Joe Rath was unsettled. He'd just walked into a radiation therapy treatment room at Mayo Clinic and was looking at the equipment designed to eliminate any prostate cancer cells lurking in his body. "I saw the machine and I had stuff going through my mind that you wouldn't believe," Joe tells us. But those worrisome thoughts would be short lived, thanks to Radiation Therapist Marshall Klein. Klein's job is delivering radiation, but he delivered something more to Joe: an unexpected dose of comfort. "Marshall had the ability to put my mind at ease," Joe tells us. "I liked the guy within the first 5 seconds I met him." Joe liked Klein's colleagues as well, who attended to his nerves with reassuring conversation, music and warm blankets. "They were giving me the full-service treatment," he says. "I felt like I was in a resort."
It's all part of what Joe calls the Mayo Experience. "Everyone at Mayo — I'm talking doctors, nurses, the cleaning staff, the parking attendants — every single person who works at Mayo takes time for whoever is in front of them," he says. "They're not just coming to work. They let you know they're there for you. The people who work at Mayo are the key to the Mayo Experience. It's incredible."
It didn't take long for Joe, an airline engineer who exudes Tony Robbins-esque positivity, to become part of the Mayo Experience himself. One day he looked around the waiting room, full of other patients fighting battles like his. And he had a thought. This isn't all about me. "I realized I had an opportunity to make a difference right in front of me," Joe says. He began reaching out to those around him — to the man with a brain tumor, the woman with metastatic breast cancer, the little boy made bald by radiation. In each case, he found a scared human being, hungry for connection.
"Joe put a lot of other patients at ease with the hope he gave them by listening and encouraging them to keep fighting," Klein says. "The smiles and energy that he brought to those around him was pretty amazing. I'd often have to go get him from the lobby since he was so caught up in conversation that he didn't hear us calling his name."
Joe's efforts weren't limited to the lobby. "I used to rush through the subway, but now I look at it like, 'How many people can I meet?'" he tells us. And his efforts weren't limited to patients. "Joe kept things light and fun for me and my coworkers," Klein says. "He gave us lots of laughs and lots of memories."
One of those memories came on Joe's last day of treatment, when he handed Klein a customized hospital gown. Joe had decorated the gown with the nickname he'd bestowed on Klein ("The Grand Marshall") and Mayo's three-shield logo. He made a gown for himself as well, and the two posed for photos in their matching robes. It's a photo that reminds Joe of a time he looks back on with fondness.
"When treatment ended, I lost something I loved very much," Joe says. "My doctors gave me a big list of the side effects I'd experience during radiation, but there's one they left out. They didn't tell me about the emotional fallout after treatment ended. I was grieving for weeks afterward."
Part of that grief, Joe says, was because he didn't have a sense of closure. That would come a few months later, when he returned to Mayo Clinic for a follow up appointment with Bradley Stish, M.D. That morning Joe put on his best suit, bought boxfuls of pastries, and delivered them to Dr. Stish and the rest of the care team. "I didn't realize how the Mayo Experience would get to me," Joe tells us. "You get attached to all the people. It's hard to say goodbye."
But as Klein explained to Joe, he doesn't have to. "Marshall told me, 'Joe, it's never goodbye. It's just see you later.'"
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