by Joan Cordes © 2004
This story is about Bill Cordes, the man that gave a blood
transfusion to Brian Piccolo days before he died. Bill was cured of
Embryonal Cell Carcinoma and it was hoped that his blood might help Piccolo.
Our family was a happy family, a mom, a dad, and five
rambunctious and healthy children. Bill Jr. was eight years old, Randy 5, Cathy
3, Jan 2, and Terry just five months of age. Bill Sr. had recently completed
his instructions in the Catholic Faith. We repeated our marriage vows at a Mass
shortly after Bill’s reception into the Catholic Church. It seemed to make our
family perfect, until out-of-the-blue; a bolt of lightning hit us.
In the early spring of 1963, Bill came down to the breakfast
table and complained of swelling and pain in the groin area. Our family doctor
recommended he consult with an Urologist. Two days later, Bill had surgery to
remove his testicle! The surgeon told us that we had to wait for a biopsy
before he could tell us anything about further treatment.
After a few days, Dr. Petrillo had the results of the biopsy
and asked me to come to his office alone. Bill was still in the hospital. He
explained that there are approximately sixty types of cancer and Bill has one
of the fastest spreading and most malignant types. Dr. Petrillo predicted that
because of Bill’s young age of thirty-four, the cancer would spread rapidly.
His prognosis, “Bill has about six months to live.” I was stunned; suddenly,
our lives did a complete turnaround. Bill had embryonic cell carcinoma. In
1963, that type of cancer was always fatal.
Dr. Petrillo recommended that we go to Sloan Kettering
Memorial Hospital in New York City, which specializes in cancer treatment. Dr.
Petrillo explained, “I interned there and I know how they work.” “If there is
anything new or experimental, Sloan Kettering would have it.”
It was a short walk back to Somerset Hospital and I was
feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders. I had the sensation of walking
through deep water in slow motion. I could not bear the thought of losing Bill!
This sudden realization abruptly brought me out of the stupor I was in, and I
had to confront it. How can I tell Bill? I prayed I would say the right thing.
The hospital had a little Chapel so I stopped in to say a prayer. I began to
get back some courage as I went to the cafeteria to get some coffee.
I thought about Arthur Godfrey, who was in Sloan Kettering a
few years earlier, and that so many people prayed for him. He was at that time,
the current, much loved and very popular television personality and the
headlines in the New York papers kept everyone well informed of his progress.
He had a lung removed and was given a guarded prognosis. Because of the example
of so many prayers offered for Arthur Godfrey, along with his positive outcome,
I began to ask everyone and anyone who assisted me and offered help, to pray
for Bill. I began attending daily Mass.
Bill came home from Somerset Hospital, and felt well enough to
get back to work. We contacted Sloan Kettering. We were told to call every
morning in order to check for an available bed. I was assured that this was the
usual procedure, that all admissions were equally serious, and that there was a
long waiting list. I became more and more apprehensive as Bill developed
soreness around the nipples and I knew this symptom could not be good. I called
the doctor several times and faithfully, he returned my calls. Once, I reached
him at a social gathering he was attending with his wife. He asked me not to
call him again but promised to call me if there was anything new to tell me.
Finally, after two weeks, a bed became available and we left
for New York. I went with Bill and stayed with him through the entrance
preparations and a conference with the doctor. The plan at this time still
called for surgery. The doctor gave us hope that surgery offered some promise
and asked Bill if there were any other symptoms. Bill told him that his nipples
were sore. I could not help but notice the look of concern that came over the
doctor’s face. Bill was admitted to the hospital.
I was able to get babysitters so I could go to daily mass and
get to see Bill. Fortunately, with the help of my family and friends, I could
stay at the hospital all day.
Bill’s brother, an attorney, advised us to keep Bill’s illness
a secret. He thought it might hurt our construction business if the word got
out that Bill had cancer. At first, I told only one person, my neighbor Ann who
told me to, “Just put the whole thing in the Blessed Mother’s hands.” I did,
and it was good advice.
The morning of the scheduled surgery, I arranged for Fr. Dzema
to say a Mass for Bill. After Mass, Fr. Dzema, our family priest, showed me the
church calendar for that day, it was the feast day of St. William, Bill’s
namesake, and Father saw this as a good sign.
