Sometimes family history discoveries involve a careful eye, and sometimes a bit of dumb luck. Or, as in this case, a little of both. While searching for some city directory information on the web site of the Cudahy Family Library, I started watching a 36-minute film about life in that suburban Milwaukee County city. Titled “Life in Cudahy,” the film was made in 1938.
About six minutes into the presentation, I spotted a teenage face that looked really familiar. The young man was a mechanic working on a car at Koehler Service. In another shot, he stood in the background as a man and (presumably) his young daughter, look at their vehicle. This just had to be my mother’s older brother, Earl J. Mulqueen Jr. (1923-1980). The film was posted to the library’s YouTube channel. I formatted the excerpt below for wide screen and applied some color correction.
Station attendants wore pinstriped coveralls with Wadhams Oil Company black caps and ties or bowties. It was an era when service stations delivered actual service (with a smile) to every vehicle that came in for fuel: checking fluids and wiper blades and cleaning windows. Koehler’s also offered emergency service, as evidenced by the attendant who drove off on a motorcycle carrying a gasoline can in one hand. This was no doubt before the EPA and OSHA were around to clamp down on potential dangers.
Earl was the second-oldest of the 11 children of Earl J. Mulqueen and the former Margaret Madonna Dailey. The Mulqueen children were taught hard work, so it’s not surprising Earl had a job at age 14 or 15. Money was tight during the Great Depression, so any extra income was no doubt a valued help to the family. My mother, Mary Mulqueen, was 6 or 7 years old at the time the film was made. Earl was either a student at St. Frederick’s Catholic School in Cudahy or a freshman at Pio Nono High School in St. Francis.
Earl was brand new on the job the year the film was made. He worked as an automobile serviceman, according to his U.S. military file. He greased, lubricated and fueled automobiles, assisted with transmission and differential repairs and engine overhauls.
Just a few years after the film was made, Earl enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at the outset of World War II. He went on to fight with the 2nd Marine Division in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, including at Guadalcanal and Tarawa. He lost his left leg in May 1944 when a massive chain-reaction explosion at Pearl Harbor’s West Loch blew up dozens of ships and injured hundreds of sailors and Marines who were preparing for the Allied invasion of Saipan. Dozens were killed.
After returning from the Pacific, Earl spent his last months in the Marine Corps making promotional appearances at War Bond drives around Wisconsin. His accounts of the battles in the Pacific kept audiences spellbound and helped put a number of war-bond drives over the goal line.
After the war, Earl got married and went on to a long career in automotive repair. Once he had recovered enough to begin working, his parents purchased Koehler Service station for him and the name was changed to Earl’s Automotive. This not-so-little detail was shared by my aunt and Earl’s sister, Joan (Mulqueen) Haske. Earl ran the business until about 1960, when he moved his family to Colorado. After his wife Evelyn died of cancer in early 1963, Earl returned to Cudahy to again take up work in automotive service.
It is amazing to think his first job was documented by a film crew in 1938, only to be rediscovered in 2020, 40 years after his death.
Small-town newspaper wedding announcements often provide all sorts of details that might otherwise be lost to history. While scanning a box of photographs I discovered a 1958 clipping about my parents wedding from The Reminder-Enterprise, a weekly newspaper in Cudahy, Wisconsin. The late David D. Hanneman (1933-2007) and the former Mary K. Mulqueen (1932-2018) were married at St. Veronica Catholic Church in Milwaukee. At the time, Mary was a teacher at St. Veronica Catholic School.
The text of the article is below the line, followed by a gallery of photos from the wedding and reception. A memorial Mass will be said for Dave and Mary at 11 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020 at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church in Sun Prairie. August 9 is the 62nd anniversary of their wedding.
Miss Mary K. Mulqueen became the bride of David D. Hanneman at St. Veronica’s church on Saturday, Aug. 9, at 11 a.m.
