Monday, December 6, 2021

Truth is stranger than fiction, so too is life’s circle

full circle

I don’t know if this little story’s “bona fidis” qualify it as authentically blue-line “Adirondack.” I guess I’ll leave it to others to decide that. What I do know is this. Regardless of geography, truth is quite frequently stranger than fiction. Each day in life’s circle re-proves that.

At this point it should surprise no one to know that my father, Tom Monroe, spent his career in the NYSDEC. I have frequently referenced this rise through the ranks while writing my numerous Adirondack adventures and stories. From 1974 until 1994, when he finally retired, he served as Region V’s Regional Director. As a result, my brother and I were raised within and by our dad’s DEC family.

Life moved on. I grew up, went away to college, served time the army. My father retired. My DEC roots faded from view.  My wife Robin and I met, married and settled in Watertown.  We bought a house there, settled down, went to work raising our three children.

In August 2008, I was diagnosed with cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue. It was life threatening. My oncologist at the time was a local Watertown doctor, Dr. Poggi. He had a friendly, engaged, straight forward manner about him. I trusted him immediately, and put my life in his hands.

He did all the exams, scheduled and ran all the tests, read all the MRI’s, X-rays, and studies, then gave us our options; an effort to eradicate the tumor via chemo/radiation, or life altering “salvage surgery.” I chose the former. Dr Poggi was in charge. He set up and regularly monitored my treatments.

Three rounds of intense weeklong November/December chemo, followed by a month- long Jan/Feb combined chemo/radiation blast, with my head bolted to a table three days a week, in a mask.

By early- February, my treatments were done. It appeared, at the time, that we had experienced success.  However, I would continue seeing Dr. Poggi regularly as he monitored my recovery progress.

I saw him frequently in his offices over the next few months. We chatted during our visits a bit, got to know each other. As it turned out, we shared numerous passions. I enjoyed hunting. He collected guns. More importantly than that, we both collected baseball cards.

I began bringing some of my vintage cards in during my visits. At one point, we traded. I gave Dr. Poggi several 1951 TOPPS Red Backs, and a 1911 Mecca cigarettes Double Folder tobacco card. In return, he gave me a 1953 TOPPS Jackie Robinson.

antique baseball card

A 1911 Mecca Double Folder Cigarette card similar to the one traded to Dr. Poggi.

Unfortunately, by mid-April, the bad news was clear.  My cancer had returned. A second round of chemo/radiation was not an option. High risk, life altering, radical surgery was my only option. I felt backed into a corner. I was not initially mentally prepared to make that choice.

I shall never forget Dr. Poggi’s words at that point.  “Then there is nothing more I can do. It’s now time to call hospice.”

     I took some days to look deep within myself and reflect. My wife and I had three children at home. I knew in my heart that my young family still needed me.

Long story short- I took a deep breath and chose life. Dr. Poggi referred me to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for the surgery.

We were there nearly a month, my wife by my bed the whole time. We were fighting long odds, but apparently God was on our side. We survived.

By the time my wife brought me home from Sloan-Kettering, it was August. Dr. Poggi picked up again where he had left off, following my post-surgery recovery and treatment as my local oncologist.

I continued office visits. We talked baseball cards and continued as friends. As my strength improved, the frequency of those office visits diminished. Over the course of the next several years, I saw more of his nurse practitioner during office visits, and him less.

baseball card

The 1953 TOPPS Jackie Robinson card traded to me by Dr.Poggi.

One day during a visit, Dr. Poggi came in. He had some news of his own to share with me. He was retiring. I congratulated him, and thanked him for all he had done. I owed him my life. I was grateful.

He gave me his card, and his cell number. He said “Give me a call sometime. Maybe we can get together again and trade baseball cards.”   

Some time passed. I still went to the office for check-ups and what had become routine visits. I’d see his nurse practitioner each time there. I always asked her “How’s Dr. Poggi doing?”

She’d always respond “Pog? (She called him that. I never did.) He’s fine. I think he’s bored though. You should give him a call.”

