Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Eulogy for Robert

Hardip asked me to say a few words about Robert at the memorial service today. Here are my notes.

It is my great honor to pay tribute and share what I learned about life from my friend Robert and specifically his heroic 5-year battle with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia or CLL.

And although I am addressing my words to all his family and friends today, I am speaking mostly to his beloved children in the future so through the magic of the video recording, when they are bit older they can understand a little more about their dad and see a side of him that I was lucky enough to get to know.

I met Robert when we were among the earliest members of an Orange County support group for CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) in early 2007. It is a club that no one wants to join, and so we rallied around to help each other and Robert gave so much.

We are also close because we were both diagnosed within a few weeks of each other 5 years ago in 2005. For Robert he has hit with this supposedly old man’s disease in the prime of his life. What could be for some a slowly progressing blood cancer, in his case mutated into an aggressive stubborn disease that took whatever was thrown at it and just kept growing. He tried increasingly nasty chemotherapy combinations, with all their terrible toxicities but they only bought the briefest respite. He was the researchers’ willing guinea pig in the hope that the clinical trial treatments might benefit himself right away and others in the future, but the experimental drugs didn’t touch his disease. Finally he pushed for the most extreme of all cancer therapy, a dangerous bone marrow transplant done in June of 2010 that pretty much guaranteed a long hospital stay in strict isolation, multiple transfusions and infusions, constant 24 hour a day poking and prodding, miserable side effects, and even that didn’t stop Robert, but sadly it didn’t stop the cancer either. The CLL just kept coming back, meaner than ever, with more pain and swelling and fatigue and particularly difficult stomach issues.

This man so loved life and so loved his wife and children that he was willing to go through such misery for a chance, no matter how small to spend more years with his family. This is bravery. This is what a hero does.

But for Robert, this was just the beginning.

I never heard any self-pity or any angry questioning of the unfairness of it all. No: WHY ME? I just heard hope and determination.

He used his remarkable intelligence to search out the best doctors and best options for his cancer all over the cancer, bringing back answers for himself and others in our support group.

No matter how beat up he was, he was always there to help other group members with a kind word, a thoughtful gesture, a smile, a laugh, a humorous anecdote, and a helpful tip, be it on cancer or car repair. He personally helped me with buying tires on line, changing light bubs in a 2-story stairwell, and deciding on a hospital for my bone marrow transplant.

But if there was a school event or any activity, no matter how routine, with one of the children or Hardip, the leukemia treatments and support groups could wait. Family always came first. I remember being fully gowned and masked to visit him at City of Hope Hospital post transplant. He didn’t look or feel that great, but what did he complain about? Yes, the hospital food, but mostly about not being home with his family.

What was most amazing was his constantly upbeat attitude. I have the same cancer as Robert and when I get a bad lab or x-ray result it can be hard for me to lift my chin off the ground for weeks. Robert would get slammed with the cancer, then slammed with the chemo, then slammed with the cancer again over and over again, and he just keep going with the absolutely certainty that he would win this battle. He was not naive; he was just tough as a tank and as full of faith as the Vatican on Easter Sunday.

So convincing was his optimism, so unshakeable was his belief in his own ability to beat the long odds, we all, the family, the other CLL patients, the professionals caring for him, who all really knew what a vicious enemy he was fighting, each of us was in shock when he heard the news of his passing.

It speaks volumes about how infectious his positive attitude was that we all, even knowing that his situation was critical and that his odds were terrible, we all believed he would be the one to fashion the miracle and live.

We can’t change the cards we are dealt, only how we play them. Robert played his lousy hand with astonishing strength and love and courage.

So family, and here I am speaking mostly to you children whom he loved so much and around whom he planned all his treatment. Your dad was a brave man. Your dad had a big heart. Your dad taught his doctors and nurses, and me and others with cancer or any big scary challenge, that there is always hope and that every moment of life is precious. Your dad taught me it is how you live your life you have that matters. In that lovely video of Robert played today, I think I saw Amerdeep (his oldest child) wearing a T-shirt saying “My Dad is my hero”. Your dad is my hero too.



Blogger Terry and Linda Lee said...

Your words were inspiring. I'm sure when each child is old enough he/she will cherish the words of their dad's friend and co-fighter of his particular aggressive CLL. Your words will provide them with vital information about him. You did a fine thing!

I think you are a hero, too. I consider all people with CLL and other serious, scary conditions as heroes when they fight for life.
Linda Lee

January 2, 2011 at 2:55 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Beautiful, inspiring and important words, most especially for the children.


January 2, 2011 at 6:32 PM  
Blogger Dragon Slayer said...

Your words at the service were powerful and moving. I realize it must of been difficult for you to say those words knowing the journey you have been on. You were always there for Robert and I know that meant a lot to both Robert and Hardip. You're a hero to Robert. I'm sure of that as you are to so many of us with this disease. I'm honored to call you my friend.

January 3, 2011 at 8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful tribute. For cancer to take a person in the prime of his life...

January 5, 2011 at 8:13 AM  
Blogger Hardip P said...


It was a beautiful eulogy for Robert. Both the kids and I thank you for your kind words and lovely tribute to my husband. Both the older two kids commented that they learned something new about Daddy - they didn't know that Daddy never complained. :)

Robert is my husband, best friend, father of my children, soul mate and confidante and I am going to miss him beyond words. I am also going to continue to hold him and all my memories close to my heart and share him with our children and friends everyday.

He is my hero too. As are you.

Thank you for all your support, Brian.

Hardip Passananti

January 5, 2011 at 3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


What an amazing, beautiful tribute. You are all special heros. It is hard to understand the complexity of what the body and certainly the mind endures. I can say this as my husband Paul and I just found out that the double edged sword...SCT...will be upon us this June. All I can say is that we currently are living as large as we possibly can...counting down the days when we are faced, initially with having to tell our 11 year old daughter, and then the procedure itself.

Your tribute is all inspiring...what a wonderful treasure you have left his family!!

Sally Tomko

February 6, 2011 at 12:12 PM  
Anonymous Mary Ellena said...

Dear Dr. Koffman, what an eloquent eulogy you delivered. Human connection is what it's all about and you REALLY get it and, for that, I deem you AMAZING... Very fondly, Mary Ellena

February 16, 2011 at 2:31 PM  

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