The Rev. Johnson performed the double ring rites as the bride’s father gave her in marriage. Her parents are Mr. and Mrs. E.J. Mulqueen Sr., 3854 E. Cudahy Ave. The groom’s parents are Mr. and Mrs. Carl Hanneman, of Mauston, Wis.
A gown of Cupioni silk, in princess style, was worn by the bride. Panels of Chantilly lace were fashioned in the front and in the back. The back of the skirt extended into a short train. A Sabrina neckline and long sleeves were also featured.
The bride carried white orchids attached to a mother of pearl prayer book. The prayer book was given to her by the sisters of St. Veronica’s parish.
Joan E. Mulqueen was maid of honor for her sister. Bridesmaids were Lavonne Hanneman of Mauston and another of the bride’s sisters, Ruth. They wore aquamarine sheath dresses fashioned of delustred satin with tulip overskirts. They wore aquamarine feather headpieces.
The maid of honor carried yellow spider mums with a rust and yellow mixture of leaves. The bridesmaids carried bouquets of yellow spider mums shaped in a spray. Slippers in the color to match their gowns were worn.
Donn Hanneman of 8518 Stickney Ave. was best man for his brother. Attendants were Thomas Mulqueen of 3723 E. Edgerton Ave. and Jack Richards of Madison. The groom and attendants wore Oxford suits, (black suit coats with gray vests and striped trousers).
Earl J. Mulqueen Jr., Patrick Mulqueen, Thomas McShane and Donald Dailey were ushers.
About 300 guests attended the wedding dinner and reception at the St. Frederick’s hall following the church ceremony. Mrs. August Lachal and the ladies of St. Frederick’s prepared and served all the food.
The young people will live at 3263 E. Layton Ave. when they return from a two week honeymoon in northern Wisconsin and Canada.
The bride attended Cardinal Stritch College and Marquette University. The groom attended La Crosse State College and the University of Wisconsin.
The wedding date proved to be an anniversary date for several members of the families. Ruth Mulqueen, sister of the bride, and Lavonne Hanneman, sister of the groom, both celebrated their 21st birthday on the wedding day. A cousin of the bride celebrated their 20th anniversary on that day. The wedding was also a reunion of Donn Hanneman and Thomas Mulqueen who served together in the U.S. Navy and have not met for 14 years.
There was a time when letters were the primary means of long-distance communication for families and friends. Even short updates were dashed off on a card or a sheet of special stationery. Long-distance telephone calls were expensive and typically reserved for special occasions or emergencies. For family historians, finding old letters can unearth all sorts of details about life way back when. Sometimes the reveal big details, but often the small things that are otherwise lost to time.
I recently scanned a series of letters my mother wrote to her in-laws, my grandparents, Carl and Ruby Hanneman, who lived in Mauston, Wis. At the time, Mom was living in her hometown, Cudahy, Wis. In the first note, she was not yet married to Dad, but in the other ones they were newlyweds. They were married on Aug. 9, 1958 at St. Veronica Catholic Church in Milwaukee, where Mom was a teacher. I’m sure Mom kept up this correspondence beyond 1959, but only these letters survived (no doubt they were kept safe by my Grandma Ruby Hanneman).
The letters reveal that my Dad had a temporary job at Sears before he started his career selling pharmaceuticals. It sounds like it was a bit of a grind with regular night and weekend hours. Sometime in mid-1959, he got a new job in sales. I can’t tell from these letters, but I know back in that time frame Dad started working for E.R. Squibb & Co. Mom and Dad had an apartment on East Layton Avenue in Cudahy, which they later traded for a brick ranch home in Greenfield before moving to Grand Rapids, Mich.
The letters contained some good chuckles, too, like this train wreck of a sentence: “I hope this restful letter finds you all rested, at least a little bit rested, as well as I am rested.” Not what you’d expect from a woman who taught reading. But I considered the possibility that it was intended as a joke.
