Six months after having surgery to remove the cancer from his body, Leonard Hislop was told that the cancer had returned. He suddenly was facing 30 rounds of radiation. But instead of dreading those treatments, Leonard decided he was going to find a way to "make it fun." And for the first 21 days, he did that by "dressing up nicely" in a "different pair of slacks, sports coat, tie, and shirt" for each appointment.
Then, "three Fridays" before his last treatment, Leonard decided to break out an outfit that no one at Mayo Clinic had seen: an ensemble that paid homage to the Scottish heritage he holds dear. "I'm kind of a crazy American-Scot, and a few years ago I designed my own tartan (plaid) pattern," he tells us. "So I wore a pair of tartan slacks that I had manufactured in Scotland." Leonard tells us he completed the outfit by wearing "a jacket, vest, tie, and shoes typical of an afternoon outing in Scotland."
As the final day of treatment approached, Leonard wanted to do something "extra special" to celebrate. He told his care team he was planning to show up to his last appointment — where he would ring a bell signaling the end of his radiation treatment — "in a formal kilt outfit with turned down socks and the whole kettle of peas."
Nancy Heinzelman, patient experience coordinator in Radiation Oncology, tells us she was "so touched by Mr. Hislop's love for his Scottish heritage" that she decided to see if there was anything more that could be done to help make his last treatment memorable.
Nancy began, she tells us, by "asking around" to see if any of her colleagues "knew anyone who played the bagpipes." One name came back: Johnson Thistle, M.D., an emeritus physician in Mayo's Division of Gastroenterology. Nancy reached out to Dr. Thistle, who agreed to surprise Leonard by playing the bagpipes at his bell-ringing … while wearing a full traditional Scottish kilt outfit of his own.
"It was absolutely incredible," Leonard tells us of seeing — and hearing — Dr. Thistle walk down the hall playing "Scotland the Brave" as Leonard's care team wheeled him out to ring the bell. "I could hardly contain my excitement and my heart rate. The bagpipes are very special to me, and so having Dr. Thistle take the time to do that for me really lit my candle."
Nancy tells us the surprise unfolded better than she expected. "When Mr. Hislop saw and heard that bagpipe … I'll never forget the look on his face," she tells us. "It was quite an emotional experience, and one that I'm going to remember forever."
For his part, Dr. Thistle tells us he was "honored" to be able to share his own love of the bagpipes with Leonard. "For some people, the bagpipes just really reach their emotional centers," he says. "It was just something I could do, and something that I was honored to do for him."
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