Gene Stiteler – Experiences With Multiple Myeloma

Gene 2By David Schriemer, MD

Quiet, considerate devotion is not ostentatious. You can miss it if you’re not looking for it. Gene Stiteler, a neighbor to many who read this paper, is an example of quiet, devoted love.

Roy Eugene Stiteler was born and raised 2.5 miles east of Mendon. Gene’s father was Roy D. Stiteler, so Roy Eugene became Gene. He attended a one-room schoolhouse through eighth grade. After that, he walked, biked, or, in inclement weather, drove to Mendon High School. It was there that he met Maxine Marantette, his future bride. Gene was busy: working at the Little Brothers Elevator on weekends, going to school, playing baseball, showing animals in 4-H, and dating Maxine.

In 1942, his senior year, Gene was part of a four-man 4-H team from St. Joseph County that also included Leroy Millard of Colon, Merle Hammond of Athens and Kenneth Kruff of Three Rivers. They won the state 4-H championship and represented Michigan at the national contest in Chicago, earning third place in the nation.

After graduation, Gene worked on a farm in Milford, Michigan, keeping close ties to Mendon and returning home when he had free weekends. He was deferred from military duty because of his agricultural work. However, changes in farm management resulted in his dissatisfaction with the farm job, and he quit. He then enlisted in the Air Force, reporting to Fort Sheridan in Chicago in April 1944, where he was trained in radio and radar operations. He was stationed at multiple bases in the states. After the US celebrated Victory in Europe (VE) Day on May 8, 1945, the need for airmen was reduced. Gene could either be honorably discharged, or he could reenlist and choose his theater of action. He chose to go to Europe and reported for duty in December 1945. By February, he was in Europe as part of an aerial mapping project. He was in charge of the radar used to ensure that B-17s were taking pictures in the right locations. Discharged in December 1946, he returned home to Mendon and rekindled his relationship with Maxine.

Gene and Maxine were engaged at Christmas and married in the rectory of St. Edward’s Church in Mendon on May 14, 1947 they returned to Milford, but traveled to Mendon on weekends until Maxine became pregnant and was not allowed to travel. Their first son, Ronald, was born at Pontiac General Hospital on March 20, 1948. The new mom and baby came home after six days in the hospital. The cost of the doctor’s care for pregnancy, delivery and 6-week postpartum checkup was $60.

A short while later, after Gene had already arranged for someone to cover for him, the farm manager refused to let him travel to Mendon on the weekend. He quit the job and they moved back to Mendon, staying with Maxine’s parents. He found work with Marlon Garman, apprenticing as an electrician and taking night school classes through the G.I. Bill. He worked with Garman until 1951.

Gene’s roots in the Mendon community grew even deeper. He joined the fire department and was Fire Chief from 1952 to 1960. He also served on the ambulance service. Gene changed jobs in 1951, delivering fuel oil for Standard Oil until the local plant closed in 1960. He then worked for Carroll Haas at Research Molding in Mendon. The family moved out of town into a farmhouse on Simpson Road, where Gene spent a lot of time remodeling and fixing the house.

Maxine had finished nursing school at Borgess Hospital just before they were married. She used her nursing skills to help neighbors in need and was called upon to administer shots, as well. She led 4-H, all the while raising six children: Ronald, Cheryl, Randall, Gary, Joanne and Janice. She was an excellent cook and taught cooking with 4-H.

In 1973, Gene bought Marlon Garman’s electric and appliance store in Mendon. Garman Electric became Gene’s Electric. Maxine managed the store while Gene did electrical work.

The rhythm of life was good until 1984, when Maxine became ill and was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Maxine received regular treatments that seemed to help, but made her feel weak. She was about to be discharged from the hospital after treatment when she collapsed and then, on February 26, 1986, she died. Gene and Maxine had been married almost 39 years.

Gene was devastated, but he kept operating the store. The children were grown, although two daughters were still in college.

