"About Bill"
by Joan Cordes © 2004
Not recognized, endorsed by, or affiliated with the NFL or Chicago Bears.
Our family was a happy family, a mom, a dad, and five rambunctious and healthy children. Bill Jr. was eight years old, Randy 5, Cathy 3, Jan 2, and Terry just five months of age. Bill Sr. had recently completed his instructions in the Catholic Faith. We repeated our marriage vows at a Mass shortly after Bill’s reception into the Catholic Church. It seemed to make our family perfect, until out-of-the-blue; a bolt of lightning hit us.
In the early spring of 1963, Bill came down to the breakfast table and complained of swelling and pain in the groin area. Our family doctor recommended he consult with an Urologist. Two days later, Bill had surgery to remove his testicle! The surgeon told us that we had to wait for a biopsy before he could tell us anything about further treatment.
After a few days, Dr. Petrillo had the results of the biopsy and asked me to come to his office alone. Bill was still in the hospital. He explained that there are approximately sixty types of cancer and Bill has one of the fastest spreading and most malignant types. Dr. Petrillo predicted that because of Bill’s young age of thirty-four, the cancer would spread rapidly. His prognosis, “Bill has about six months to live.” I was stunned; suddenly, our lives did a complete turnaround. Bill had embryonic cell carcinoma. In 1963, that type of cancer was always fatal.
Dr. Petrillo recommended that we go to Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York City, which specializes in cancer treatment. Dr. Petrillo explained, “I interned there and I know how they work.” “If there is anything new or experimental, Sloan Kettering would have it.”
It was a short walk back to Somerset Hospital and I was feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders. I had the sensation of walking through deep water in slow motion. I could not bear the thought of losing Bill! This sudden realization abruptly brought me out of the stupor I was in, and I had to confront it. How can I tell Bill? I prayed I would say the right thing. The hospital had a little Chapel so I stopped in to say a prayer. I began to get back some courage as I went to the cafeteria to get some coffee.
I thought about Arthur Godfrey, who was in Sloan Kettering a few years earlier, and that so many people prayed for him. He was at that time, the current, much loved and very popular television personality and the headlines in the New York papers kept everyone well informed of his progress. He had a lung removed and was given a guarded prognosis. Because of the example of so many prayers offered for Arthur Godfrey, along with his positive outcome, I began to ask everyone and anyone who assisted me and offered help, to pray for Bill. I began attending daily Mass.
Bill came home from Somerset Hospital, and felt well enough to get back to work. We contacted Sloan Kettering. We were told to call every morning in order to check for an available bed. I was assured that this was the usual procedure, that all admissions were equally serious, and that there was a long waiting list. I became more and more apprehensive as Bill developed soreness around the nipples and I knew this symptom could not be good. I called the doctor several times and faithfully, he returned my calls. Once, I reached him at a social gathering he was attending with his wife. He asked me not to call him again but promised to call me if there was anything new to tell me.
Finally, after two weeks, a bed became available and we left for New York. I went with Bill and stayed with him through the entrance preparations and a conference with the doctor. The plan at this time still called for surgery. The doctor gave us hope that surgery offered some promise and asked Bill if there were any other symptoms. Bill told him that his nipples were sore. I could not help but notice the look of concern that came over the doctor’s face. Bill was admitted to the hospital.
I was able to get babysitters so I could go to daily mass and get to see Bill. Fortunately, with the help of my family and friends, I could stay at the hospital all day.
Bill’s brother, an attorney, advised us to keep Bill’s illness a secret. He thought it might hurt our construction business if the word got out that Bill had cancer. At first, I told only one person, my neighbor Ann who told me to, “Just put the whole thing in the Blessed Mother’s hands.” I did, and it was good advice.
The morning of the scheduled surgery, I arranged for Fr. Dzema to say a Mass for Bill. After Mass, Fr. Dzema, our family priest, showed me the church calendar for that day, it was the feast day of St. William, Bill’s namesake, and Father saw this as a good sign.
I arrived in plenty of time to see Bill Prior to his surgery, but he was not around. His roommate told me that the surgery was canceled and Bill was off having more tests. As it turned out, the tests Bill had the night before, revealed that the cancer had spread past the lymph nodes and that he had nine or ten small “pencil-eraser-size” tumors on both lungs. The surgery was canceled.
