GIVING BACK

GIVING BACK

Sherry MVP Fund at Memorial Sloan Kettering 

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When our mom, Sherry Goldstein Beilinson, died May 9, 2020 from complications of pancreatic cancer, my brother and I wanted to express our gratitude to her oncologist for being the best-ever advocate.  Our mom trusted him instantly and was confident in his care.

From the time we first met at Christmas 2019, Dr. Armin Shahrokni, a leading geriatrician and oncologist, encouraged us not to focus on how much time she had, but to make every moment comfortable. (We did.) When we asked his expectations of chemo, he said he hoped she’d have days where she blossomed. (She did.) He pushed internally for her to get every relevant test and every necessary procedure, to give her every fighting chance. (A stark contrast to other doctors who said she wasn’t a candidate for treatment.) Each visit with him lasted an hour — talking, assessing and answering questions. Never any rush.

In our family, Dr. Shahrokni, a charming, Iranian-born, Robin Williams-look alike, came to be known with gratitude as The Rok, fitting in that he provided the foundation for her care and our confidence.

On her first visit — after hearing that Mom gave up driving two years earlier at age 69 — he said she’d been misdiagnosed in her hometown of Miami Beach: “That’s a city where they have to pry the car keys from someone’s hands,” he said. “Nobody gives up driving that young unless there’s an underlying issue.”

He assembled a team to figure it out — treating the whole person, not just the cancer. Not only did Dr. Shahrokni lead her care, he talked to us daily, often hourly, during her rough moments. If we didn’t check in, he’d DM us on Twitter to ask if that meant she was having a good day. He wanted to know it all, as if she was his sole patient. Really, what doctor does that?

When she died 150 pain-free days after her initial diagnosis, we asked Dr. Shahrokni if there was a grant or research project we could contribute to in her memory. Instead, he suggested that we create a special fund to honor unsung MSK heroes — transport, techs, therapists, aides, admins, nurses, doctors — who deliver the platinum standard in care specifically to older cancer patients like Mom.

To honor those who understand the unique needs of this specific patient population, we’re forming The Sherry MVP Fund. This recognition will be given periodically to a staff member, honoring excellence in caring for seniors fighting cancer, arguably among MSK’s most vulnerable patients (MVPs).

Cancer care, especially for older patients, involves plenty of teamwork, Dr. Shahrokni told us. “Yes, MDs are important, but there are lots more people involved. Yet for whatever reason, caring for older adults with cancer doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Those who provide excellent care for our MVPs remain forgotten as we mostly focus on novel drugs, moon missions and something revolutionary. If COVID has taught us anything, it is that care for MVPs goes way beyond drugs.”

Dr. Shahrokni’s idea is fitting in more ways than one: Mom was a lifelong caregiver to family, friends and strangers. She took pride in making other people feel comfortable. Every tribute we’ve received from those who knew her well cited her generosity — showering people with gifts and compliments for being their best. (Incidentally, she spent decades amassing an impressive bellboy collection — hundreds of antique and vintage pieces — celebrating an often under-recognized profession that’s usually the first to make you feel welcome, cared for and at home.)

Dr. Shahrokni and his designated team will partner with our family to select the honorees of The Sherry MVP Award who help set the highest standards for caregiving.

With every bit of our hearts, we’re grateful for the support from family, friends and strangers for what we promise to be a meaningful, ongoing initiative in our mom’s memory, in salute of Dr. Shahrokni’s singular style of exemplary older patient care, and in gratitude of the frontline caregivers that our aging population need more than ever.

Love,
Tory and Peter, David and Julie, Nick, Jake, Emma, Charlotte and Morgan