Monday, January 09, 2012

Farewell, Terry Hamblin

The CLL community has lost one of its best and truest friends, Dr. Terry Hamblin, to his own battle with a different cancer. 

Hamblin, one of the world's leading chronic lymphocytic leukemia doctors and researchers, retired from most of his duties in the U.K. about six years ago. He could have gone sailing, or found a lucrative post with a pharmaceutical company, or disappeared into a quiet, well-earned country life. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves and went to work where he was needed most, using new internet tools to help CLL patients worldwide.

I began my blog in November 2005 and Terry's came on line just a couple of weeks later. Through his blog and his inexhaustible contributions to the ACOR CLL List, not to mention personal e-mail, Terry answered thousands of questions about the disease and its treatment. He freely gave of his lifetime of experience, even to the point of exhaustion. Over at ACOR they established something called The Professors' Posts to archive his answers so the same question did not have to be asked of him again and again (the plural in professors includes another invaluable ACOR contributor, Dr. Susan LeClair).

I called him Terry, but I always felt a little awkward about it. It's sort of like calling God "dude." He signed everything "Terry Hamblin," in the matter-of-fact way that was his trademark. When he got rushed, he tended to transpose the letters in "the," and there was always a place in my mind where I saw him as "Teh Professor." And I mean that respectfully and lovingly. In a world where our written words -- in e-mails, blog posts, discussion forums -- have become our main form of communication with one another, there are little tics, little traits that you notice.

Another thing I noticed was that Terry was always honest and direct. He told you what he thought, and he told you if he didn't know something, and he never made an effort to sugar-coat anything. In other words, he treated us patient rabble like people, like equals,  like adults.

"We [doctors] really don't have the means to keep you alive for longer than about 12 years," he once wrote to me. It wasn't what I wanted to hear, but it was the truth as he saw it. That's one thing you could count on hearing from Terry Hamblin.

Terry was a bit old school. He believed in the scientific method. He had seen too many things come and go to jump on the latest bandwagon. He wasn't the cheerleader type. He liked hard evidence, and so he provided a grounded, conservative perspective as new treatments and tests unfolded. This didn't always make him the most popular voice out there, but you could always rely on him for sure and steady reasoning.

I never detected an atom of pomposity in the man, and this is no small feat in a world in which "M.D." is sometimes taken to mean "Medical Deity." Terry didn't need to have his ego stroked, and while he was justly proud of his many accomplishments, he remained, as far as I could tell, a humble, uncomplicated soul. It was as if he didn't see the invisible line that we patients see between doctors and ourselves. To him, we were all just people, and when he began his struggle with his own cancer, we CLLers came to see the full scope of his strength, his vulnerability, and his humanity. Terry was now on the journey that we had been on, experiencing the travails of cancer that go beyond medicine.

Over the years, I tried not to bother Terry too much, knowing how many inquiries he received, but I did correspond with him from time to time. He once went out of his way to discuss my case with some of the best minds in U.K. hematology, a favor I did not expect nor ask for, but for which I was grateful. He read my blog sometimes and occasionally commented here, which made me feel like maybe I wasn't a complete idiot.

Readers of his blog know that Terry Hamblin was a devout Christian. But he not only talked the talk, he walked the walk.

Last November, Terry wrote something that sums up his character in far better words than any I can offer:

I had a weepy day yesterday as I contemplated the things I had left undone. At the end of Schindler's List, Liam Neeson has a scene where he looks at his luxury car and his gold ring and thinks of how many more Jews these could have bought. "I could have done more," he exclaims.

That is how I felt. I told this to Dr John when he visited and he reassured me. None of us can ever do enough. We mustn't reproach ourselves.

Today I am much more cheerful. I went out for the first time in 2 weeks and bought some flowers for my wife. The Scripture tells us not to be weary in well-doing.
Terry never truly tired of well-doing, and he left a world of good works in his wake. There is no better testament to a life well-lived. He will be sorely missed in this little corner of Arizona, and by his friends everywhere across the globe.


Dori Myers said...

Well said.

Dori Myers

Chonette said...

As always David, you express the feelings in such real way.
Terry Hamblin is leaving a tremendous gap in our lives.
Once when he was treating me some years ago and we were talking about the future, he asked "wouldn't you like to get to 70?" at the time I was not that optimistic so I said I was not sure, but I always thought he would pass that age himself, his birthday is in March.
I can not express with words how his lost makes me feel.

Stewart Berger said...

What a great loss David. I have had CLL for 6 years and reading Terry on the AOCR forum was a huge help to me. Then I read his blog regularly for all these years. What a sad time.And a tremendous loss for so many

I have been fortunate as I am still in the w&w phase of my CLL journey. But, time will tell. I wish you the best. Your wonderful wife provided me with ECGC about 5 years ago. Please thank her for me

Hope you have an uneventful year with the dragon, and you and Marilyn can enjoy life. Thanks