28 years later, memories of nurses strong as ever

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Twenty-eight years ago today (January 2, 1991), I sat in a hospital bed and watched “Hoosiers.” Mom had gone home to be with my brothers John and Jim, as Dad was still driving back east after making it several hundred miles west before he got the news and turned around.

cropped-runningwithghost_fc_f2-11.jpgAbout six hours earlier in the day, I had been admitted to Wooster Community Hospital, to Room 404, so doctors could run tests. I had heard the word leukemia mentioned, but I didn’t know what that was and I didn’t think it was any worse than a cold or the flu. At 3:30 p.m., I ate Little Caesars pizza and drank a Coke. I talked on the phone with my friend Jim Pagniano and told him I was in the hospital, but that I expected I would still play in the basketball tournament on the weekend.

But now that I was alone, and watching “Hoosiers,” I started getting nervous. I had spent a night in this hospital before — just about a month-and-a-half ago — when I had a surgery to repair a hernia, but this just seemed different. Dr. Frank Cebul III and a new doctor I had never seen before, Dr. Jeffrey Spiess, talked about bone marrow tests and leukemic blasts and even chemotherapy. He said the next day’s tests would tell them more.

“We’ll know then where we go from here,” I imagine Dr. Spiess said.

I didn’t understand that at all, at least not right then. I felt fine as I chowed on pizza. I didn’t feel like someone who should be sitting in a hospital bed.

But I also knew that I had been very tired over the last couple weeks. And I had this sharp pain in my back anytime someone touched me. And now, as I watched the boys from a small town in Indiana play basketball, a sport I loved to play, and did so on a team at a school that wasn’t much bigger than Hickory, I started to wonder what was happening to me.

A nurse came into my room and sat down. She asked me how I was feeling and I mumbled that I was fine. Earlier, before Mom left, the nurse told us that if we had any questions about any of the upcoming tests, we just had to ask. Now that Mom was gone, I didn’t have any questions. I had nothing but a creeping loneliness and a feeling that my life was changing and I didn’t have any idea how or why.

Tears started rolling down my face, but I didn’t say anything and neither did the nurse. But she was there, sitting quietly, and that meant everything to me.

The next three years of my life would be dominated by caring and compassionate nurses like the one in Wooster. The nurses at Akron Children’s Hospital helped me through the 10 weeks that I lived on 4-North, and then the two-plus years as an outpatient.

Matt and Joan Camp CHOPS photo

This is me, in June 1991, with Joan, at Camp CHOPS.

There was Theresa and Joan who acted crazy, who loved to laugh and do things in an attempt to make me laugh, to make me forget for just one second the battle that was taking place inside by body.

Rickey Henderson rookie photo

The card John gave me back in January 1991.

There was John, the only male nurse I had in my days as an in-patient, who brought in his baseball card collection one day so I could look at it, and after I had turned through pages of baseball cards worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars, he asked me what card I liked best. I told him I liked the Rickey Henderson rookie card best because I was collecting Henderson cards, and the rookie – valued at the time at close to $400 – was one I coveted but could never afford. He slid the card out and handed it to me.

“It’s yours,” he said.

There was Janet, who knew I needed to eat, and who knew I couldn’t stomach hospital food, but that I loved sausage biscuits from McDonalds, and so she would stop there on her way to the hospital in the mornings and buy one for me, dropping it off in my room before her shift started.

Matt and Pam photo

Pam and I stand at the Akron Marathon Expo in September 2017.

And in the outpatient clinic, there was Pam and Char, who guided me through life as a kid whose cancer was in remission, a kid who was trying to get back to a normal that didn’t exist anymore.

The nurses are one of the reasons I can look back on what by all accounts should be a tragic and sad anniversary – the day I found out I had cancer as a 15-year-old – and be thankful for my experience.

The nurses changed my life every bit as much as the cancer did.



Vertical Runner in Wooster, Ohio

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Whenever we go back to Ohio for visits, I always make sure to stop in at Vertical Runner, the running store in Wooster. I did the same when we were there over the holidays and bought myself a new pair of running shoes.