I arrived in plenty of time to see Bill Prior to his surgery,
but he was not around. His roommate told me that the surgery was canceled and
Bill was off having more tests. As it turned out, the tests Bill had the night
before, revealed that the cancer had spread past the lymph nodes and that he
had nine or ten small “pencil-eraser-size” tumors on both lungs. The surgery
Bill looked exhausted after the tests. He had two tubes
inserted into the tops of his feet to inject dye in order to X-ray for further
spread of the cancer. The next day, we were waiting in the lounge area for the
doctor to come in. It was July and very warm. The windows were wide open as the
hospital was not air-conditioned.
Bill’s doctor arrived and explained the new direction that
Bill’s treatment would take—chemotherapy with a new and still experimental drug
called acteomyacin-D. I wrote the name down phonetically in my notebook. Bill
would receive diluted doses of this drug intravenously while under observation.
He had to remain in the hospital for about a week as the drug was toxic,
experimental and required monitoring. The treatment began and Bill slept
through most of the day. He complained of being very sick, and the nausea, he
said, was beyond anything he could describe.
Personally, I was having a difficult time coping. I needed
someone to drive Bill to the hospital, or I needed a brave babysitter. The
children were getting to be difficult for my in-laws to care for so they took a
little time away to visit their other son. I arranged for Bill’s Aunt Hannah
and Uncle Frank to drive Bill to the hospital. They were wonderful to us and
Aunt Hannah told me that she was praying for Bill to have a complete healing.
She did not want him left with any problems at all! Her faith in prayer was
I cried a lot, especially when I was not with the children. I
cried while I was shopping, I cried in church and places where I was to some
extent, alone. I tried as best I was able to be brave for the children. At
times, I had a strong urge to go running but was afraid that my neighbors would
think I flipped out. Jogging was not in vogue at the time, except maybe for
prizefighters while a woman with a sick husband and five children could be
suspect. I prayed and prayed. I asked everyone to pray for us. Finally,
exhausted of asking, and in such anguish that I cried out to God, “Please,
Lord, just let Bill live long enough to see his children grow up.” “Lord,
please let them know their father!”
The nights were most difficult. During the day, I was with
Bill and in the evenings, I was busy with the children. When I was alone, the
grief began to overwhelm me. I spent my nights in the living room sleeping on
the sofa. It was too painful for me to sleep in our bed. One of these times, as
I awakened, something remarkable and unexplainable happened.
I awoke at about five in the morning and as I was getting
ready to get up, I remembered what was going on—I sighed deeply and sadly.
Unexpectedly, the room changed. It appeared misty and filled with eternity. I
had the clear impression that time stopped. Then, I “heard” an interior voice,
which I recognized as my father’s voice. He simply said, “Bill will be all
right.” I cannot wholly explain the joy that filled me, Bill will be all right!
I thought or said that was my father! He is in heaven! I could not wait to tell
Bill of my experience. I had a visit from heaven! There was no doubt in me that
this was a great grace—a gift from God!
Bill’s parents were back to watch the children and I continued
my daily visits. I went to Mass and took a bus to the Port Authority bus
station. It was a beautiful day, so I decided to walk as far as I could before
hailing a cab. The streets were still empty and I was filled with energy. The
sun shone on the diamonds as I walked through the diamond district and the
sparkle was dazzling! I just kept walking as long and as far as I could and
then flagged a cab. I could not wait to tell Bill!
Later in the week, we were sitting in the patient’s lounge
when Dr. Grabstaldt came in and told us that Bill’s alpha-seta protein count
(what the tumors secrete) was way down and that was good. He outlined a brand
new schedule for Bill. He prescribed ongoing treatment with increasing
intervals between treatments.
Shortly before Bill became ill, Sister Helen Mazurek, my
second cousin (my grandmother and her mother were sisters) invited us to visit
her at her convent in Pennsylvania. At the time, Sister Helen was a teacher and
the Principal of the school where she taught. Sister Helen belonged to the
Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco, a Roman Catholic Order founded in 1872 by
St. John Bosco and St. Mary Domenica Mozzarella. Before becoming a nun, Sister
Helen shopped around for an Order and according to my mother who went with her
on her search, she visited many different ones. She chose the Salesian Sisters
because she liked the rules and the fact that she could keep her own name. She
was required to learn to speak Italian and she liked to say, “The fine
Terry, my youngest, was just one month old and I remember all
the Sisters billing and cooing while I changed her on their dining room table.
