NATIONAL CANCER SURVIVOR’S DAY: “Field of Hopes and Dreams.”

City of Hope Cancer Center, Duarte, Calif., June 5, 2005

Transcription of Steve Rom’s “teamwork” speech …

Linda Baginski, event coordinator : Our next MVP (Most Valuable Patient), Steve Rom, is a sportswriter as well as a bone marrow transplant survivor. He is also writing a book about his experiences overcoming leukemia with his best friend, Rod Payne, a former NFL player and Super Bowl champion, who was with Steve during his illness. They have an inspirational Web site up at www.centeredbyamiracle.com, so check that out.

Steve recently was introduced to another vital member his team, his bone marrow donor, Annette Lechler, who flew in from Germany for last April’s born marrow transplant reunion celebration. Let’s welcome Steve and hear his unique story.

Steve : First of all, I’d like to acknowledge all of you here today. Everyone here is a champion. You don’t need a trophy (“MVP” trophies were placed on each table, given to the oldest survivor) to tell you that. So if you’re here, alive, and willing to take on any challenge that arises, give yourselves a hand.

Thank you Linda for giving me an opportunity to share my story here today and connect with all of these people. I am so happy to speak today considering the theme of this event.

Teamwork. TEAMWORK. No other word best describes my experience here at City of Hope three years ago, when I had a bone marrow transplant to rid me of ALL leukemia, than teamwork.

To give you a little background, I’m a 32-year-old, two-time cancer survivor, a native of Los Angeles. I had a tumor removed from my spine when I was nine years old. Doctors say my cancers are unrelated, and I tend to believe them considering how arbitrary this epidemic of cancer is.

Twenty years later I found myself in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I had recently graduated from the University of Michigan, working as a sports reporter. I was fortunate enough to meet a lot of amazing people. One of them, whom I met in early summer of 2001, had just won the Super Bowl as a member of the Baltimore Ravens. He was also a former MVP and co-captain of the Michigan football team his senior year in 1996.

We were odd friends. Not because I was roughly half his size and a different race, but because I was a reporter. Reporters and athletes don’t normally get along. They’re like Democrats and Republics, cats and dogs, there’s certainly a divide there. Still, Rod and I got along like long-lost friends. We were individuals, and did what we felt was right, and didn’t care what our friends or coworkers or the rest of society said.

Now I had never been an athlete, yet I thought I knew about sports. Why? Because I had the almighty pen, I had a press pass to hide behind; I was, as a result, all knowing. But in reality I didn’t know a thing about sports. I quickly realized this after talking with Rod.

Rod taught me that football, for example, is not about scoring touchdowns, signing huge contracts, and getting the glory. It’s about camaraderie, dedication, devoting every ounce of your being to accomplishing a mission … as part of a TEAM.

Mostly, it’s about humbling yourself, about allowing for the fact that you can’t achieve great things on your own. It’s about letting go of that pride, that you don’t need anyone in your life to help you.

If you don’t do this, then you’ll be no better than those Theodore Roosevelt describes in his poem named “The Critic.” In it, he refers to those who watch life from the sidelines, who sit in the stands and judge those on the field as “those poor and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

I knew neither victory nor defeat, because I had never been part of a real team

Fortunately, that all changed for me on the day after Christmas 2001, six months after I met Rod.

During a routine vacation back to L.A., three straight days of severe flu-like symptoms drove me to the hospital, where, after giving a sample of my blood, I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a fast-moving and potentially deadly blood disease.

The first thing I learned at that alarming point was that Rod wasn’t just talking those previous six months. In fact, he showed me what he was preaching when he left his LIFE to fly to L.A. and stay with me in the hospital -- to rally me back to health.

As I was lying in bed hooked up to tubes, Rod showed up in my hospital room, dropped his NFL-issued duffel bag on the floor and said, “OK, let’s knock this out! Let’s do this!”

He set his Super Bowl ring on my nightstand, right next to my Kleenex box, and taught me all the lessons he learned playing football all of those years: lessons of teamwork, overcoming adversity, adhering to a game plan, and, ultimately, winning.

As much as having Rod there bolstered me, it was dejecting to know that the concept of teamwork was not being adhered to all around us.

I was at a university research hospital at the time, and the so-called “team” of doctors, the oncologist, resident, intern, fellow, they dropped the ball -- big time!

First, they never communicated with each other, which is the first thing you can do to screw up a good team. Next, they failed to diagnose complications in my treatment to get me into remission, including a blood clot in my arm where my pic line was. It could have killed me, according to my mom, who is a nurse and had to diagnose the problem herself. Lastly, they never treated me like a true teammate. They just treated me like a name and a disease on a clipboard.

By month’s end of my stay there, I was at wit’s end. I learned I needed to have a bone marrow transplant, a risky procedure to kill the diseased blood cells in my body. One thing I knew is that I couldn’t have it there.

