Jeff Benedict: Adage is true — everyone needs somebody to love

Published: Sunday, Sept. 9 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

I'm running to Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love." I'm in San Francisco. Blue sky. Setting sun. Only the peaks of the Golden Gate Bridge are visible as the fog rolls in. Surreal.

Earlier, I spoke to about 2,000 Mormon college students at a conference in Oakland. They attend Stanford, Berkeley and a slew of Bay Area schools. Smart, hip and driven, they are aspiring musicians, journalists, lawyers, filmmakers, doctors, fashion designers and entrepreneurs. They applauded me. But I bow to them. If Mitt Romney ever figured out how to marshal their talents, this sonic youth movement could rock the vote.

But now I'm alone on the edge of San Francisco Bay, taking in this place before I catch a flight to New York. A pretty woman walked past, her head nestled in a guy's shoulder, like in the movies, a breeze whipping her hair into his face. Lucky guy.

San Francisco just puts you in the mood for love. But my love isn't here. Lydia spent last week in Utah, visiting her 44-year-old brother, Doug. He's a leukemia patient at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City. It's a state-of-the-art treatment facility, thanks to the generosity and vision of billionaire Jon Huntsman Sr. He used some of the fortune he made in chemicals to create Four Seasons care for very sick people.

My brother-in-law lives near the Navajo Indian Reservation in New Mexico. When he was diagnosed with advanced stage leukemia back in June, I wanted him transferred to Huntsman.

I have a friend (he wouldn't want his name revealed) who is one of Jon Huntsman's business partners. I emailed him. It was a Saturday and he's the kind of guy who could be anywhere in the world on any given day. Sometimes when I email him, I don't hear from him for days or longer.

Within an hour, I got a reply. He had already called a senior administrator at Huntsman.

By afternoon, that administrator contacted me. Then my wife and I got a call at home from Dr. Michael Deininger, chief of the Hematology and Hematologic Malignancies Division at Huntsman. He said he would personally oversee Doug's care.

I'm not making this up. Deininger earned his Ph.D. in leukemia biology at the Imperial College in London and trained in Internal Medicine and Bone Marrow Transplantation at Nuremberg General Hospital. He has extensive experience treating patients with acute and chronic leukemias, patients like my brother-in-law.

Team Huntsman arranged an airlift for Doug from Albuquerque to the cancer institute. Shortly after his arrival, my wife got an email from Doug's nurse at Huntsman, Mary Lowe. She wanted to know Doug's favorite dessert.

The next day, Doug received a homemade cheesecake with fresh strawberries. Mary made it herself in her off-time.

"It's not just drugs and chemo," Deininger told me. "It's people taking care of people. The psyche-social support is big."

Doug is bald now. He gets winded so easily. His immune system is on par with a newborn. He cries easily. But he wants to live.

Deininger also told me that family plays a critical role in the success of cancer patients. That's why Lydia spent last week in Utah.

She cooked him salmon and fresh vegetables, talked late into the night, took him for walks in the sunlight and drove him to daily hospital appointments.

With Lydia away, I averaged four hours of sleep a night. I spent my days doing what she usually does — maintaining our gardens, taking kids swimming, cooking meals with vegetables I picked, brushing tangles out of my daughter's hair and keeping house.

At night, I did what I usually do — writing, reporting and transcribing interviews.

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