It seemed they had never seen a one-month-old baby before. They were awed with
how tiny she was. I remember hearing, “Look at how tiny her hands are.” and
“See how tiny her feet are--so little.” They really enjoyed having an almost
newborn baby to admire.
In the early evening, Sister Helen led us into their little
Chapel as she had a ceremony prepared for us. We all knelt in front of the
altar as Sister Helen led Bill and me in prayer as we consecrated our children
to the care of the Holy Mother of God and the little cards read, “With the
intention of renewing my offering every time I say the Hail Mary.” It was a
beautiful ceremony, intimate and holy. Of course, Terry was very tired by now
and cried a lot through it all.
Sister Helen, one of our main supporters in prayer, asked me
to pray to Laura Vicuna, a young girl who died in 1904. Laura was a student of
the Salesian Sisters in Argentina. They considered her special enough and holy
enough to be considered for Sainthood. Sister Helen told me that her class was
praying for Laura Vicuna’s intercession for Bill’s healing. Laura Vicuna was
beatified, i.e., deemed to be called Blessed in 1988 by John Paul II. She still
needs a miracle, received through her intercession, in order to be canonized.
Sister visited us once at our home with a few of her students
and once with another Sister. Her Order had a rule that they could only leave
the convent for illness in the family, and a few other similar circumstances.
It was during her third visit to our home that God unexplainably touched us.
It was now more than a year since Bill had become ill. Bill
came home for lunch that day because of Sister’s visit. When we finished lunch,
Bill left for the office and Sister Helen and I chatted for a while. Almost as
an afterthought, while she was getting ready to leave, Sister remarked, “Just
to be sure, I am going to leave you with a first-class relic of the Foundress
of our Order, Saint Mary Mozzarella.” She reached into her pocket to retrieve
the relic, which took some time, as the Sisters still wore many long skirts.
Sister carefully took the relic out of some cloth wrapping and handed it to me.
Just then, the phone rang. I reached for the wall phone with one hand while
extending the other, so I could accept the relic from Sister Helen. I picked up
Dr. Golbey and Dr. Grabstaldt were both on the line. They were
calling from Sloan Kettering. Dr. Grabstaldt said, “Do you remember I told you
that I would call you if there was any change in Bill’s condition?” I answered
yes, a little apprehensively. He explained that he had just attended a doctor’s
conference about Bill’s condition and all of the doctors agreed that they could
not find any evidence of the disease! I stood there dumbfounded, looking at
Sister Helen and looking at the blessed relic in my hand.
What could I say? I could not express myself! I tried my best
to be appropriately joyful and thankful to Dr. Golbey who directed the
chemotherapy, and to Dr. Grabstaldt. I hung up the phone while holding the
relic in my hand. I told Sister what the doctors said. I was quiet, and so was
Sister Helen. We were trying to grasp the meaning of what had just happened. I
could not express myself except in giving thanks to God quietly, in my whole
being—a miracle! It took some time to absorb.
Sister composed herself before I did and began instructing me
in what she thought I should do. She told me to compose a letter telling the
story. From this day on, Sister Helen called Bill, “The Miracle Man.”
I could not wait to tell Bill. I called him at his office to
tell him what had just happened. I cannot remember if Bill said Dr. Golbey also
called him because both of us immediately began talking in unison. It was such
an astounding and miraculous moment.
Dr. Golbey advised Bill to continue treatment for at least a
year. We went for his next treatment appointment and Bill said, “Today, I am
going to talk him out of having more treatments.” Bill was an experienced and
convincing salesman and he did pursue this course until, with a promise to his
doctor that he would continue with follow-up examinations, Dr. Golbey agreed to
terminate the treatments. I never saw a happier face on Bill as he came out of
Dr. Golbey’s office that day! Dr. Golbey predicted, “The way you responded to
the drug, you should have no problem even if it does come back.” I, personally,
knew in my heart that Bill’s healing was miraculous, unexplainable, and a gift
We were secure as Bill’s health returned fully and seemed to
be permanent. We built a beautiful new house and became completely involved in
our children’s activities. It was a brand new life!
Unfortunately, and sadly, Sister Helen developed cancer and
had a long bout with it. We visited her about a month before she died. It was
Easter time and we brought the Sisters candy. Sister Helen was in a lot of
pain; still she took us for a tour of the grounds and showed us her burial
site. She told us that she had victorious and joyful songs selected for her
funeral service. Sister Helen died soon after our visit. We attended her
funeral with all of our children.