I was beginning to loose faith. I still had Rod there with me, but you need more than just one person to win a championship. Suddenly, things turned around for me.

They turned around in a phone call to the City of Hope.

From my hospital bed, I found myself speaking with Dr. Stephen Foreman, the director of oncology here. I felt this was my last opportunity to state my case, to sell myself, that I was worthy of living.

I said, “Dr. Foreman, I’m a winner. I have goals and things I want to achieve. And all these people around me are losers. And I think they’re going to kill me. I know you guys are winners. You’re the leading institute in what you do. I want to team up with you. If you take me on as part of your team, I guarantee you I’ll represent the attitude of success that you represent.”

I didn’t know what would come after that conversation. Would it go on deaf ears? But Dr. Foreman just said, “Steve, don’t worry. We’re going to get you out of there. I’ll have my secretary call you within a half hour.”

Sure enough, fifteen minutes later, the phone rang. And I was gone. I was traded from the worst team in the league to the best team.

Two days later, I was in an examining room at City of Hope waiting to meet my new doctor. As happy as I was to be there, I was still dejected thinking that all doctors in this field are like the ones I had just encountered at the university research hospital.

Then Dr. (David) Snyder walked in.

He was holding my phonebook-thick medical chart. He looked at it, then at me, and said, “Oh, I see you’re a sportswriter.”

I asked myself, Where is this going? He’s not talking about my disease. He’s not talking about my percentage of survival. I said, “Yeah. So?”

He said: “Well, I’m from Boston. I like the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Celtics, the Bruins of hockey.”

For the next fifteen minutes we talked sports, and I was no longer a cancer patient. I was back doing what I love, talking and thinking about what I love. “By the way,” Dr. Snyder said, “we’ll find you a donor, you’ll have your transplant, and you’ll be back to work in no time.”

When Dr. Snyder said that, he put me on his back. He said, Steve, hang on. I’ll carry you to the end zone. Let’s just ride it out.

It was like a coach coming into the locker room at halftime after his team was just beat down in the first half. And the coach says, “Hey, pick your heads up! I don’t care what happened out there. We’re still going to win this game. We’re going to do exactly what we worked on in practice, we’re going to bond as a team, and we’re going to go out there and achieve victory. And I don’t care who the opponent is!”

Dr. Snyder was right. Because five months later I went back to Michigan and the life cancer tried to take away from me.

I learned a lot of amazing things during this most recent cancer. Mostly I learned that I am not alone in life. There are great people around me.

I had Rod, a mountain of a man -- physically, professionally, and spiritually -- as my team captain. I had Dr. Snyder as my coach. And I had all of the nurses, administrators, and patients here at City of Hope as my teammates. And there was no way I was going down.

But I also want to acknowledge an unsung hero of my team. Every championship team has one, but they’re not the ones who want all the attention. They just want to be part of things.

My unsung hero is my mom. So mom, stop snapping pictures over there and listen up.

What she did for me, not only during the whole process of my illness but especially in the initial throes of my illness, is beyond words. One thing I can point out that I found most poignant is this: She woke up at 2:30 in the morning, went into work and worked all night long, so that she could be at the hospital in the morning and stay with me all day.

I sat back and watcher her do this, and, I have to say … it was the most awe-inspiring … example of … love, and teamwork, that I had ever seen. It was something … those poor and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat could ever experience.

So I just want to say that I am very fortunate to be here today. God bless. And let’s all stand up and achieve victory.

Thank you very much.


Lunch pick-up begins at 11 a.m-1 p.m. Several food stands are located on the west side of festival. You will need a ticket for lunch. Hot dog stand will not require a ticket. Outdoor on-stage program begins at approx.12:00 p.m. Raffle tickets on sale from 10a.m.-noon. Winners announced during program.

Open…………………………Event Chair-Linda Baginski

Flag Ceremony………………………Sagebrush Service: Unit, Troop 444                                      

National Anthem……………………Sandee Zschomler

Invocation………………………………Rev. Ron Beams

Welcome…………………………Michael Friedman, MD: President & CEO           

Staff Speaker…………………………Cindy Smith-Idell: RN, MSN, AOCN

Dance Performance Team………………Dance Impact

Survivor Speaker……………………… Elizabeth Hirschi

Raffle Winners Announced…………Jeanne Lawrence

Chorale Group……………Celebration of Life Singers

Survivor Speaker……………………………Steve Rom

Survivor Recognition Ceremony

Medallions presented by our City of Hope Doctors and Nurses:

Dr. Michael Friedman, Juliet Sanchez, RN,

Dr. Lawrence Wagman, Karen McCurdy, RN,

Dr. David Snyder, Cindy Smith-Idell, RN,

Dr. Mariana Kocyzwas, Marilyn Rhodes, RN