Remembering March 13, 2020

At this time every year, I begin the process of looking back at the previous year in order to prepare The Life Raft Group’s Annual Report. Looking back, I came across emails and communications from March 13, 2020. I remember that day very clearly. There was a nervous energy in our office, as we individually processed the news that was being shared about this coronavirus that was sweeping across the globe. Meeting my colleagues in the ladies’ room, we joked about the fact that our hands were becoming chapped from so much hand washing.

But behind the humorous remarks was fear. Fear of this unknown virus, fear for our own well-being, the well-being of our family and friends, and concern for our GISTers. There was a sense of security, too, knowing that we were guided by an executive director (Norman Scherzer) who had extensive experience in the world of communicable diseases, and had strong connections to the CDC. We felt that we would have access to up-to-date information that would guide us and enable us to help our patients and caregivers navigate this unprecedented journey.

The staff gathered in our strategy room. The strategy room is a large conference room surrounded by walls that are whiteboards. Many an important discovery or campaign was created here, and as we all took our seats, there was an uneasy silence not usually present around that table. Norman, and Laura, our Senior Vice President, sat at the head of the table, and we were invited one-by-one to honestly state how we felt about working in our building, considering the advice that was forthcoming about sheltering at home. We felt heard. Even though there was a sense that we were plunging headlong into the unknown, as I looked around the table, I had a sense that whatever was thrown our way, that we were a team, and we would continue to do whatever we could to support our brave and courageous patients.

Norman made the decision that we would begin to work remotely, evaluating on a week-by-week basis. At that point, we believed it would only be for a short time. “We can do this,” I thought, as we frantically went into our respective offices to pack up what we would need to continue to support our members. After all, they role-modeled courage for us every day. They faced difficult surgeries, scanxiety, side effects from medications, and recurrences with amazing grace. Surely, we would find a way to support them during this new challenge. There was a manic quality to our actions that day, borne of fear. This staff was and continues to be, a family. It felt like saying goodbye, but there was also a sense of relief that we would be safe.

Man at computer working from home did not know that we would be away this long – that plants would die, and offices would remain mostly empty, with occasional masked visits to accomplish what was needed to continue to support our patients and caregivers.

The support continues. Matt Mattioli, Director of Marketing and Operations, created ways to support the technology we needed to stay afloat, and the LRG staff found new ways to collaborate. In fact, looking back at the past year, we have launched more initiatives than in years past. I shared in a previous post that I began a practice that day of writing a note that says “Thank You” every morning. Our patients have taught us that each day is a gift. It is hard to believe that I have 365 of these notes now.

The office is still empty, with individuals occasionally going in. But there are signs of hope. The effort to produce effective vaccines offers promise that someday soon we will return to working in person. Someday soon there will be plants on our windowsills, we will hug our family members again, we will sit around the strategy room table, albeit six feet apart, and will be able to breathe a sigh of relief, and say “Thank You.”

Quotes from our Staff

“Despite the worst pandemic in over 100 years, despite having to work remotely and despite the loss of human contact, we managed to give GIST patients hope and to save some lives.”  – Norman Scherzer, Executive Director

“When I think of the past year and the tremendous challenges that it has presented to both our staff and our community, one word comes to mind – resiliency. Standing stronger together.”  – Laura Occhuizzi, Senior Vice President

“I think 2020 had a lot of highs and lows. Some of us have never worked so hard before, especially juggling the work/life balance.  As our country faced many challenges, especially in how different populations were impacted during covid, it was nice to celebrate the diversity among our LRG staff as well as highlight the women in sarcoma that are making a difference on the front lines in the healthcare field.”  – Sara Rothschild, VP, Program Services 

“While we remained physically apart during the past year, we have connected and engaged with our members through our virtual events and wellness opportunities.  It has been amazing to see our community come together to support each other especially during moments when we felt afraid and hopeless.  We have learned more about each other. We have grown closer. We have become more resilient.  We are thrivers.”  – Diana Nieves, Senior Director, Outreach & Engagement

“Despite these challenging times, we were still able to connect and help patients without any barriers. We feel grateful to continue to provide patient support and to still be able to work on accelerating GIST cancer research, even if its remotely. Though times reminded us that together we thrive!”  – Denisse Montoya, Patient Registry Director

“It is hard to believe that it has been a year since packing my things to work just a few weeks from home. This time has truly made me appreciate everything in my life and I am grateful for my amazing team at the LRG.  We can honestly say we are an adaptable bunch who in the words of Tim Gunn, “Somehow we found a way to make it work.”  – Jess Nowak, Director, Outreach & Engagement

“I remember it like it was yesterday. We decided that we would start working from home. I then had only a few hours to get our entire staff packed up with the necessary equipment. I probably did 100 laps around our office that day.”  – Matthew Mattioli, Director of Marketing and Operations

“It’s wonderful to know that in a pandemic, where the easy thing to do would have been to pull back and just try and skate by, we did the opposite. I truly believe this has been the most productive year I’ve seen in my almost 10 years at the LRG. But given that we never do what’s easy, but instead go consistently above and beyond, I can’t say I’m surprised. Proud, yes, but not surprised.”  – Pete Knox, Senior Director, Research

“As I have always worked from home, last years work wasn’t too different for me, but the big difference was that you all were working from home and it was great seeing all of you in your own homes. Knowing that we were all facing the same fears and same hopes, although miles and miles apart, made me feel much closer to all of you.”  – Piga Fernández, LRG Global Consultant (Chile)