The regulars mentioned in these letters include my maternal grandparents, Earl J. and Margaret M. Mulqueen; Mom’s younger brother Joey Mulqueen; Dad’s sister Lavonne (Hanneman) Wellman; Evelyn Mulqueen, wife of my Mom’s brother Earl J. Mulqueen Jr.; Donn and Elaine Hanneman (Dad’s brother and sister-in-law); Mom’s sister Ruth (Mulqueen) McShane and her husband Tom; Mom’s sister Joanie (Mulqueen) Haske and her husband Dick; Mom’s sister the nun, Sister Madonna Marie; and Jack Richards, one of three groomsmen in Mom and Dad’s wedding.
The text of the letters is below:
Undated letter (prior to Aug. 1958)
Dear Mr. Hanneman,
I hope you’re fine and dandy – Lavonne and Mrs. Hanneman too! The reason for this little note is to ask a favor of you. Would you please order the man’s matching wedding band & my rings? I don’t know which catalog it was from but it’s an Honor ring. I’m sure Lavonne will know which set it is! As far as size is concerned, Dave’s ring is at Novak’s in Mauston to have the size adjusted. I’m quite sure it’s an eleven. You could check there on size. It’s just the plain silver band. If you run into any difficulty please call me – Sh. 4-5862 any nite about 5:30 or 6:30. I will then pay you as soon as I see you.
Also, my folks will be coming up this week-end if nothing unforeseen comes up. They will leave here about noon on Saturday. Joe would come with them. I don’t know if David & I will get there. We’ve been busy getting our place ready. I got sick from the paint. Ugh!!
Dave is fine – his foot is okay. Last Friday he had a wisdom tooth pulled. Don & Elaine & the kids are fine too. I must close now as I want to get this in today’s mail. I would certainly appreciate you ordering Dave’s ring. If you are unable to get it, I’ll match one as close as possible from a store here in Milwaukee. Tell Lavonne the dresses are in at Boston Store, but there’s no hurry to try hers on. So long for now,
Nov. 11, 1958 (postmark)
Mr. and Mrs. C. Hanneman
22 Morris Street
Hi! Hope all is well with you. Everything is fine down our way. I’m writing this at school at noontime, so one of my “monsters” can run it to a mailbox.
Dave plans on coming up this week-end to get in some deer hunting. We probably will get there on Friday night about 9:00. If for some reason our plans are changed, we will call you.
My mom is doing very well. Will have to leave all news for the week-end, as I don’t have too long a lunch period. Love to you both again.
See you soon,
Mary and Dave
Dec. 31, 1958 (postmark)
Mr. and Mrs. C. Hanneman
22 Morris Street
We rec’d your letter and was glad to hear too you had such a nice trip back. I’m sure you’re quite busy with your newly acquired family. The reason you couldn’t reach us Sunday afternoon was that we went over to Dick’s house while he changed clothes, and then Joanie and Dick and we went to the orphanage and visited with Sister Madonna Marie. She was very lonely for company and we had a nice visit with her and her boys. We came back about 6:00 and made a spaghetti supper. We drew names for the dishes and Joanie & Dick won. It was all Joanie’s idea.
Well, the main reason for my my writing is to inform you that Dave & I won’t be able to be with you this week-end. Hamilton at first said he could even have Friday off, but later changed his mind & said he wanted to take inventory on Friday & Saturday. That means Dave will even work Saturday. We’re disappointed because we did so want to do something different. We may, if he’s not too beat, drive to Madison and see Jack Richards, but even that is just a maybe!
I’m very happy you all enjoyed your visit with us as really the pleasure was all ours. You know you’re welcome anytime. That bed is up permanently, so there’s always plenty of room. I talked to Donn & he & Elaine are cleaning house like mad as long as there are six feet less to be underfoot the broom!!
Today (Dec. 31) Dave is working and I want to go downtown with my mom and just look around, then do grocery shopping, and then press our clothes for the party tonight. I must close now, wishing you & Carl a very Happy New Year filled with the best of health & happiness.
