Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In Loving Memory of Meta Buchheim

Hi - it's Tatjana.

I wanted to wish everyone a very happy and merry New Year!

Also, I wanted to explain my silence over the last couple weeks. Unfortunately, we had a tragic death in our family.

Gone In The Blink Of An Eye
Meta, my mother-in-law, was diagnosed with Breast Cancer (stage 2b) at the end of August 2013.

On Sept 25th she underwent a Lumpectomy. However, after the surgery the doctors proposed to proceed and schedule a mastectomy as the tumor was bigger than anticipated. In preparation for the mastectomy, Meta underwent another 4 weeks of tests, scans and biopsies, and unfortunately was diagnosed with peritoneal ovarian cancer. She immediately got scheduled for surgery and underwent a hysterectomy on October 25th. Everything went well, the surgeon was happy and very optimistic.

3 weeks after her hysterectomy Meta started her first chemotherapy which was scheduled to take place every Wednesday for the next 4 1/2 months. She had her 2nd chemotherapy on Wednesday, Nov. 20th.

On Saturday morning, November 23rd, Meta started experiencing the expected symptoms and side effects of chemotherapy. Monday morning however, her symptoms got drastically worse and I brought her to the Emergency Room at Kaiser Permanente. The ER doctors agreed it would be best for her to stay until the symptoms would lessen. Tuesday morning Debbie, my sister-in-law and I arrived in the late morning. Meta's condition was worse, and her health seemed to drastically decline. Debbie and I kept on demanding for doctors to see her and were frustrated with the lack of sense of urgency by the hospital staff at Kaiser. Overall, the staff seemed to be more concerned about rules, policies and acquiring internal approval processes versus getting Meta the immediate attention and treatment she needed.

The assigned doctor finally arrived after 2pm on Tuesday, Nov. 26th, and recognized the urgency of the situation and promised to immediately submit for the necessary actions. A few minutes after the doctor left, Meta said to me that she had trouble breathing. I ran out and called on the nurses...and ran back in....Meta fell into a cardiac arrest (so we were told)...and did not survive. She died in front of my eyes. Only 67 years old, Meta was proclaimed dead at 2.27pm on November 26th...which also happens to be Mark and my 16th Anniversary.

The Memorial for Meta took place in a private setting on Saturday, December 7th, 2013, attended by her closest friends and family. It was a tragic, sudden and deep loss for everyone.

Fundraiser for the  BRCA1 & 2 Gene Mutation
You may recall Angelina Jolie making headlines earlier in 2013 with her decision to get a preventive double mastectomy given that she got diagnosed to be a BRCA carrier. When I first heard about her mastectomy, I brushed it off as another one of those desperate celebrity actions probably seeking attention.

It wasn't until after Meta got diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer that she agreed to take a genetic test to check for the BRCA gene mutation associated with breast and ovarian cancers. Meta too tested positive. That's when we all learned that this gene mutation is prevalent in the Ashkenazi Jewish Community (descendants from Eastern and Central Europe), and unfortunately is hereditary. Meta's mom too passed at the age of 67 due to ovarian cancer.

After Meta's passing I established a fundraiser for multiple reasons:

  1. In memory of Meta Buchheim
  2. To raise awareness
  3. To raise funds for the research on BRCA1 and 2 Gene mutation associated cancers
  4. Access to genetic testing - not everyone's insurance grants approval for genetic testing as Myriad Genetics had the exclusive rights to all testing and research on BRCA Genes...Shall we call it a monopoly? In June 2013 the Supreme Court did rule in favor of the Breast Cancer Action Organization.

For details and to support the cause please visit the fundraiser below. Our entire family would kindly appreciate your contribution to the Pennsylvania Medical University. Every dollar counts:

Becoming a caretaker
Meta had a Life partner named Bill, an eloquent and diplomatic gentlemen from England who came to the United States after WWII. They met in 1995. For the last 5 years they lived together. Meta became Bill's caretaker as he is 23 years older, meaning he is currently at the ripe age of 90.

Bill has no kids, family or relatives here in the United States, and absolutely no assets or savings, hence Mark and I became Bill's full-time caretaker after Meta's passing. Even though Bill is the most appreciative and positive natured man I've ever met, I can't say this wasn't challenging. It had its effects on me, physically and emotionally. I had to stop my work, cancel the course I was teaching and put a hold on my daily routine. It was tough but I knew this was temporary, and I asked myself how can I make this a mindful experience for both of us? How can I be present with each of the tasks and responsibilities arising?

Faced with this new challenge as a caretaker, I also found myself exploring the world of Social Services, Medical, Medicaire, driving Bill to his physician appointments and exploring potential Veteran Benefits - Bill served 4 years in the Royal Airforce during WWII. At the end, I didn't learn that much. There are endless senior services available and it's all so confusing. Most of the them are private and will eat up "most of your savings". If you are on a tight budget (which most seniors are) you can opt for a nursing or convalescent home, which are the last resort anyone would ever willingly go to.

Bill did not qualify for any additional benefits or services. As for the Assisted Living Facility, we eventually decided to go with one that is very close to our home, the amenities are nice, the staff is friendly, and my negotiation skills got Bill a new home that worked within the limits of his Social Security income (how can anyone survive on that!). In England we requested to receive his military records, still hoping that he might qualify for further benefits. In the meantime, we are helping him to make ends meet. It was certainly a big change for Bill, but he is doing okay. Given that he is super social and has a PH.D. in Psychology, he already has a flock of ladies going after him for his likable personality and his stimulating mind. But I know deep down he is grieving the loss of Meta, and coming to grips with facing "his final chapter", as he puts it.

The Future of our Seniors
Seeing the need of our seniors and elderlies through the experience I'm having with Bill, I'm playing around with a few ideas for community initiatives. I already started talking to a few key players in our neighborhood. Stay tuned for more details in 2014.

Entering 2014
2013 has been full of dualities! It has been one of my most fulfilling years and I especially enjoyed co-producing the MERGE!MOVE! and FORGE! Women's Empowerment Conferences with Jose Caballer, CEO of The Skool. 2013 has also been a deep and profound experience as I just shared with you. However, I believe the key to Life lies in how we respond to the complexities and the difficulties when they arise.

Starting in the New Year, I will be offering a new set of courses where I will share with you systematic ways, techniques, practices and principles that you can learn and develop. This is for people who want to free themselves from restricting mindsets and learn how to stay calm and anchored regardless the circumstances.

For now I'm wishing you all a very happy and amazing 2014! Let's continue the collaboration, making a difference one step at a time for one another!
- Tatjana

P.S. The next Skool MeetUp for Women is taking place on Tuesday, January 28th, from 7.30. - 9.30pm. This is a group of women supporting women in redefining our lives and careers while reshaping our culture and society! RSVP here.

Tatjana Luethi 
Designer, Coach, Host, Producer

My Blog: Redefining Leadership - A Woman's Contribution and Expression
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