Joan (pronounced Jo Ann) Schmitt was a Mendon area native who lost her husband, Clement, in a fatal farm accident in 1981. She raised four children, Kathy, Marylou, Mike and Joe, and worked at the Kirsch Company. When daughter Marylou was younger, she had taken 4-H cooking lessons from Maxine Stiteler. She knew Gene, and encouraged her mother to ask Gene to come to a New Year’s Eve card party on December 31, 1987. Joan summoned up the courage to call him and Gene told her he would “think about it.” He thought about it for two weeks before he accepted her invitation.

One year later, on January 7, 1989, with both families present, Gene and Joan were married at St. Edward’s Church. Gene sold his home to his daughter and moved to Joan’s farm. Joan retired from Kirsch in February and Gene sold his store in April. The new retirees enjoyed their time together. They traveled to Florida every winter until missing the family and the hassle of moving far outweighed the benefits of Florida sunshine. Life was delightful.

Joan began to have health problems around 2001. Her feet started to feel numb and her kidney function began to decline. The impact on their daily life was not great until 2007, when Joan, while just walking, dislocated the bones in her left foot. Within a year, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, the same disease that had afflicted Maxine.

Joan soldiered on, followed carefully by her team of doctors. Joan knew she would eventually require regular blood transfusions, but updated treatments and a strong spirit kept her going. Gene had been through this before; he took over some household chores, as Joan was no longer able to cook and do other tasks. He cooked with Joan’s instructions, but it was never quite as good as if she had made it herself. Gene was patient, kind, hopeful and diligent.

The family organized an 80th birthday party for Joan on May 29, 2011, at Kathy’s barn. Joan summoned the strength to have a marvelous day with family and friends.

As Joan’s health continued to decline, treatment became burdensome. Joan, Gene and family elected to begin hospice care at home in October 2011. Her daughters organized a soup get-together at Joan and Gene’s. The date was delayed until October 28. With her extended family present, Joan visited with each of them, exchanging warm hugs and kisses. She sat in a chair and reported, “I feel strange.” She asked what the date was and was told the 28th. She replied, “My dad died on the 28th.” With that, she stopped breathing and with her family present, left the land of the dying for the land of the living.

That first night alone in the house was difficult for Gene. He had enjoyed 22 years with Joan.

The day before Joan died, she expressed to her doctor, how wonderful Gene was and how caring he had been. She was so grateful for him. Caring for Joan was never in question for Gene: “You do what you need to do.”

Gene is grateful for having had two such wonderful wives, though the emptiness he feels is ever present. His children, Joan’s children, the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren, do their best to fill that void.

Gene would never give up the love he shared with Maxine and Joan to avoid the grief he now feels. His quiet devotion is an example and inspiration for us all.

Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the blood. Normally, plasma cells are produced by the bone marrow and make antibodies to fight infection. In multiple myeloma, these plasma cells grow out of control, producing useless antibodies that can thicken the blood, crowd out the production of red blood cells and platelets in the bone marrow, weaken the bone and form tumors called plasmacytomas.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 24,000 new cases in the United States in 2014. The cause is unknown. It does not appear to be an inherited disease. The risk is higher in agricultural and petroleum workers implicating exposure to petroleum products, insecticides and herbicides. The most significant risk factor is age, with 96% of cases in people over 45 years old and 63% in people over 65 years old.

Diagnosis requires blood and urine tests, x-rays for bone lesions and bone marrow biopsy.

Treatment continues to improve. Some new treatments have only become available within the past few years! Medications are used to prevent bone destruction and lower calcium levels. Chemotherapy agents are used to kill cancer cells or control tumor growth. Radiation treatment is used to treat plasmacytomas. Another new treatment option is stem cell transplantation. Healthy stem cells are harvested from the patient’s bone marrow. Strong chemotherapy is given that destroys all the cells of the bone marrow, normal or cancerous. After chemotherapy, the healthy stem cells are then given back to the patient and populate the bone marrow making new blood cells.

For most people multiple myeloma never goes away completely. Regular treatments with chemotherapy or other drugs, radiation treatment or other treatments are needed to keep the cancer in check. Treatments may be temporarily stopped and restarted for medical or other reasons, depending on the patient’s condition and circumstances. With multiple myeloma, treatment of one kind or another can continue throughout the person’s life.

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