Tell the kids Happy New Year from us too. Carl, here’s to you (drawing of a drink glass) cheers!!! Hope to see you before too long. Still want to ice fish & skate on the Lemonweir!
Apr 29, 1959 (postmark)
Mr. & Mrs. C. Hanneman
22 Morris Street
I’d been intending to write sooner than this as I knew you probably were wondering how the dedication went. Well, all went very well indeed! Sister’s visit also but she was coming down with the flu bug that’s been hitting everybody. I wasn’t feeling too sharp that day either and was sick by ten that night. I missed the first three days of school last week & dragged myself back on Thurs. & Fri. I still have bronchitis or something. I’m seeing the doctor this week-end. Ten children from the class were out today, so that “bug” is really getting around. Some nice sunshine might help the situation, though.
We can’t thank you enough for being so thoughtful to remember to send the films & slides along. We were most anxious. They don’t look too bad at all.
We’ve been very busy with choir rehearsal two nites a week. I’ve had to have a dress made for the concert & had to “run out” for fittings. I’ll be glad when it’s over, because it has involved so much chasing. I’m just not in a “chasing” mood.
Dave & I were both very surprised to hear about Jack Richards. If you hear anything else, let us know.
Dave has been busy at his temporary job & much busier answering ads, having interviews and weighing advantages & disadvantages. Nothing is definite yet & I feel he should take his time, as there’s no reason at all for a rush!
We hope Bob & Ruth Schroeder had a good time here. They seemed to. Too bad both games were called because of rain.
We also hope this letter finds you both feeling well and in good spirits. We haven’t talked to Vonnie yet but should tomorrow (Wed.) or Thursday. Dave doesn’t get home until 6:15 or so, by the time we eat and relax a bit, it’s time for choir. He works nites a few nites a week & Sat. until 6:00. Sometimes we go to choir at 9:30, practice until 11:30 & don’t get home until midnite. We’re both tired.
Ruth & Tom are back from Florida and had a wonderful time.
I must close now and get ready for bed. David is writing a letter to some friends from Davenport, Iowa. This is catch up on letters nite.
I don’t know when we’ll be coming to Mauston since Dave works Saturdays. I may have a Monday off soon & we could come Sun. & Mon. or when the job he wants comes through & he quits Sears. Til then, take good care of yourselves, enjoy life & remember we think of you often! Carl, don’t work too hard – go fishing! Catch me a big one & eat it all!
May 20, 1959 (postmark)
Mr. & Mrs. C. Hanneman
22 Morris Street
I hope this restful letter finds you all rested, at least a little bit rested as well as I am rested. What I’m trying to figure out right now is where the fine line is drawn between resting and being plain lazy!! I’m close to one or the other.
Dave arrived home quite excited about his job and week in Minneapolis, but very tired. He really is impressed with the company, their policies & all the people he’s met. This week he’s working with his boss from Minn. in the Milw. area and doing quite well.
He thinks he will be going up into Green Bay and Escanaba next week, but isn’t too sure. We sold the car to Lou Ehlers Buick (where he bought it) on Monday. On Sun. we picked up his company car. It’s a beautiful bronze Bel-Air Chevrolet. He’s very pleased with it. Tonite we’re having dinner with his boss. They’re letting me pick the spot. I can’t decide where to go, but I want to go someplace where I haven’t been.
I have to get a desk for Dave, take the bed out of the spare room & set him up a place to work with a filing cabinet for his records.
We got our TV back and it works very fine, finally!
Elaine came down for supper last nite. She left the children home. She really seemed to enjoy the evening very much. She looks at bit thin, but says she and the kids feel fine. Donn called her from New York here. The Mason girl sat with the kids.
I must close now and wash my hair & try to make myself beautiful for this evening. Thank you again Vonnie for coming down last week with me. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.
