Whenever Meredith Goldstein walks by Massachusetts General Hospital she remembers the little moments that made a big difference in the care her mother received while being treated for cancer.
“Part of the reason why she chose Mass General is she was comfortable there, with all of the doctors and nurses she met,” Meredith recalls.
Meredith, her sister, Brette Goldstein, and their mother, Leslie Goldstein, always placed a premium on interacting with others, and they were delighted the staffers of the Mass General Cancer Center responded in kind. Meredith learned just how close her mother had become to hospital caregivers as she wrote her memoir, “Can’t Help Myself.”
Part examination of the correspondence Meredith receives from readers of her Boston Globe “Love Letters” advice column and part exploration of her own life, the recently published book recounts Leslie’s battle with stage IV colorectal cancer and the infection that caused her death in 2013. Leslie was 65 when she died.
While writing “Can’t Help Myself,” Meredith reached out to the nurse practitioners who had cared for Leslie. She learned they could still recall Leslie’s favorite movies and music. Another nurse practitioner, Rhaea Photopoulos, MS, MSN, ANP-BC, knew exactly where Leslie wanted to vacation. “She said, ‘Your mom wanted to take a vacation in France and sent me the name of the resort,’ ” Meredith recalls. “It is a dream spot, and unaffordable in every way. I could imagine my mom Googling that destination.”
Choosing Mass General
Leslie was a longtime piano teacher in Maryland, where she raised Meredith and Brette after divorcing her husband.
Leslie continued to teach after learning she had NRAS-mutated colorectal cancer, a rare form of the disease. “She didn’t tell her students she was sick,” Meredith says. “She wanted to protect them.”
Ultimately, Leslie moved to Boston to live near Meredith. She selected Mass General to administer her cancer treatment because of the hospital’s reputation for excellence but also because of the locale.
“Part of the reason why she chose Mass General is she was comfortable there, with all of the doctors and nurses she met,” Meredith recalls. “But some of it was silly reasons, like Mass General being down the street from Beacon Hill Chocolates and near Scampo (an Italian restaurant).
“As devastating as the reason why she had to go to Mass General was, she enjoyed being there and in the neighborhood. She’d walk down Charles Street even if she was spending no money. She was falling in love with Boston and getting to know it.”
Building New Relationships
Meredith, 40, lives in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. She enjoyed being close to her mother, who had found a condominium in a renovated piano factory in the South End of Boston. It was spacious enough to fit her Steinway. Despite chemotherapy and occasional complications, Leslie showed few signs that she had stage IV cancer, Meredith says. In fact, a few weeks before she died, Leslie and Meredith went to see the play “The Book of Mormon.”
As Meredith details in “Can’t Help Myself,” Leslie “seemed really happy and said Boston officially felt like home.” But a week after the play, she fell ill and was admitted to Mass General. She died of an infection, which, because of the manner in which Leslie fought cancer, came as a shock to the family. “Of all the people to get a cancer diagnosis, her body was equipped for it,” Meredith says. “She was really strong. She was still moving around.”
Leslie’s oncologist, Jeffrey William Clark, MD, and other caregivers were constantly rewriting her treatment plan, Meredith recalls, but they did so with deliberation and understanding, another sign that her mother chose the right hospital. “The fact that my mother’s oncologist was at her memorial service said a lot,” she says.
It is Dr. Clark; Emily Olson, RN, NP; and other Mass General staffers who Meredith thinks about whenever she’s near the hospital. “I do not miss having the fear of illness around us,” she says. “When I walk by that building, I do not feel sadness. I wonder how Emily is doing. I wonder how the others are doing.”
Meredith will discuss “Can’t Help Myself” and sign copies of the book at the annual The Friends of the Mass General Cancer Center Spring Luncheon, at Four Seasons Hotel in Boston, on Friday, April 27, 2018. The Friends are volunteers who raise funds to bridge medical and supportive cancer care through innovative programs that promote whole-person healing. Please visit the event web site for more information and to buy tickets.
“Speaking in that room will be a great honor,” Meredith says.
For more information about the Mass General cancer care and the services supported by the Friends of the Mass General Cancer Center, please contact us.