Bill looked exhausted after the tests. He had two tubes inserted into the tops of his feet to inject dye in order to X-ray for further spread of the cancer. The next day, we were waiting in the lounge area for the doctor to come in. It was July and very warm. The windows were wide open as the hospital was not air-conditioned.
Bill’s doctor arrived and explained the new direction that Bill’s treatment would take—chemotherapy with a new and still experimental drug called acteomyacin-D. I wrote the name down phonetically in my notebook. Bill would receive diluted doses of this drug intravenously while under observation. He had to remain in the hospital for about a week as the drug was toxic, experimental and required monitoring. The treatment began and Bill slept through most of the day. He complained of being very sick, and the nausea, he said, was beyond anything he could describe.
Personally, I was having a difficult time coping. I needed someone to drive Bill to the hospital, or I needed a brave babysitter. The children were getting to be difficult for my in-laws to care for so they took a little time away to visit their other son. I arranged for Bill’s Aunt Hannah and Uncle Frank to drive Bill to the hospital. They were wonderful to us and Aunt Hannah told me that she was praying for Bill to have a complete healing. She did not want him left with any problems at all! Her faith in prayer was that strong!
I cried a lot, especially when I was not with the children. I cried while I was shopping, I cried in church and places where I was to some extent, alone. I tried as best I was able to be brave for the children. At times, I had a strong urge to go running but was afraid that my neighbors would think I flipped out. Jogging was not in vogue at the time, except maybe for prizefighters while a woman with a sick husband and five children could be suspect. I prayed and prayed. I asked everyone to pray for us. Finally, exhausted of asking, and in such anguish that I cried out to God, “Please, Lord, just let Bill live long enough to see his children grow up.” “Lord, please let them know their father!”
The nights were most difficult. During the day, I was with Bill and in the evenings, I was busy with the children. When I was alone, the grief began to overwhelm me. I spent my nights in the living room sleeping on the sofa. It was too painful for me to sleep in our bed. One of these times, as I awakened, something remarkable and unexplainable happened.
I awoke at about five in the morning and as I was getting ready to get up, I remembered what was going on—I sighed deeply and sadly. Unexpectedly, the room changed. It appeared misty and filled with eternity. I had the clear impression that time stopped. Then, I “heard” an interior voice, which I recognized as my father’s voice. He simply said, “Bill will be all right.” I cannot wholly explain the joy that filled me, Bill will be all right! I thought or said that was my father! He is in heaven! I could not wait to tell Bill of my experience. I had a visit from heaven! There was no doubt in me that this was a great grace—a gift from God!
Bill’s parents were back to watch the children and I continued my daily visits. I went to Mass and took a bus to the Port Authority bus station. It was a beautiful day, so I decided to walk as far as I could before hailing a cab. The streets were still empty and I was filled with energy. The sun shone on the diamonds as I walked through the diamond district and the sparkle was dazzling! I just kept walking as long and as far as I could and then flagged a cab. I could not wait to tell Bill!
Later in the week, we were sitting in the patient’s lounge when Dr. Grabstaldt came in and told us that Bill’s alpha-seta protein count (what the tumors secrete) was way down and that was good. He outlined a brand new schedule for Bill. He prescribed ongoing treatment with increasing intervals between treatments.
Shortly before Bill became ill, Sister Helen Mazurek, my second cousin (my grandmother and her mother were sisters) invited us to visit her at her convent in Pennsylvania. At the time, Sister Helen was a teacher and the Principal of the school where she taught. Sister Helen belonged to the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco, a Roman Catholic Order founded in 1872 by St. John Bosco and St. Mary Domenica Mozzarella. Before becoming a nun, Sister Helen shopped around for an Order and according to my mother who went with her on her search, she visited many different ones. She chose the Salesian Sisters because she liked the rules and the fact that she could keep her own name. She was required to learn to speak Italian and she liked to say, “The fine Italian.”