I probably will be going back to school next week. I hope so. I have to have some blood tests done which will tell exactly how the liver situation is, but I feel pretty good. I hope everybody home there feels fine too! We probably won’t be up to see you folks until the first or second week of June. I will write before then & let you know what’s happening.
Til then, so long. Enclosed is a check for films. Carl, don’t argue about it!! (Teacher speaking)
Sept. 1, 1959 (postmark)
Mr. & Mrs. Carl Hanneman
22 Morris Street
Thought I would write and say “thank you” both again for your generous hospitality shown Joe and myself when we visited you. He really was quite excited telling of the good time he had fishing running the boat on the river!
It’s Monday evening, the end of the month as I write this. It has finally cooled down here. I hope you people have had relief too! Dave’s hay fever has been quite bothersome this past week. But he left for Michigan this a.m., which means he’ll have relief while there.
I had intended to go with him but didn’t, since I’m helping Evie with the new one – (a boy, 9 lb. 3 oz – last Wed.,), a beautiful contented baby. I kept house for her from last Wed. thru Sat. while she was in the hospital. They’ve asked Dave and I to be sponsors this coming Sunday – his name will be Brian David Mulqueen. Also, I didn’t go with him because I’m going to teach 5th grade for a good part of September for a sick teacher, and so I’m busy this week getting the class room in good shape for the big day – September 9.
I hope you’re still coming down over the Labor Day week-end. Would be very nice to return some hospitality to you for a change!!
I’m going to help my mom tomorrow a.m. She’s having her Jesuit mission club for a luncheon. I have plenty to do during the day – but right this moment I’m kind of lonely for Dave. I think though I’ll survive until Friday. Must close now – I hope I hear from you if you don’t come down. We would much prefer the latter!
Song has the power to totally capture a memory or preserve a time in life that is worth remembering. Everyone most likely has a song that transports them back in time and helps them relive a painful, sweet or wistful memory. Music is truly the thread that stitches together the sometimes-ragged patches of our lives.
This was quite powerfully the case during the last weeks of my mother’s life in December 2018. The title song from Kenny Loggins’ debut solo album, Celebrate Me Home, became the anthem for the walk I made to see my mother off to Heaven. Just the first few twinkling notes on the piano are enough to bring me back, and draw bittersweet tears from my eyes. Every time.
“Play me one more song that I’ll always remember.”
I often listened to CDs on my drive each evening to the Brookdale Senior Living care center where Mom spent her final months. One of my favorites was Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, a compendium of greatest hits by Kenny Loggins. The first time I heard Track 14, Celebrate Me Home, I sensed it was previewing the events that would soon unfold, leading up to Mom’s death at age 86.
Each night after Mom fell asleep watching television, I would quietly slip out and make the 10-minute drive home. Many times I played that CD. Celebrate Me Home always put a lump in my throat. I could sense a little more every day that Mom was moving closer to her eternal home.
Please, celebrate me home Give me a number Please, celebrate me home Play me one more song That I’ll always remember
In the early morning hours of Dec. 27, 2018, this song overwhelmed me on my drive home. Searing tears made it hard to see the road. Mom had passed away two hours prior, just before midnight on Dec. 26. (I wrote about that elsewhere on this site.)
As I pulled up to the stoplight at Broadway Drive and Highway 19, the lyrics hit me in a way they hadn’t before. Celebrate. Home.Beyond the grief was the reality that Mom’s going home was a cause for celebration. No doubt all of Heaven celebrated that night, for she entered eternity free from pain, sickness and the worries of this world. Just one day beyond Christmas, her favorite holiday.
Home for the holidays I believe I’ve missed each and every face Come on and play one easy Let’s turn on every love light in the place It’s time I found myself Totally surrounded in your circles Oh my friends Please, celebrate me home…
For many months after Mom’s funeral, I could not listen to the Kenny Loggins CD. That song. It was seared into my brain like the work of a branding iron. Too painful. But eventually I found myself listening again. Now I could see through the pain, and felt the hope and joy in the melody and lyrics. Celebrate, celebrate. Celebrate me home.