It was the last pair I’d buy in Vertical Runner’s original store, as they’re moving to a bigger facility, one that is also a historical Downtown Wooster building that has been beautifully restored.

One of the best parts of our trip home was getting to see the inside of the new building, which will open tomorrow. Another great thing was getting to read The Daily Record’s story on the new store, written by Tami Mosser. That story ran on Sunday, December 30, and I was lucky enough to read it before we drove back to Connecticut.

One thing the story mentions is how Brian and Tammy Polen have not just built a successful business, but they’ve also built an amazing community of runners and walkers. This community and this store is really one of the biggest things I miss since I moved to Connecticut.

We have running stores here on Fairfield County, but none of them have built the community that Vertical Runner has. None of them have developed an atmosphere where runners of all speed just want to hang out together. I miss that more than anything.

And even though I live more than 530 miles away from the store, it is still the only place I will buy running shoes from.

Congrats to Brian and Tammy and the entire running community on the new store, and thanks to Tami and The Daily Record for having that great story in Sunday’s paper.

Deposition of AU President Carlos Campo

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Here is the deposition of Ashland University President Carlos Campo. Once again, this is tied to the lawsuit that six former tenured faculty members have filed against the university, claiming that their termination was a breach of contract (which essentially means they’re claiming their firings were done in violation of Faculty Rules and Regulations).

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There are a few things that stood out to me in this deposition.

• The university is arguing that it terminated faculty because of “the formal restructuring of a program or department not mandated by financial exigency.” This is one of the three reasons given in the Faculty Rules and Regulations for terminating tenured faculty.

Campo actually argues, though, that simply terminating a faculty member is indeed restructuring.


In fact, many of the courses that were taught by the tenured faculty who were fired are still being taught, but now they’re being taught by adjuncts. No majors or minors were eliminated. No departments were eliminated. The College of Arts and Sciences did actually start combining departments in late 2015, several months after the faculty were terminated, but it was clear (to me at the time) that this was being done to protect the university in a possible lawsuit, a lawsuit that was ultimately filed a few months later. The college did save a bit of money because of this. Since they combined departments, they didn’t have to have as many chairs the meager stipends that department chairs get.

Still, how does one explain a new department of Philosophy, Math and Computer Science?

• Campo claimed to have never read the 1982 Settlement Agreement that stemmed from faculty members being treated unfairly by what was then Ashland College administrators. In fact, that mediated settlement agreement was in many ways the document that ultimately gave power to the university’s Faculty Rules and Regulations.

You can read that agreement for yourself here: 1982 Settlement Agreement

• Even though Campo claimed to have never read the settlement agreement, he argues that it doesn’t have any power because it was a document tied to Ashland College, not Ashland University. He essentially argued that Ashland College and Ashland University were not the same institution. The name was changed in 1989 to more accurately reflect what the institution had become.

• These terminations were done purely for financial reasons. In the year prior to Campo arriving on campus (academic year 2014-15), the university had somewhere close to $65 million in debt, versus just $41 million in its endowment (info according to AU’s IRS 990 form from that year). The university was also trying to refinance that debt, but since Moody’s had downgraded its credit rating to near junk bond status in 2014, it was finding it hard to find bond holders willing to refinance.

Campo actually testified that after the university’s academic programs completed its prioritization process, that information was turned over to the Board of Trustees who then told Campo to cut 15 percent of the faculty compensation budget. There was nothing from the BOT about academic programs or departments to be eliminated. They simply wanted to cut about $3 million.

• Which leads to another one of Campo’s arguments, and that’s that some of the restructuring that was done was to the university’s budget (remember, the FRR says that it must be an academic program or department that must be restructured, not the university budget). Campo even claimed that with the money saved by cutting tenured faculty, he could spend more on university athletics. Which AU did recently, when they started ESports as a varsity team, hired a coach and created a scholarship for FortNite players.


This should be distressing for anyone in higher education. What Campo is arguing is that he can terminate a faculty member anytime he wants, so long as he’s thought about it for a long time.

If Ashland University prevails in this lawsuit, then tenure there is dead.

