offer to attend the first visit, if they need my help. In other words, I hope that by empowering others to think about the best possible health that they can have, I will save myself and my siblings from having to say goodbye again any time soon.

Nadine Rogers, PhD '02

 

Comments

  • Lisa Benz Scott

    Stony Brook University 02/26/2013 11:09:41 AM

    Hi Nadine! We were students together (PhD, entering class of 1996...part of the "Y2K" class of 2000, with many staying on a bit past the "2K" mark). I enjoyed reading your piece. We have some things in common, as I too lost my father suddenly (I was 16 when he died in his sleep from a heart attack; he was 58). It was wonderful to see your beautiful pic next to your essay... Be Well, Lisa Benz Scott

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