It's a book Venessa Mandelkow never wanted to write. But after stage 4 esophageal cancer took the life of her father, Bob Samuelson, this past December, Venessa and her sisters wanted to show Mayo Clinic oncologist Aminah Jatoi, M.D., just how much she meant to their family. "Dr. Jatoi and my father built a wonderful relationship of mutual respect," Venessa, director of Marketing and Business Development for Mayo Employees Federal Credit Union, tells us. "She's become an honorary part of our family."
After Bob's passing, Venessa and her sisters, Kaitlin and Megan, along with their mom, Randi, began to think about how they could thank Dr. Jatoi and her team for giving them the 11 months they had with Bob after his diagnosis. That team included registered nurses Alison Jacobson and Jessica Mitchell; Desk Operations specialist Veronica Peterson; and radiation oncologists Scott Stafford, M.D., and C. Richard Choo, M.D. "They were wonderful," Venessa says. "Every one of them."
Dr. Jatoi was with them the most through Bob's cancer journey. And Venessa tells us she came to hold a special place in Bob's heart. "My dad would continually invite her to our family farm, saying he'd take her around in his golf cart," Venessa says. "They just had this amazing relationship of mutual respect that was so much more than doctor and patient. They were friends."
Friends who went out of their way to look after one another, Venessa says. "There were many times when Dr. Jatoi would stop to see my dad after hours," she tells us. "I remember one Friday, in particular, when she drove to Saint Marys at 8:30 at night not only to see how he was doing, but to see how the rest of us were doing, too. For her to do that on her own time was very meaningful."
Venessa tells us one of Dr. Jatoi's most meaningful visits came after Bob's passing. Not only did she come to his funeral, she also stood at his gravesite, in 20-degree weather, consoling Venessa's 10-year-old son. "They hugged each other for a long time," Venessa says. "She wouldn't let go until he did."
It was that kind of care and compassion that Venessa tells us inspired her and her sisters to compile the Caring Bridge posts they'd been writing throughout Bob's cancer journey. From those posts, they created a book for Dr. Jatoi so that she could read, in black and white, exactly what her and her team's care meant to them.
Dr. Jatoi tells us she didn't quite know what to say when Randi and Bob's daughters presented the book to her earlier this month. "Their father was very special," she tells us. "It means so much to me and our whole Cancer Center team to have been part of his care."
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