One day, when I was having another friend over to my house trade baseball cards, I decided to do just that. I pulled out Dr. Poggi’s card, and called him.

Somewhat to my surprise, he seemed glad to hear from me. He accepted my offer, and we got together, sitting around my dining room table like three grey beard kids, swapping baseball recollections, stories and cards.

Somewhere during that visit, I don’t quite recall how, my father came up and I mentioned his DEC career and that he had been Regional Director.

Dr. Poggi paused for a moment, and then responded with something like; “Hmmm…That’s an interesting coincidence.”

I then discovered that Dr. Poggi’s Son In law was none other than DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. It turns out I had been in the care of my dad’s DEC family all along.

Truth is stranger than fiction. So to0 is life’s circle.

tom monroe statue

 

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Lifelong NYS resident. Raised in Saranac Lake. Cornell graduate(ROTC). Army veteran, Airborne/Ranger qualified, 10th Mtn Div, stints in Honduras and with JTF VI. 3rd degree Black Belt; 3x cancer survivor; published writer with several featured stories in Adirondack Life Magazine. Residing in Watertown NY with wife Robin & our 3 adult children. Loving Life. Living in the Day I am in. Follow my adventures at https://adirondackoutlaw.com/




12 Responses

  1. Westernedge says:

    JUST WONDERFUL, STORY AND WRITING! AND SO INSPIRING! 🙂
    THANK YOU!

  2. John S says:

    Thanks for sharing this amazing story . We never know what live will throw at us . Excellent your doing good .

  3. Richard George says:

    Refreshing to read a heart felt story. One without politics or BS, Thank you,

  4. Mac says:

    Great story hits home. Dad DEC , me DEC, wife saved by Dr.Poggi. He then retired. thank you for sharing .

    • Richard Monroe says:

      Thank you, Mac. I am glad to hear of your wife’s parallel story. Dr. Poggi touched so many north country lives. An unsung hero.

  5. Rob Bick says:

    Great story, great ending.

    Lost my wife 3 years ago today, ironically, with her second bought of cancer at 55. I get the struggle your family went through. It is heart pounding, gut wrenching, teeth gritting stuff. That is just the physical part.

    It is soul warming to read a success story that weaves in a bit of historic fabric. My best to you and your family. I know you all now have a new appreciation for every single second on this earth as well as a higher level of compassion or your fellow man. We never know what the person in front of us at the grocery store may be going through at that specific time, on that specific day. Nodding and smiling with patience should always rule the day.

    • Richard Monroe says:

      Rob, my sincerest condolences on the loss of your wife. Your words are so true. No one ever really “beats” cancer. At best it’s a draw. Yesterday is a day we’ve earned. Today is the day we’ve been given. There’s no guarantee of tomorrow.
      I awake each day, mark yesterday off the calendar, and say my daily prayer: “Thank you Lord, for yesterday, today, and each and every day of life. Amen.” God Bless.

  6. Mark says:

    Great story, Richard. Having practiced dentistry for 40 years I completely understand the significance of your disease and recovery. You and your family are very fortunate and blessed.

    I know the exact spot where that picture was taken. Sat there many a time, drinking a beer, and thinking back on the day fishing.

    173rd Airborne Brigade
    Mark

    • Richard Monroe says:

      Thank you, Mark. My family & I have sat in that lean-to and watched a bear staring down at us from that spot. He enjoyed drinking beer too. Namely ours. Maybe at some point we’ll run into each other up there. I hear the fishing can sometimes be pretty good.

  7. Jackie Woodcock says:

    What a touching story! Got me in the heart! God Bless!

  8. Miah says:

    Wow! Glad you’re doing well and loved this awesome and positive story, especially the ending! Awesome story! Thanks for sharing! DEC was one of the best agencies for finding such connections and that family spirit!

  9. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Truth is stranger than fiction. So to0 is life’s circle”

    Oh yes it is and yes what a very good story to read. There are no mistakes Richard. We are here to learn! We’re all students & we’re all educators too. Thank you for sharing.

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