By Peter Fischer
Our Mom, Gertrude Fischer, was one of 13 children born in Dickson City, PA to Polish immigrants who arrived on Ellis Island at the turn of the century. Living in a two bedroom house with a dirt kitchen floor as a child and adolescent, Trudy was the valedictorian of her high school class and went on to receive a Nursing Degree from the NYU School of Nursing in the mid-1950s. She was an RN (Registered Nurse) for approximately 45 years, providing care for patients in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and psychiatric centers. During the latter years of her career she was a private duty nurse for anyone who needed her assistance. She was known for putting together top-notch, round-the-clock nursing care for people in their homes or brief stays in hospitals. Every day she worked she put on her all-white nursing uniform (white stockings and nursing shoes polished the night before) and lived and breathed her oath to bring comfort and care to the sick and dying.
After retiring from nursing (more the result of a changing world for an aging nurse and not because she wanted to retire) she focused her life even more on her children and grandchildren. She adored her many grandchildren from the very moment each one arrived until her last breath. She died with not a penny in her bank account and even left my Dad with a small department store balance — the result of her always showering her friends and family with gifts and adoration. She rarely, if ever, did anything for herself.
In July, 2003 my Mom was diagnosed with an unresectable malignant tumor of the pancreas. The decision was to pursue medical management. She was offered palliative chemotherapy. I immediately flew out to NY to meet the rest of the family and assist with her care. I will never forget sitting with my Mom in her hospital room as we looked over the trees and well-manicured lawn outside of her room. My Mom had been a nurse for 45 years or so and had taken care of patients with her very same diagnosis more times than she would have cared to admit. As her youngest son and physician, and her as a nurse with years of experience with patients who had faced what she was now ultimately facing herself, our conversation was brief and to the point. Between myself and her other physician sons, we had teams awaiting her arrival for further intervention (at that time all palliative and relatively hopeless)— all she had to do is say the word. “Take me home Petee. I want quality over quantity. I want to enjoy my grandchildren,” she said to me as I held her hand and she looked straight into my eyes. We took her home, set up Hospice care, and with the help of hired round-the-clock assistance and many of her nursing colleagues, gave her as much comfort and dignity that such a process could possibly allow. She passed away 7 shorts weeks from her day of diagnosis.
My sister had known Lisa, the Executive Director of the Hirshberg Foundation through a mutual friend. At a wedding in 2005 they were chatting about kids and about our mom’s short battle with pancreatic cancer when Lisa told us all about the Hirshberg Foundation and about the LA Cancer Challenge. We were hooked from that moment and started spreading the word that TEAM TRUDY was going to be represented each year at the LA Cancer Challenge. Our family of course remembers my Mom on her birthday and we re-live her passing on the anniversary of her death each year. To be perfectly honest, our biggest day is the LACC each October. It is at this event that we honor her life and put forth whatever effort we can in order to see that her struggle with pancreatic cancer was not in vain.
Team Trudy at the LA Cancer Challenge is a collaborative effort by family and friends. My sister started things in motion with Lisa. A good friend who adored my Mom came up with the t-shirt design and then we registered for the event in 2005. The rest is history. To date Team Trudy has raised over $40,000 for pancreatic cancer research. We are focused on doing whatever it is we can do to raise awareness.
What I have realized in re-visiting the life of this wonderful woman, is that her life and untimely death has changed me forever. My heart aches every day in knowing that I can’t pick up the phone and call her like I did when she was alive. As trite and cliche as it sounds, a part of me died the day she left us. Anger, selfishness and frustration get the better of me on many a day. Even on my best day, I cannot even come close to exhibiting the elegance and dignity that this woman did every day until she passed away. But, I will keep trying. Our Mom was a truly remarkable woman. In reflecting on her life and in honoring her, we honor all who have been lost.