Many of the key moments in Lisa Robinson’s life center around Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. It was at Fred Hutch where her father, Steven Salisbury, had a bone marrow transplant in 1999 after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
It was at the Hutch School where Robinson and her brother, Michael, both teenagers, attended classes while their dad was undergoing treatment. It was at the Hutch, remembers Robinson, where the family found comfort during uncertain times.
And, after Salisbury died at the age of 43 , the family still found ways to incorporate the Hutch in the significant milestones of their lives, starting with requesting donations to the Center rather than flowers for his memorial service. When Robinson got married, her family donated a dollar to the Hutch for each guest at their wedding.
Now, the Hutch also represents a place where Robinson can return and see her father’s name, engraved in a brick, in the Mundie Courtyard on campus, part of a quilt of bricks and slates honoring and memorializing loved ones. Robinson and her brother, Dr. S. Michael Salisbury, purchased the memorial brick as a Christmas present for their mom, Camille Salisbury, this year.
“The Hutch has been a very special place for my family because during that awful, turbulent time when my father was sick, it gave us a sense of security and a place to call home,” she says. “I can think of no better way to honor him than creating a lasting impression at the place that gave my family a positive memorable experience during the last months of his life."
The bricks and slates are installed once a year in the light-filled courtyard outside the Weintraub Building. Prices start at $250 and proceeds benefit Fred Hutch. This year, the new bricks and slates will be installed in April. Each name represents a loved one; each brick has its own story.
“It’s a great way to honor the people who are no longer with you,” Robinson says. “It’s difficult to decide where to spend your charity this time of year because there is such need everywhere, but the Hutch is just so special. It’s hard to put into words the gift we were given by having those really awful times be remembered positively because of the staff and people and the research the Hutch is doing.”
A phone call that changed everything
Robinson still vividly recalls when she first learned that her father, then 42 years old, was sick. In May of 1998, she and her mother got a phone call telling them that Salisbury, who was on a fishing trip in the Canadian wilderness, was being airlifted to a hospital back home in Puyallup, Wash. At the time, they were told he was suffering from a gall bladder infection that would require emergency surgery to remove the organ.
Salisbury’s surgery went fine, but he didn’t bounce back as expected. “After his surgery, he was sick and lethargic and just didn’t get better,” Robinson recalls.
His doctors were mystified at first. After a number of tests, a blood test revealed that he had AML. While rare, the disease accounts for about 1.2 percent of cancer deaths in the U.S. each year. It is among the most common of acute leukemia in adults. The disease causes replacement of normal bone marrow with leukemic cells, which causes a decrease in normal blood cells and platelets. The decrease of normal white blood cell production can make those with AML susceptible to infections such as the gall bladder infection Salisbury suffered.
Salisbury underwent chemotherapy at his local hospital, and the treatment put the disease into remission, but because of the aggressiveness of the disease, Salisbury’s doctor advised that he receive a bone marrow transplant.
Bone marrow transplantation was pioneered at Fred Hutch, so Salisbury and his family temporarily moved to Seattle. Salisbury’s sister, Debbie Halverson, donated bone marrow. Despite a few setbacks, the procedure was a success and Salisbury was well enough to go home to Puyallup a few months later.
His cancer returned in the summer of 1999. Salisbury explored his options, and decided to stop treatment and focus on quality for the time he had left. He died in October of the same year.
Remembering a man ‘full of love and passion’
Over the years, the family has found many ways to pay tribute to Salisbury.
“My father was a great man, full of love and passion,” Robinson says. “My parents always believed in giving back and instilled that in us.”
Two years ago, when Robinson and her husband had a daughter, Rylie Joanne, the family started donating to the Hutch in the name of “Papa Steve” each year around Christmas. “It was my dad’s favorite time of year,” she remembers.
In addition to their donations over the years, Robinson said that her family’s memories of her father’s time at the Hutch remained a strong influence.
S. Michael Salisbury, her brother, even became a doctor. “He’s now a medical resident in the Emergency Room at Vanderbilt Hospital," Robinson says. "It was at least in part the care my father received at Fred Hutch from all the great doctors and staff there that inspired him to get into the medical profession.”
If you would like to learn more about buying a brick or slate in honor or memory of your loved one, visit the Bricks and Slates page on our website, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (206) 667-4399 or (800) 279-1618.