NOTIONS: Blessed by quality, cursed by access

Keywords Health Care / Insurance
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Hetrick last week won the Lawrence H. Einhorn, M.D. Award from the Little Red Door Cancer Agency.

A cancer survivor himself, Hetrick was recognized, in part, for IBJ columns about people with cancer, especially his wife, Pam Klein, who died in March at 49. He also was honored for advocating anti-smoking legislation. Following are excerpts from his prepared acceptance remarks.

I don’t deserve this award. I don’t wield a scalpel, administer chemotherapy, invent drugs, change bed pans, hold patients’ hands, deliver bad news-or last rites. Those are the important jobs. I just tell stories. I want to tell three stories tonight. The first is about Larry Einhorn. We have a big, impersonal health care system. Too often, it’s like you don’t have a name or a soul. You’re just a number. On the gray day when they told us Pam’s cancer was probably terminal, we were scared. And when they told us we shouldn’t bother fighting, we were dumbfounded. I didn’t know Larry Einhorn then. But his wife, Claudette, and I had served on a notfor-profit board together. So I had my dad call their house. And Larry said he’d talk with me later that day. So on a Sunday afternoon, this renowned physician spent most of an hour giving a complete stranger a dose of candor, an ounce of hope and lots of guidance. Larry didn’t flex his ego, either. He said Pam and I should go to Houston, because they had top doctors for Pam’s type of cancer. He even told me which one to call. Months later, when that physician needed a partner in Indianapolis, so Pam could get weekly treatments a few blocks from home, Larry agreed to be her oncologist.

When he walked into our exam room for the first time, we called Dr. Einhorn “Dr. Einhorn.” But he said, “Please, call me Larry. We’re informal around here.” He’s been “Larry” ever since.

When you’re with Larry, you feel like you’re the only person in his world. You often don’t have to wait long to see him. He looks you in the eye, not at his watch. He spells the names of complicated drugs. He draws pictures to show how they work.

When Pam died, Larry and his nurse, Jackie, cancelled the other things they had to do, and came to Pam’s memorial service instead.

This crystal vase isn’t the gift I wanted from Larry. And it’s not the one he wanted to give me. But I know he did everything he could. And I know that in this era of take-anumber medicine, we need more doctors with Larry’s blend of intellect and empathy.

My second story is about the three kinds of cancer patients.

One day, while Pam and I were in Houston, we had lunch with my former boss, who was marketing director for M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He told us about his new ad campaign and the research that went into it. The researchers decided there are three kinds of cancer patients:

There are quitters, who learn they have cancer and give up.

There are go-with-the-flow patients, who do only what their primary doctor suggests.

And then there are fighters-who do their homework, seek second opinions, travel any distance and try every option in their quest for a cure.

Pam was a fighter. I am, too, though I will never equal the grace and dignity she brought to the battle.

What bothered us both, however, was the inequity of it all.

Having worked in and around health care, having friends in the right places, having health insurance and personal savings, it was easier for us than for most people to fight for Pam’s survival and renewed health.

But the chance to fight-should one choose to do so-should depend not on connections and cash, but on spirit and will. That, in a nutshell, is why we’re here this evening: to help women of limited means get the same opportunities Pam had to detect and treat cancer.

My third story is about storytellers.

Sometimes, when you’re a writer, you get credit for telling a moving tale. But good stories-at least the journalistic kind-are only as enlightening as the people who live them and the editors who polish them.

Now, Pam liked movies. And each year, she liked watching the Oscar awards. And she learned, as you and I have learned, that when you win an Oscar, you’re supposed to thank lots of people.

And while I’m grateful to all of you for this Oscar of the cancer business, I hope you won’t mind if I focus my thanks on one soul. Because I didn’t help anyone with cancer by myself. Whatever good we did, Pam and I did together. Without Pam, I’d have no stories worth telling. Without Pam, the words wouldn’t flow as they do. And without Pam, well, I’m still trying to figure that out.

So let me leave you with this: The winners of “Larry’s Award,” Pam and Bruce, have just one request: Tap your toes to the Manhattan Transfer tonight. But please, lace up your gloves and come out swinging tomorrow. Because, with your help in the battle against cancer, there’s still a lot of fight worth fighting, and still a lot of life worth living.


Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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