Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Right Size Bag for the Right Size Job


I worked my first job as a cashier at Cope Super Market in Ravenswood, West Virginia, decades before the "paper or plastic" era. In 1971, brown paper bags came in five standard sizes to accommodate everything from a piece of Bazooka bubble gum to a 25-pound turkey.

One of the first lessons I learned from the co-owner, Garland Cope, was, "Use the right size bag for the right size job." I was a penny-pinching high school student, but I couldn't understand why Mr. Cope, one of the richest men in town, zealously adhered to this mandate. If he witnessed one of his cashiers using an inappropriately sized bag, he would leap from his office perch and select and substitute the proper brown bag. (This only had to happen once before I learned the lesson.)

A few years later, in my early 20's, I began to understand that Mr. Cope's obsession transcended dollars and cents. I applied the lesson of using the right tool for the right job to my first elementary school teaching job. Some kids needed a whisper; others required a stern voice. Don't ever confuse who needs what.

Mr. Cope's maxim has served me equally well over the years through a mixed bag of careers: teaching, marketing, parenting and freelance writing and editing.

When I began to explore my treatment options for Mantle Cell Lymphoma (MCL), I could once again hear Mr. Cope's admonishment crackling in my ears: "Use the right size bag for the right size job."

Was Rituxin + CHOP (R-CHOP), a chemo protocol that had become the gold standard for MCL, the right bag? Would going for the more aggressive, intense approach - Rituxin + Hyper CVAD + Stem Cell Transplant - be like putting a piece of bubble gum into a turkey-size bag?

In my case, it became relatively easy to choose the right bag. Not only did the world-renowned Dr. Stephen Forman at the City of Hope make a case for Hyper CVAD, but MD Anderson Cancer Center agreed. MD Anderson also revealed that my cells are of the "blastic variety." There are three subsets of cells associated with MCL, and blastic is what you DON'T want your cells (or your children) to be. They're stubborn, aggressive and treatment resistant. At one time, in the not too distant past, this diagnosis was a death sentence.

But MD Anderson quickly countered the bad news with some good news. My written second opinion included the results of a 2006 MD Anderson study that announced that MCL patients with blastic variety cells have had excellent outcomes with the Hyper CVAD protocol.

R-CHOP would have been like taking a pop gun to a charging rhino. Or, to put it into Mr. Cope's vernacular, like trying to stuff a 25-pound turkey into a penny bag. Hyper CVAD + Stem Cell Transplant, on the other hand, appears to be the "right size bag for the right size job."

I think Mr. Cope (who passed away in 2006) would have been pleased with my decision.

(Do any of you have a Mr. Cope in your life who taught you a life-long lesson at an early stage of your work life? Please share in comments.)

7 comments:

Piper Robert said...

Okay, I'll go first. Remember when I worked in the engineering dept. at Ravens Metal? My boss was a PE(professional engineer) and a pretty good one. He would stress, "If there's a problem with the tailgate, you better check the bulkhead." The solution to some problems are not in the most obvious places. I've paraphrased that hundreds of times. Thinking outside the box is a popular way of saying it these days. A "cookie cutter" approach to problems is not always the best. I love new, innovative thinking.

Sue, do you remember when a tractor/trailor got stuck in the old covered bridge at Phillipi?Traffic was held up for hours, the truck was wedged tight in the roof beams. Several engineers arrived and were scratching their heads and arguing as to the cheapest and least evasive solution. This is a bridge built before the Civil War and used by both Yanks and Rebs. Some cranes and tow trucks were called in. Quite the circus for a small town. A little boy on a bike rode up and listened for awhile then offered, "Why don't you let some air out of the tires?" Gotta love that kid.

Janet Aird said...

The vast majority of my jobs before I started writing involved some version of "You want fries with that?" The most important lesson I learned was that no matter how swamped you are, no matter what's going wrong, as long as you keep plugging away, you'll get through it.

Suzy Keleher said...

My first job was at the local nursing home, at the age of 17, caring for about 40 patients as a nursing assistant. Everyday after school, I would walk to the nursing home and work until 11:30 PM and then go home to do my homework for the next day. I loved my job. I knew every patients' likes and dislikes. How they liked their pillows placed; how they liked their coffee; how they missed their children. I guess I really learned a lot from the RN's who taught me compassion for the person, not just doing a task to hurry up and get it completed: Nursing as an art as well as a science. This has carried me through many years. Love, Suzy

Rebecca said...

Lessons my father taught me (I recited some of these at his memorial service)

Don't concern yourself too much with other people's opinions

Work is NOT a dirty word. You don't do it just for money.

Don't e afraid to be goofy.

If you don't want a secret known, don't tell it.

It's an ambivalent world.

Listening to opera is not painful.

Frank Lloyd Wright can't be beat

Conversation is an art

Happiness is a choice (that's debatable, but still)

Beauty feeds the soul

A little harassment of stuffy neighbors also feeds the soul

You're born along; you die alone. Meantime, accept those you love.

Family deserves our primary attention. Some family members don't deserve any and that is difficult.

You can flirt with the waitstaff on the last day of your life.

A rebellious sould keeps you from getting old. Yet a mind kept too far open can get a little draughty. Balance!

Life sure beats the alternative.

My dad was my hero!

Susan Carrier said...

I love all of these stories and "lessons learned," especially from Rebecca's sage father!

Dustin said...

Susan, this post struck me as particularly wise. You have a gift for writing, but more than that a gift for expressing the "core", the "kernel", the essence of a thing.

Norma Jean Cope said...

Dear Susan,
Thank you so much for remembering my wonderful husband. He had a lot of wonderful qualities that have remained with a lot of people.

We had 54 wonderful years together.
Our son, Jeff manages the store now, he's a lot like his father.
Our daughter Carole has her own business, an embroidery store.

Please let me hear more from you.
You brightened my day with this
memory.
Thank you again,
Norma Jean Cope
normajeancope@hotmail.com