Terry, my youngest, was just one month old and I remember all the Sisters billing and cooing while I changed her on their dining room table. It seemed they had never seen a one-month-old baby before. They were awed with how tiny she was. I remember hearing, “Look at how tiny her hands are.” and “See how tiny her feet are--so little.” They really enjoyed having an almost newborn baby to admire.
In the early evening, Sister Helen led us into their little Chapel as she had a ceremony prepared for us. We all knelt in front of the altar as Sister Helen led Bill and me in prayer as we consecrated our children to the care of the Holy Mother of God and the little cards read, “With the intention of renewing my offering every time I say the Hail Mary.” It was a beautiful ceremony, intimate and holy. Of course, Terry was very tired by now and cried a lot through it all.
Sister Helen, one of our main supporters in prayer, asked me to pray to Laura Vicuna, a young girl who died in 1904. Laura was a student of the Salesian Sisters in Argentina. They considered her special enough and holy enough to be considered for Sainthood. Sister Helen told me that her class was praying for Laura Vicuna’s intercession for Bill’s healing. Laura Vicuna was beatified, i.e., deemed to be called Blessed in 1988 by John Paul II. She still needs a miracle, received through her intercession, in order to be canonized.
Sister visited us once at our home with a few of her students and once with another Sister. Her Order had a rule that they could only leave the convent for illness in the family, and a few other similar circumstances. It was during her third visit to our home that God unexplainably touched us.
It was now more than a year since Bill had become ill. Bill came home for lunch that day because of Sister’s visit. When we finished lunch, Bill left for the office and Sister Helen and I chatted for a while. Almost as an afterthought, while she was getting ready to leave, Sister remarked, “Just to be sure, I am going to leave you with a first-class relic of the Foundress of our Order, Saint Mary Mozzarella.” She reached into her pocket to retrieve the relic, which took some time, as the Sisters still wore many long skirts. Sister carefully took the relic out of some cloth wrapping and handed it to me. Just then, the phone rang. I reached for the wall phone with one hand while extending the other, so I could accept the relic from Sister Helen. I picked up the phone.
Dr. Golbey and Dr. Grabstaldt were both on the line. They were calling from Sloan Kettering. Dr. Grabstaldt said, “Do you remember I told you that I would call you if there was any change in Bill’s condition?” I answered yes, a little apprehensively. He explained that he had just attended a doctor’s conference about Bill’s condition and all of the doctors agreed that they could not find any evidence of the disease! I stood there dumbfounded, looking at Sister Helen and looking at the blessed relic in my hand.
What could I say? I could not express myself! I tried my best to be appropriately joyful and thankful to Dr. Golbey who directed the chemotherapy, and to Dr. Grabstaldt. I hung up the phone while holding the relic in my hand. I told Sister what the doctors said. I was quiet, and so was Sister Helen. We were trying to grasp the meaning of what had just happened. I could not express myself except in giving thanks to God quietly, in my whole being—a miracle! It took some time to absorb.
Sister composed herself before I did and began instructing me in what she thought I should do. She told me to compose a letter telling the story. From this day on, Sister Helen called Bill, “The Miracle Man.”
I could not wait to tell Bill. I called him at his office to tell him what had just happened. I cannot remember if Bill said Dr. Golbey also called him because both of us immediately began talking in unison. It was such an astounding and miraculous moment.
Dr. Golbey advised Bill to continue treatment for at least a year. We went for his next treatment appointment and Bill said, “Today, I am going to talk him out of having more treatments.” Bill was an experienced and convincing salesman and he did pursue this course until, with a promise to his doctor that he would continue with follow-up examinations, Dr. Golbey agreed to terminate the treatments. I never saw a happier face on Bill as he came out of Dr. Golbey’s office that day! Dr. Golbey predicted, “The way you responded to the drug, you should have no problem even if it does come back.” I, personally, knew in my heart that Bill’s healing was miraculous, unexplainable, and a gift from God.
We were secure as Bill’s health returned fully and seemed to be permanent. We built a beautiful new house and became completely involved in our children’s activities. It was a brand new life!
Unfortunately, and sadly, Sister Helen developed cancer and had a long bout with it. We visited her about a month before she died. It was Easter time and we brought the Sisters candy. Sister Helen was in a lot of pain; still she took us for a tour of the grounds and showed us her burial site. She told us that she had victorious and joyful songs selected for her funeral service. Sister Helen died soon after our visit. We attended her funeral with all of our children.