Play me one more song That I’ll always remember I can recall whenever I Find myself too all alone I can sing me — home
I am forever grateful for the incredible talent that went into making Celebrate Me Home. It will always be atop my all-time play list. Until that one day when others might sing this beautiful song to celebrate me home. •
A group of sparrows perched on the edge of the bird feeder outside Lloyd Miller’s window, pecking at the seeds like there was no tomorrow.
Oblivious to the man watching them from just feet away, the birds went about their business, then flew away. They are a living reminder of just how much Miller’s life has changed in the past four years.
For much of his life, the 71-year-old Miller never had time for little hobbies like bird watching. From his early days as a cavalry instructor in the U.S. Army to his career as a salesman and Racine’s city development director, Miller was a busy man.
Then came cancer.
“I never had a bird feeder before. Now, I’m feeding the birds at $10 a week,” Miller says with a chuckle. “I’ll have to win the lottery.”
Aside from the pinkish patch of scar tissue on his head and his lack of hair, you would never know this man tangled with a rare, life-threatening cancer.
He has a firm handshake, a hearty belly laugh and a warmth that twinkles from beneath his spectacles.
Life has changed
The bird feeder is one of the little ways Miller is a different man now. He isn’t bothered by the little things anymore. He’s more tolerant. He finds it a lot easier to tell his wife and friends that he loves them.
And although life has brought him persistent heart problems and a cancer that came back four times, Miller considers himself lucky.
“I do not consider myself dying of cancer,” he says, softly tracing an invisible pattern on the kitchen table with his index finger, “but living despite it. I do not look at each day as a day closer to death, but another day to be appreciated and enjoyed.”
Lloyd Miller is a cancer survivor.
He is one of the 50 percent of cancer patients who live through the terrifying diagnosis, the fear, the uncertainty, the sickening treatments and the real risk of death. He is part of a growing group with a determination to live life fully, with a new appreciation for what was almost lost.
Miller’s rare form of cancer is in remission, four years after it was discovered. And although there still is a risk the cancer could come back and attack his lungs, he doesn’t let it worry him.
“I feel so comfortable, it’s almost a sin. I don’t think about it every day.”
But for much of the past few years, Miller had little choice but to think about cancer.
The first inkling of trouble came in 1987 while he was on a cruise with Sue, his wife of 16 years. A sunburn-like patch of blisters appeared on the left side of his scalp. It didn’t concern him, until his eye began to swell so badly he had to soak it to get it to open. Upon returning to Racine from Miami, Miller went to see his doctor in Kenosha. The doctor took a biopsy, then delivered the kind of heart-stopping news everyone fears.
“I knew I was in trouble. I expected bad news. It was bad news. Believe it or not, I was afraid,” he said. “The word ‘cancer’ just sent chills through me.”
The doctor referred Miller to the University of Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center in Madison, one of the nation’s major cancer centers, with a medical staff of 350.
Doctors took 60 biopsies from Miller’s scalp in an effort to find what kind of cancer had taken hold.
Rare cancer diagnosed
The diagnosis was angiosarcoma, a rare cancer of the blood vessels that spreads to the connective tissues. Miller had extensive tumors throughout the left side of his scalp.
Doctors started Miller on a regimen of radiation treatments using a high-tech system in which treatments are planned using 3-D computers that help aim the radiation most effectively at the cancer. He traveled to the UW daily for treatments — journeys that would eventually total 33,000 miles.
The hospital staff drew targets with ink on his now-bald head. They took measurements and calibrated the 6-million-volt radiation machine.
The treatments were terrifying for Miller. Much of his head was covered in a lead mask that shielded healthy tissue. For a man with severe claustrophobia, the enclosure was pure hell.