The Sisters sang beautifully and joyfully as Sister Helen
requested. Cathy brought her father over to view Sister a second time because
she insisted that Sister Helen was glowing. She asked him if he saw Sister
Helen glowing. Cathy told me recently that she did not think he saw it but he
said yes anyway.
Several years passed since Bill’s bout with cancer. Life went
on and we enjoyed our beautiful new home. A year had passed since Bill’s last
exam when Dr. Golbey called Bill and asked him if he would be willing to give a
day to science. He needed Bill to arrive very early the next morning. It seemed
to be some sort of an emergency. Dr. Golbey explained the procedure to Bill and
he agreed to do it. He told Bill that someone was dying of the same illness as
Bill had and that their blood types were compatible. I had some trepidation
about Bill doing this; it was just too soon! I was afraid it could bring back
his cancer even though the doctors insisted it was safe. Yet, I thought it was
a lot to ask of him, but Bill was steadfast. He wanted to do it.
We left for New York City early in the morning for what turned
out to be an all day procedure. When Bill was done, we went to a restaurant
where he explained what happened. He told me that the apparatus used to perform
the procedure, looked like a centrifuge, something like the one used to process
milk. Bill’s blood went into this processing unit, which spun around, and
separated the white corpuscles from the red corpuscles. This process continued
all day until Dr. Golbey judged he had enough white corpuscles to transfuse
into the waiting patient who received the transfusion of what Bill described as
looking like, “around two cups of white corpuscles.”
The hope was that it would cause his body to accept the
actiomyacin-D, in the way that Bill did. According to Dr. Golbey, the other
patient was rejecting the drug and was not regenerating new blood cells as Bill
did after the treatment. He hoped the transfusion would help to jump-start this
action. We still did not know who the patient was, but if all went well, Bill
and I could meet him on Monday when Bill returned for a check-up. Bill did
mention that he noticed several posters of a football player tacked up in the
Early Monday morning, Bill and I set off for the hospital.
Soon after we arrived, Bill went into the doctor’s office and Dr. Golbey sent
him to the lab for blood work. I waited and chatted with a few other patients
until Bill returned from his tests. He came back with bad news. The person who
received his blood died over the weekend.
It was Brian Piccolo, the Chicago Bears football player whose
story was told in the popular television movie presentation, “Brian’s Song.” We
were extremely saddened as Brian Piccolo had a wife and children too, and he
was so young. Gale Sayers honored Brian Piccolo at a Chicago Bears Banquet in
which he received the Player of the Year award and, shared it posthumously with
Brian Piccolo. We watched news reports on the evening news and Bill mentioned
that he would have liked to attend.
Twenty-four years after Bill’s first surgery, we moved to the
Jersey Shore. Bill began to have some indigestion problems and went to a local
doctor to have it checked out. The tests did not show anything, so he tried to
alleviate the discomfort with the usual medications. Bill seemed to be O.K. so,
in the summer of 1991, we decided to take a trip to Utah to explore the area
and find out if we would like to ski in Utah the following season. We also went
to two extremely beautiful parks, Bryce Canyon and Zion Mountain. I am so
grateful that we took many videos of this trip as they are a great memory for
me now. Unfortunately, during this trip, which we did enjoy, I noticed that
Bill did not seem well; he tired quickly and seemed edgy.
A few weeks later, Bill saw blood in his urine. Again, he went
to an urologist at the Southern Ocean County Hospital, close to our home. The
results were not good. Bill had a “shadow” showing on the x-rays in the
“indigestion area.” We decided to go back to Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital.
I remembered what Dr. Golbey said, “In the positive way that Bill accepted the
treatment...he should have no problem if it reoccurs.”
There were many changes at the hospital in the thirty-two
years since Bill’s first time there. Dr. Golbey retired and another doctor took
Bill on as a patient. Bill told him of his past successful treatment. They
looked up his records and were surprised to find that it was actiomyacin-D,
since discontinued from use. There was now something else, named cistystatin.
Bill’s current doctor mentioned to Bill that Dr. Golbey had insisted for many
years that the actiomyacin-D was effective.