The Sisters sang beautifully and joyfully as Sister Helen requested. Cathy brought her father over to view Sister a second time because she insisted that Sister Helen was glowing. She asked him if he saw Sister Helen glowing. Cathy told me recently that she did not think he saw it but he said yes anyway.
Several years passed since Bill’s bout with cancer. Life went on and we enjoyed our beautiful new home. A year had passed since Bill’s last exam when Dr. Golbey called Bill and asked him if he would be willing to give a day to science. He needed Bill to arrive very early the next morning. It seemed to be some sort of an emergency. Dr. Golbey explained the procedure to Bill and he agreed to do it. He told Bill that someone was dying of the same illness as Bill had and that their blood types were compatible. I had some trepidation about Bill doing this; it was just too soon! I was afraid it could bring back his cancer even though the doctors insisted it was safe. Yet, I thought it was a lot to ask of him, but Bill was steadfast. He wanted to do it.
We left for New York City early in the morning for what turned out to be an all day procedure. When Bill was done, we went to a restaurant where he explained what happened. He told me that the apparatus used to perform the procedure, looked like a centrifuge, something like the one used to process milk. Bill’s blood went into this processing unit, which spun around, and separated the white corpuscles from the red corpuscles. This process continued all day until Dr. Golbey judged he had enough white corpuscles to transfuse into the waiting patient who received the transfusion of what Bill described as looking like, “around two cups of white corpuscles.”
The hope was that it would cause his body to accept the actiomyacin-D, in the way that Bill did. According to Dr. Golbey, the other patient was rejecting the drug and was not regenerating new blood cells as Bill did after the treatment. He hoped the transfusion would help to jump-start this action. We still did not know who the patient was, but if all went well, Bill and I could meet him on Monday when Bill returned for a check-up. Bill did mention that he noticed several posters of a football player tacked up in the room.
Early Monday morning, Bill and I set off for the hospital. Soon after we arrived, Bill went into the doctor’s office and Dr. Golbey sent him to the lab for blood work. I waited and chatted with a few other patients until Bill returned from his tests. He came back with bad news. The person who received his blood died over the weekend.
It was Brian Piccolo, the Chicago Bears football player whose story was told in the popular television movie presentation, “Brian’s Song.” We were extremely saddened as Brian Piccolo had a wife and children too, and he was so young. Gale Sayers honored Brian Piccolo at a Chicago Bears Banquet in which he received the Player of the Year award and, shared it posthumously with Brian Piccolo. We watched news reports on the evening news and Bill mentioned that he would have liked to attend.
Twenty-four years after Bill’s first surgery, we moved to the Jersey Shore. Bill began to have some indigestion problems and went to a local doctor to have it checked out. The tests did not show anything, so he tried to alleviate the discomfort with the usual medications. Bill seemed to be O.K. so, in the summer of 1991, we decided to take a trip to Utah to explore the area and find out if we would like to ski in Utah the following season. We also went to two extremely beautiful parks, Bryce Canyon and Zion Mountain. I am so grateful that we took many videos of this trip as they are a great memory for me now. Unfortunately, during this trip, which we did enjoy, I noticed that Bill did not seem well; he tired quickly and seemed edgy.
A few weeks later, Bill saw blood in his urine. Again, he went to an urologist at the Southern Ocean County Hospital, close to our home. The results were not good. Bill had a “shadow” showing on the x-rays in the “indigestion area.” We decided to go back to Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital. I remembered what Dr. Golbey said, “In the positive way that Bill accepted the treatment...he should have no problem if it reoccurs.”
There were many changes at the hospital in the thirty-two years since Bill’s first time there. Dr. Golbey retired and another doctor took Bill on as a patient. Bill told him of his past successful treatment. They looked up his records and were surprised to find that it was actiomyacin-D, since discontinued from use. There was now something else, named cistystatin. Bill’s current doctor mentioned to Bill that Dr. Golbey had insisted for many years that the actiomyacin-D was effective.