“I would have killed them if I could have gotten loose,” he said. “When I got out of there, I said, ‘Never again, not me. I’ll die.’ ”
For his next trip, doctors gave Miller what he called “goofy pills” that helped him relax so much before treatment that by the time he arrived in Madison, he didn’t care what happened.
Treatments burn the scalp
The 30 treatments burned Miller’s scalp, causing an unsightly, migrating sore that covered a quarter of his scalp before it started to recede. But the therapy worked and the tumors died off.
Miller said death crossed his mind during those first days in treatment.
But his main physician, Dr. Timothy Kinsella, deputy director of the cancer center, told Miller to let him worry about the cancer.
“I’ll tell you when to worry,” Kinsella said. Those six words put Miller at ease. Kinsella never told Miller to worry.
“He was the Good Hands doctor,” Miller said, cupping his hands like they do on the Allstate insurance commercials. “He made me understand I was going to be all right.”
Despite the daily doses of radiation, Miller kept up his work schedule.
Staying on the job was important because, as Miller put it, “If a guy lies down in bed, I think he’s a goner.”
Shortly after the first round of radiation, doctors discovered nodes on the right side of Miller’s head. The cancer was back, which meant 30 more visits to the linear accelerator.
Eventually, the cancer spread to both sides of Millers’ neck and on the center of his head. Each time it appeared, Kinsella beat it back with radiation.
Miller became quite a regular on the first-floor clinic at the cancer center. He made the coffee in the waiting room, and brought Racine kringle for the staff. When he wasn’t in treatment, he spent time in the pediatric cancer ward.
One day, Miller was charged with cheering up a young boy who was quite sick from his cancer treatments. Miller pulled out a toy ball that laughed with the resonance of Ed McMahon when it was tossed into the air. “That was my secret weapon,” Miller said. “He liked it so much I gave it to him.”
They still remember Lloyd Miller at UW Cancer Center.
Help and prayers
And so Miller has beaten the odds, it would seem. It’s only now that one of his local doctors told him that after the initial cancer diagnosis, he wasn’t sure Miller would survive.
Now he spends time as a freelance real estate development consultant and likes to play golf at the Kenosha country club. Miller says he got through his ordeal with cancer with a lot of help from scores of friends and a lot of prayer.
“I think I’m a better man now than I ever was,” he said. “I’ve come so close to the unknown.”
His health has not been without complications since the cancer therapy stopped. He recently underwent his 11th balloon angioplasty, a procedure in which a tiny balloon is inflated in the arteries to clear blockages.
Miller’s story caught the attention of the American Cancer Society, which profiled him in an hourlong documentary on cancer survivors in 1990. The program also featured a 23-year-old student who lost his leg to cancer, then ran across country to raise money for cancer research.
Tears well up in Miller’s eyes when he watches the tape, as he watches his wife describe him as “our hero, Lloyd,” and as he watches himself talk about cancer.
“An experience like this lets you know what life’s all about,” he said. •
EPILOGUE:Lloyd G. Miller died on March 6, 2004 at his retirement home in Orlando, Fla. He was 83.
Jeff Peterson will never forget Valentine’s Day 1985.
A battalion chief with the Racine Fire Department, Peterson was on his way to St. Mary’s Medical Center on a routine call that night. En route, he noticed a sharp pain in his groin, a pain that steadily worsened. By the time he arrived, he needed medical attention.
“By the time I got to St. Mary’s, I could hardly walk,” Peterson, 49, recalled.
Doctors who examined him originally thought he was suffering from torsion, a painful twisting of the vas deferens leading from the testicles. But efforts to relieve the pain were useless.
Peterson underwent exploratory surgery that night at St. Mary’s. He was under local anesthetic and was able to ask the surgeon what he saw. There were lumps on one of the testicles, he was told, and it could be cancer.
“I thought I was going to die,” he said. “I thought I had a death sentence.”
Surgeons removed the diseased testicle, which they believed was the original site of the cancer. He went home the next day, still reeling from the diagnosis.
