Remembrances III

Blogs-contributors, Dan Waeger — By on March 27, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Following is Ellen Stovall’s speech from the funeral last week. Ellen was Dan’s “boss” at NCCS, and a fellow cancer survivor. She was an important influence on both Dan and myself with respect to the way Dan was able to advocate for himself during his treatments, and with her incredible attitude and fighting spirit.

I am here today because Dan Waeger knows how much I hate speaking in public and he would do anything to say, “Gotcha, Boss Lady.” Yes, “Boss Lady.” That’s what Dan called me. Being someone more than old enough to be his mother, Dan loved to tease me, and I loved nothing more than coming to work every day for the past three years to be teased by Dan. I feel almost apologetic today as I realize that I and my co-workers of Dan’s at NCCS got to spend more time over the past few years with him than any of you gathered here.

I am here representing a group of colleagues and friends who Dan met through his work at NCCS. Some of them have traveled great distances to be here and some are agonizing that they couldn’t make the journey due to other commitments. Nearly all of them took the time to recount a “Dan Moment,” and I hope these stories help paint a picture for you of what it was like for us to live with, work with, play with, and to love our Dan.

For all of us at NCCS, one of our favorite memories is of Valentine’s Day 2007. Meg was working directly across the street at the big Discovery Building in Silver Spring and Dan was talking with his second mom at NCCS, Nina, and asking what he could get Meg for Valentine’s Day. Never a one with small ideas, Nina suggested that Dan put up a poster-paper sized sign across the expanse of windows in our office that when facing out read “Happy V Day, Meg. And so, the office Valentine’s Day project unfolded and Meg was the envy of every woman at Discovery and at NCCS. Dan had come up with the most romantic gesture of the day. No one could wipe that Technicolor smile of his off his face for days. From that day on, he was known as “Dan the Man,” much to the jealousy of many men in the lives of the women at NCCS.

For me, one of the best memories is of a cold spring evening nearly a year ago at Wrigley Field in Chicago with Nina, Michael, Meg and Dan. We drank lots of beer, threw peanut shells, and suffered major heartburn from the Polish kielbasa that Dan insisted I had to eat—not one, but two of them—as that would be the only way to authenticate me as a true Cubs fan. That ballgame kicked off four days of indigestion that we endured while trooping around a big convention center at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. This is where we meet once a year with many of our supporters, including leading pharmaceutical companies and clinical researchers and practicing oncologists from all over the world.

Dan was loved by all of our friends in many companies—several of them have written me or told me stories about what an impact Dan had on them.

One special friend, Linda House, wrote:
I remember the first time I met Dan. I remember so clearly his face – oh my – that smile that brightened everyone around him – and the way it opened his eyes – and when you looked into them, there was such energy, life, possibility, acceptance of others, hope, and friendship in there – frankly that I’ve never experienced with anyone before or since. There are many things I think about that make me smile – his leaving work last St. Patrick’s Day and earning the name O’Waeger, him asking me if he taught me to text message or if I already knew how!, him being my silent accomplice for the practical joke on Nina, his playful disgust when all I had to offer him during a rainy day in Indiana was an old and broken casino umbrella (versus the nice golf umbrella he is accustomed to), his challenge to our CEO at Ely Lilly–not knowing he was present, and more . . .I also promise to get to a point of having a Dan – worthy way to honor him – I just need the world to brighten back up a bit first .

From Stacia—
I will attend Mass here tomorrow morning and remember Dan privately. I will most certainly plant yellow flowers to remind me of his smile – the smile that could light up any room. I’ll plant white flowers to symbolize the peace which I pray he has found – for him to take strong, deep breaths without a cough and to hit every ball long and straight off the tee.
But I’ll also plant some red flowers to remind me that no matter what anyone says, this just wasn’t right. Perhaps it symbolizes the restlessness that Meghan talked about, for that is the only word that can describe what I’ve been feeling this week.
The fact of the matter is, I don’t think Dan would have wanted an all yellow garden planted for him. I think he would have welcomed the red. I think he would want us to feel restless.

Whether it was speaking to gatherings of pharmaceutical executives, including the CEO of Eli Lilly, or to Adrienne’s class at Bullis where she had organized a dodge ball game to benefit Dan’s Scholarship Fund, Dan’s message was clear and sound and left people feeling like someone special was in their presence. He often told these audiences one of his favorite Pete Rose stories that he adapted as an attitude about living his life. He told them that if Pete Rose didn’t wake up every single day thinking that he could hit the ball every time he came to bat, he didn’t deserve to be at-bat. Dan’s message was that we can all succeed—that we can pass a test—that we can get an A in class that may not be our specialty. We need to believe that we are going to get a hit or score the game-winning goal, or we shouldn’t be in the game in the first place. He told them “Don’t just be good at something—challenge yourself to be great.” He went on to say that “in difficult times, we must remember that life’s’ challenges are not supposed to paralyze us and bring us down, but help us discover who we are and who we can become.”

And from Ty—
I have a Dan story but I didn’t share it yesterday in the staff meeting because I didn’t want people to think that I hadn’t been here long enough to speak of anything concerning Dan, but I do.

Dan would always call me T-Dubya for Ty Williams. I was working on putting together some Board materials in January and Dan was getting some figures/facts for me. Dan comes over, adds his bit of information and we just chatted for about 60 seconds. Then, as he was walking back to his office, he said, “Thanks. I love you, Ty”. Without thinking, I responded, “I love you too, Dan.” Then it hit me – did my coworker just say he loved me? I thought, I never did anything special for Dan; I was just being a team player and assisting in what was one of Dan’s projects. I just thought that was the coolest thing. That someone, who isn’t a family member or best friend or significant other, would say what I think God wants us to share with all humans – that we love them!

And lastly, I want all of us who are here today to feel the comfort of the sentiments expressed by one of our Board members at NCCS. Dr. Brad Stuart, the Senior Medical Director of a Hospice in California, who, after reading Meg’s blog about winning, wrote the following to the NCCS staff and Board:
I went to bed last night with Meghan’s profound words in my head woke up with this. Our work is about survivorship, but something profound happens when one of us no longer survives. Yes, winning is important in life, and it gives us a kind of euphoria. We feel that rush of joy when the treatment works. We’ve won, at least for now. On the other hand, losing gives us pain — Dan left a Dan-shaped space in the lives of everyone who knew him, and that loss hurts. But when someone dies the way Dan chose to, when they live all the way to the end with a quiet kind of passion, with devotion, perseverance and love, as they go they lift up the edge of life and we get to look underneath, inside ourselves toward a place where differences come together, where winning and losing no longer contest each other, where grief and a certain kind of joy merge together so at some point you can’t tell them apart. Then underneath that, there’s a silence, and gratitude that we all are in this together, sharing our pain and our joy. Sometimes grief lets us go down to the bottom of this well and bring up the water of life, which feels like tears of joy. So maybe Dan won after all, and in this way we all win.

Once again, I want to appreciate the chance we have to do this work together. Dan doesn’t get to go on with us, but the memory of how he lived, and how he chose to die, lives on within us.

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