After running the usual x-rays and lung tests, the biopsy showed the cancer had returned and was in its second stage. It was on Bill’s lungs and spreading. Bill also had an aneurism in the aorta very close to the tumor, which made it inoperable. It had been thirty years since the first stage went into remission. I remember his doctor saying, “Bill, you could probably make the Guinness Book of World Records.” We had only one other patient whose remission lasted as long before going into second stage, a woman with breast cancer.”
The current treatment used for this type of cancer, cistystatin was administered. Still, Bill’s cancer count kept a steady pace; it lowered a bit and then rose again. The doctor decided, after not getting any results with the new treatment, and because of Bill’s prior history, to try the old treatment, the actiomyacin-D. They had to order some as they did not have it on hand at Sloan, but as it turned out, it was ineffective.
Attempts were made with other types of treatments including three treatments with taxol, and large doses of Vitamin A. Unfortunately, these were not successful. The alpha-seta count was not lowering. In-between treatments, Bill had to inject himself with a medication to build up his blood.
Jan, our daughter came and stayed with us on weekends. She inspired our prayer life and we said many Rosaries together. Randy and Bill, our two sons, took Bill to a target range to shoot. He had to sit in a wheel chair but enjoyed being with his sons. I clearly remember how happy he was when he came home that day and bragged about what a good sharpshooter he still is, even in a wheelchair. Bill was a Sergeant in the Marine Corp in his younger days and did quite a bit of hunting.
Bill’s treatment was over. I asked the doctor what I should do. He told me, “There is nothing anyone can do.” He also told me that Bill had two weeks to live. He saw no advantage of admitting Bill to a hospital, as he could be more comfortable at home and he instructed me in administering the medication for pain. The doctor also assigned a nurse named Terry from Sloan Kettering so that I could call on her if necessary, I did and she was very helpful.
I wondered if I should tell Bill what the doctor told me about the “two weeks left.” I had to think about that. I decided that if it were me, I would want to know. We were sitting together that evening, and I told Bill, but I did not do a very good job of it because I cried through it all. His answer was, “He doesn’t know what he is talking about.” I believe Bill was trying to make me feel better! Father Raymond came from St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island and gave Bill last rites again. Bill had received them several times already. A Eucharistic Minister also came regularly to give Bill Holy Communion.
Two days after Christmas, in the evening, Bill was in his chair watching television and dozing. He roused somewhat, looked up and said, “There are stairs here.” Cathy, our daughter who came to help, made a comment but I missed the meaning. Then Bill said it again, as if he really wanted us to see what he was seeing. As emphatically as he could, as he was very weak, he again said, “There are stairs here,” as he pointed and looked upwards.
Bill was now in a lot of pain. I gave him some medication, and he went to bed. It was a long night as he was delirious and moaning. I did not know what else to do for him. I could not even pray, but maybe I did. I just wanted to help him as best I could, and be with him.
It was very early in the morning when I knew Bill was going soon. I asked Cathy to call the family and tell them that I did not think Dad was going to last much longer. Bill Jr. arrived first, as he lived close-by. He came immediately to Bill’s side and attempted to talk to his father, but Bill was not able to respond clearly. We stood by the bed, Bill, Jr., embracing his father, knowing it was any minute now. Bill Sr. tried to speak but could not. It was just sounds. He died peacefully on December 28, 1993.
I stayed by the side of the bed for an hour or two, until the visiting nurse assigned to Bill came to do the necessary pronouncement. Randy came into the room and I believe he took my arm and encouraged me to come out of the room, but I could not leave Bill’s side, because it was the last time I would see him...for a while.
The family gathered and began to make all the arrangements. I had to purchase a gravesite, which I did, close to our former home that we loved so much. I believe Cathy went the next day, to tell Grandma Cats that Bill died. Grandma outlived both of her sons and lived to be 94.
Jan, Terry, and Randy arrived in that order. Terry told me that she knew the moment her father died while driving here. Jan also mentioned a similar experience.
I am grateful and content that Bill was blessed to enjoy his family for 32 additional years. Our family was blessed with the gift of Bill, a great husband and a wonderful father. I do not know why God touched our lives in this special way but I am eternally grateful.
Faith is a wonderful thing, a gift, if we pray hard enough.