After running the usual x-rays and lung tests, the biopsy
showed the cancer had returned and was in its second stage. It was on Bill’s
lungs and spreading. Bill also had an aneurism in the aorta very close to the
tumor, which made it inoperable. It had been thirty years since the first stage
went into remission. I remember his doctor saying, “Bill, you could probably
make the Guinness Book of World Records.” We had only one other patient whose
remission lasted as long before going into second stage, a woman with breast
The current treatment used for this type of cancer,
cistystatin was administered. Still, Bill’s cancer count kept a steady pace; it
lowered a bit and then rose again. The doctor decided, after not getting any
results with the new treatment, and because of Bill’s prior history, to try the
old treatment, the actiomyacin-D. They had to order some as they did not have
it on hand at Sloan, but as it turned out, it was ineffective.
Attempts were made with other types of treatments including
three treatments with taxol, and large doses of Vitamin A. Unfortunately, these
were not successful. The alpha-seta count was not lowering. In-between
treatments, Bill had to inject himself with a medication to build up his blood.
Jan, our daughter came and stayed with us on weekends. She
inspired our prayer life and we said many Rosaries together. Randy and Bill,
our two sons, took Bill to a target range to shoot. He had to sit in a wheel
chair but enjoyed being with his sons. I clearly remember how happy he was when
he came home that day and bragged about what a good sharpshooter he still is,
even in a wheelchair. Bill was a Sergeant in the Marine Corp in his younger
days and did quite a bit of hunting.
Bill’s treatment was over. I asked the doctor what I should
do. He told me, “There is nothing anyone can do.” He also told me that Bill had
two weeks to live. He saw no advantage of admitting Bill to a hospital, as he
could be more comfortable at home and he instructed me in administering the
medication for pain. The doctor also assigned a nurse named Terry from Sloan
Kettering so that I could call on her if necessary, I did and she was very
I wondered if I should tell Bill what the doctor told me about
the “two weeks left.” I had to think about that. I decided that if it were me,
I would want to know. We were sitting together that evening, and I told Bill,
but I did not do a very good job of it because I cried through it all. His
answer was, “He doesn’t know what he is talking about.” I believe Bill was
trying to make me feel better! Father Raymond came from St. Francis of Assisi
Parish on Long Beach Island and gave Bill last rites again. Bill had received
them several times already. A Eucharistic Minister also came regularly to give
Bill Holy Communion.
Two days after Christmas, in the evening, Bill was in his
chair watching television and dozing. He roused somewhat, looked up and said,
“There are stairs here.” Cathy, our daughter who came to help, made a comment
but I missed the meaning. Then Bill said it again, as if he really wanted us to
see what he was seeing. As emphatically as he could, as he was very weak, he
again said, “There are stairs here,” as he pointed and looked upwards.
Bill was now in a lot of pain. I gave him some medication, and
he went to bed. It was a long night as he was delirious and moaning. I did not
know what else to do for him. I could not even pray, but maybe I did. I just
wanted to help him as best I could, and be with him.
It was very early in the morning when I knew Bill was going
soon. I asked Cathy to call the family and tell them that I did not think Dad
was going to last much longer. Bill Jr. arrived first, as he lived close-by. He
came immediately to Bill’s side and attempted to talk to his father, but Bill
was not able to respond clearly. We stood by the bed, Bill, Jr., embracing his
father, knowing it was any minute now. Bill Sr. tried to speak but could not.
It was just sounds. He died peacefully on December 28, 1993.
I stayed by the side of the bed for an hour or two, until the
visiting nurse assigned to Bill came to do the necessary pronouncement. Randy
came into the room and I believe he took my arm and encouraged me to come out
of the room, but I could not leave Bill’s side, because it was the last time I
would see him...for a while.
The family gathered and began to make all the arrangements. I
had to purchase a gravesite, which I did, close to our former home that we
loved so much. I believe Cathy went the next day, to tell Grandma Cats that
Bill died. Grandma outlived both of her sons and lived to be 94.
Jan, Terry, and Randy arrived in that order. Terry told me
that she knew the moment her father died while driving here. Jan also mentioned
a similar experience.
I am grateful and content that Bill was blessed to enjoy his
family for 32 additional years. Our family was blessed with the gift of Bill, a
great husband and a wonderful father. I do not know why God touched our lives
in this special way but I am eternally grateful.
Faith is a wonderful thing, a gift, if we pray hard enough.