Deposition of CAS Dean Dawn Weber

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Here is the testimony of College of Arts and Sciences Dean Dawn Weber. Weber arrived at Ashland University in the Fall of 2008, the same year I was hired as an assistant professor of English and Journalism. She was the only dean I had in eight years at AU. Screen Shot 2018-12-07 at 7.34.03 PM

Reading through this deposition makes me think that Weber either has an incredibly horrible memory or she is not being entirely truthful. I mean, she testified that she didn’t know who the president of the university was in May 2014.

I’ll tell you who it was: It was Fred Finks, and the provost was Frank Pettigrew. And early in May 2014, Faculty Senate passed a vote of No Confidence in Finks and Pettigrew after we became aware of a proposal Finks turned in to the Board of Trustees that recommended, among other things, eliminating tenured faculty.

Fifteen months later, 14 tenured faculty were eliminated.

Ashland University court documents filed

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Below is the Defendant’s (Ashland University) Motion for Summary Judgement, in relation to the civil lawsuit brought forth by six former tenured Ashland University faculty members, who were essentially fired in August 2015 (with their employment ending in December 2016).

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This document is essentially AU’s argument for why the university was in the right to terminate 14 tenured faculty members. Additionally, this is the first time I’ve seen the exact number of tenured faculty who were cut, as the university always hemmed and hawed and would never give a specific number, at least when reporters asked them questions.

One of the university’s main arguments is that simply terminating a tenured faculty member is in and of itself restructuring. According to Faculty Rules and Regulations, the university can indeed eliminate tenured faculty if there is a reorganization of a program or department. However, for the university to argue that the termination of a faculty member is a reorganization means that tenure at AU is meaningless.

Read the entire court document for yourself: AU lawsuit court document

Newtown Bee does another story!

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A couple weeks ago, I talked to my daughter’s sixth-grade cluster about memoir writing. It was a wonderful surprise to find a Newtown Bee reporter in the class that day, because she was there to write a story about my class visit.

Here is the story that ran online on October 5, and then in print on Oct. 12!

“With sixth grade students in Michelle Vaccaro and Courtney Martin’s cluster seated before him, district parent and local author Matt Tullis discussed writing and his recently published book, Running With Ghosts: A Memoir of Surviving Childhood Cancer, on September 25.

“’We’re so happy that you are here to talk about writing,’ said Ms Vaccaro, adding that the students were lucky Mr Tullis’s daughter Lily was in the cluster to arrange the first guest speaker visit of the school year.”

Running With Ghosts: 1 Year Anniversary!

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One year ago today, I was celebrating the fact that Running With Ghosts had just gone on sale when I received a message via Facebook from a Maryanne Gabriele. The name didn’t look familiar, but I went ahead and read it anyway.

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She included a photo, along with the sentence, “That’s me and Melissa right before she was diagnosed.”


The first sentence gave of her message me chills. I knew of Maryanne, from my talks with Melissa’s mom, Louise. But I had never pushed further, never tried to get in touch with her. It was a lapse in my reporting, because if I had, I would have learned so much more about Melissa. But I was also leery about reaching out to another stranger and asking them to talk to me about someone who had died so long ago. I told myself that I didn’t really have time; that I had to get the book done and that was that.

I read Maryanne’s message a couple times, thinking that she must have sent it because she knew Running With Ghosts had just come out. But there was nothing in the message saying anything about the book, and I realized that she probably didn’t know about it, which made her message to me, on that day, all the more incredible.

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Her response: Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 2.54.02 PM

I still don’t know what to make of the randomness of Maryanne reaching out to me about a story I wrote about her best friend two years earlier, and having that message land in my inbox directly on the day that story became a book. I don’t believe in the afterlife, but Melissa did. She kept her faith even as her hours waned, a faith I gave up the moment I learned she had died. Melissa was also a planner extraordinaire. She planned her father’s 50th birthday party from her hospital bed. She planned her own funeral.

If anyone could ever pull something like this off twenty-four years after she died — somehow connecting the best friend of her life with a kid she knew while battling cancer, all on the day that kid’s book came out, it would be her.

Running With Ghosts is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and anywhere else books are sold.