Smoke inhalation a factor? Peterson did not smoke and he wondered how he could develop such a rare cancer, which strikes about 130 Wisconsin men a year. But he recalled his early days in the fire department, days when “you were a candy ass” if you wore an oxygen mask to a fire scene.
More than once, he recalled coughing up black phlegm after coming out of a fire. Now, he wonders what those early days did to him.
Peterson was admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where doctors put him through a battery of tests. The news was not encouraging. The cancer had spread to Peterson’s lungs and the tumors were growing fast.
“They had grown from the size of the head of your pen to the size of a small orange in three weeks or so,” he said.
Doctors decided to attack the lung tumors with chemotherapy. Peterson returned to Racine and went on a regimen of chemotherapy. One week of treatments was followed by three off weeks to let his body recover.
Peterson lost his hair from the nauseating treatments, but he decided to go back to work at the fire department, where he was in charge of training programs. Being at work was therapeutic.
“I found if I sat at home, the only thing I could think about is, ‘Am I going to die?’ ” he said. “I needed a diversion. That diversion was going to work.”
Diversion is not all he found at the fire department. He also found inspiration and the will to keep fighting.
Heroic inspiration The source of the inspiration was Dan Christensen. Christensen was always the first to greet Peterson and ask him how he was doing. Christensen told him things would work out, he’d be OK.
Encouraging words are always good to hear, but Christensen’s words carried extra meaning for Peterson, because his fellow firefighter was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“It was just remarkable, a person could take life, so little of which he had left, and still give so much to the people he had around him,” Peterson said.
Even as Christensen lost his motion control as his muscles deteriorated from the disease, he kept up the pep talks for Peterson. He visited him in the hospital and always had an encouraging word. He may not have known it at the time, but Christensen, who died in August, helped save his friend’s life.
“He made me keep on fighting,” Peterson said. “That’s a major part of beating cancer. You have to take one day at a time.”
There was plenty of fight ahead for Jeff Peterson.
The nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy put him back in the hospital. He developed blood clots in his lungs. Then, he developed a fungus-like disease in his lungs that put his life in jeopardy.
He remembers that meeting with doctors well. The combination of complications could be fatal. The doctor had tears in his eyes.
“ ‘You’re not rid of me yet,’ ” Peterson said he told the doctor. “I made up my mind I was not going to be that statistic. I was going to be a statistic on the positive side.”
Doctors started treating the lung fungus with steroids, but the going was still rough. Peterson got angry when some of his visitors treated him like he was a sure bet to die.
No giving up There were a few times in the hospital, when he was weary from the chemotherapy, that Peterson felt like giving up. Dying. But then sleep would come for a few hours, putting a little more fight in his soul.
By late 1985, Peterson turned the corner on his disease. The tumors responded to therapy and the fungus was subsiding. Peterson was winning.
That was six years ago. Peterson has been cancer-free ever since. The disease challenged him and nearly killed him, but it also gave him a sense of how precious life is.
“Cancer gives you a new outlook on life. Every day to me is a bonus,” he said. “I used to take a lot more things more seriously than I do now. You know the time here is so short, you should make the best of it every day.”
These days, Peterson spends part of his time delivering talks to high school boys about testicular self-exams, something even he was ignorant about before he got cancer.
“It’s a subject not many kids want to talk about, but it’s got to be done,” he said. “That’s one of the points I was extremely angry about. My own physician never told me to do a testicular exam.”
He also spends time whenever called upon to help cancer patients adjust to the disease. He won’t let them give up, just like Danny Christensen wouldn’t let him give up. One man he saw recently was ready to throw in the towel, but Peterson convinced him it was worth the fight. The man is doing fine now.
“That’s one of the boosts that makes me smile every day,” he said. •
EPILOGUE:Peterson retired from the Racine Fire Department in early 1999 after more than 30 years as a firefighter, including a stint as chief.