Name: David Elmblad
L’Anse High School class of 1978
Michigan Technological University, graduated in 1983 with a degree in Medical Technology
Career: I worked in the laboratory at Kenosha Hospital and Medical Center and Joint Venture Laboratory as a Medical Technologist from 1983 to 1989.I then worked as the Chemistry Coordinator in the laboratory at Kenosha Hospital and Medical Center from 1989 to 1996. After that, I worked in various customer support roles for Abbott Laboratories from 1996 to 2016. I retired from Abbott Laboratories in 2016 after 20 years of dedicated service. I then moved back to working in the laboratory for United Hospital System at St. Catherine’s Laboratory.
Interesting Fact: I have traveled throughout the United States over the past 10 years from the west coast to the east coast and from Minnesota to Florida servicing and supporting several major blood banks. I also traveled to Okinawa, Japan and Toronto, Canada during this timeframe as well in support of the blood banks at the US Naval Base Hospital and the Canadian Red Cross.
How were you impacted by cancer? My wife of 28 years, Susan Elmblad, was diagnosed with angiosarcoma cancer at the beginning of September 2014. This form of cancer is extremely rare. Sarcomas make up a small percentage of all types of cancer, and angiosarcoma makes up only 1% of all sarcomas. It develops in the cell walls of the blood vessels. Malignant cells are then released directly onto the bloodstream and carried to the spleen and liver where metastasis and immediate progression to stage IV takes place. Therefore, most cases are detected once metastasis has occurred in the spleen and liver. Very little research has been performed in the treatment of this form of cancer.
I fully remember the day that my wife was diagnosed with cancer. It was the day after Labor Day in September 2014. The Friday prior to Labor Day weekend, she had a biopsy taken from one of several lesions, and the results of the biopsy would not be ready until the following week. The remainder of that weekend was spent celebrating a wedding of the son of close friends which basically helped to keep our minds off of the impending results of the biopsy. On Labor Day, I had to travel to a Blood Bank in Dayton, Ohio to perform maintenance on a couple of instruments. I was eating dinner back at my hotel room when I received the phone call from Sue regarding the biopsy results coming up as malignant. I was in no shape to drive 7-8 hours being late in the day and after hearing the news I was dreading. So I tried to get some sleep, but could only muster maybe 2-3 hours of continuous sleep. I finally gave up and started heading home at around 3 am arriving around 10 am to be with my wife. It was the longest 7 hour drive I had ever taken and needless to say, I teared up several times a long the way.
It was a few days later at Froedert in Milwaukee when the definitive diagnosis was relayed to my wife, my daughter, Erika, and myself. The doctor came into the room and first words that came from his mouth after introductions were, “I am so very sorry to inform you that it’s angiosarcoma in stage IV.” The look on his face said it all that prognosis was bad even before he said that not much research has been performed in the treatment of this form of cancer. He even mentioned that most patients are simply kept comfortable under hospice care when this type of cancer has advanced to stage IV. However, our decision was to fight with every treatment available approved or experimental.
How did you cope? I don’t know how I would have coped without the support of my close friends. Several of these friends have had lost love ones to cancer and had thus had gone through the same fight. Their support and advice was extremely helpful in my role as the primary caregiver. I don’t know how I would have coped without the assistance from my daughters from watching the house while I was at the hospital, taking care of the dogs, and spending a couple of nights here and there at the hospital to allow me to go home and take care of mail and other business. I don’t know how I would have coped without the support of my manager and co-workers at Abbott who told me not to worry about work until I was ready to come back. I don’t know how I would have coped if not for the support, well wishes, cards, and letters from other family members, other close friends, and Sue’s co-workers. Believe me when I say this, you cannot fight cancer also alone.
What support did you receive? Again, I received a myriad of support from my family, friends, and co-workers as well as the entire community of Kenosha. A kind, helping hand or word goes a long way when being a caregiver.
How did you support your loved one with cancer? From the day that Sue was admitted to the hospital to the day that she passed, I supported her in every way possible not only from a caregiver standpoint, but also from a medical standpoint. The medical staff explaining a treatment that needed to be performed did not have to dummy down the explanation of the proposed treatment to me with my medical background. I then relayed the proposed treatment to her before we jointly decided to proceed or not with said treatment. From a caregiver standpoint, I stayed by her side as much as possible. We cried together, we laughed together, we watched Ellen and Dr. Phil (two shows I hated) together, and we prayed together. Each day a member of the hospital clergy stopped in her room to talk and pray with us and on one particular day, a Jewish Rabbi stopped by. “Bet you didn’t expect me” is what he said. At the end of each day, we said the Lord’s Prayer together. The most important thing I did find out in the role of being a caregiver is that my wife needed to vent her anger, pain, and displeasure at someone and that person became me. It bothered me at first, but I learned to accept it and embraced it as a sign that she was still fighting and not giving up.
What advice would you offer to someone who is a caregiver, family member, or friend of a cancer patient? Jimmie Valvano, a famous basketball coach, who died from cancer once stated while in the advanced stages of his disease to “don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” My advice would be to keep fighting and don’t fight alone. Accept the support of family, friends, and loved ones. Reach out to support organizations available. Don’t be afraid to question proposed treatments or alternatives from your physician
Anything else? There are a couple of regrets that I think about from time to time when my wife was battling cancer:
First, even though the doctor had stated on the initial consult that outcome was bleak, I continued to not give up hope. You read about all of the cases that also appeared bleak where the patient went into remission and that was what I envisioned for Sue. I was hoping for the day after getting her initial chemo doses of taking walks in the hallway outside of her hospital room and eventually getting home and accompanying her to further outpatient treatments. I also envisioned her being well enough to attend our daughter Elise’s graduation in the Spring. I guess what I am trying to say is I was ready and stoked to assist her with the upcoming fight and felt cheated that it was not meant to be.
Second, to this day I feel bad her brother Jeff and other family members did not have a chance to see her before she passed. In a way, I feel this is my fault as most of my daily updates to our loved ones were positive. Yes, there were some bad days, like the day she was transferred to ICU due to some internal bleeding. The day before she passed, things were looking good. She was transferred out of ICU as the bleeding was under control and her vitals were good. No sooner did they get her settled in her new room when she took a turn for the worse as her kidneys shutdown and she started bleeding internally again. The ambulance ride with her to the Hospice Alliance House was the longest ride of my life. I knew the end was near and the only thing I could think of is why I didn’t tell Jeff to come sooner.
I miss Sue very much and not a day goes by that I do not think of her. I take comfort in the fact that she is in heaven with her parents and other loved ones and will always be a part of me.