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Between military service, career, volunteerism and a rewarding home life, Don Willmott has packed more life into 93 years than most of us could hope for. And despite living seven years with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, he’s still going strong.
As a young man, Don joined the Navy, where he trained in the Medical Corps and Dental Tech school. In WWII, he was part of the invasions of Pelilu Island near Guadalcanal and Okinawa in Japan. After the war ended, he served in China before returning home in 1946, when he met his future wife Loretta.
His marriage and family were the bedrock of the decades that followed. Don and Loretta were married for more than 60 years and raised two sons, who married and brought four grandchildren into the mix. Don and Loretta’s adventures included travel to Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii, numerous trips to Europe and a 10,000-mile driving tour that took them through Alaska and Canada.
After 39 years with Penford Products, Don retired and began a second career volunteering at St. Luke’s, along with Loretta. Don helped people with insurance problems through SHIIP, the Senior Health Insurance Information Program. Over the years, he and Loretta contributed over 26,000 hours of service. Don continued to help others after Loretta’s death and, in 2008, received the Excellence in Lifetime Dedication to Volunteerism award. At that point, he’d given over 13,200 hours of service.
When he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), Don was seeing Dr. Ghosh at St. Luke’s. When Dr. Ghosh moved on, Don was given the choice of staying put or transferring his care to Dr. Ghosh. Don said, “I liked him so well; I didn’t have to think about it. I told them wherever Dr. Ghosh goes, I’m going.”
Wherever Dr. Ghosh goes, I’m going.
It’s a decision he’s never regretted. Dr. Ghosh told him from the start that his treatment wouldn’t be “one size fits all.” Although most chemotherapy for CLL starts with an injection, Dr. Ghosh chose to start with oral chemo, taking things more slowly so Don’s system could adjust. Don appreciates how the whole Ghosh Center team has rallied to get him the care he needs. He’s been able to call after-hours to get help, and Dr. Ghosh has recommended supplements that have improved his overall health.
Don takes oral chemotherapy every day and will continue to do so for the rest of his life. At $90/pill and two pills/day, the medication is expensive. When Don’s insurance wasn’t covering it all, our pharmacy tech Becki was successful in getting the insurance company to reimburse most of the cost.
Don tells us: “I would tell any of my friends with cancer to go to Dr. Ghosh. Dr. Ghosh is independent, while all the other cancer doctors are tied to the hospitals. Dr. Ghosh always does the right thing, and that’s what we all look for.”
With the help of good care, Don’s been able to move forward and live fully. In 2010, he was part of a group of veterans who participated in an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. to visit the World War II Memorial. He does yoga regularly at The Ghosh Center, which helps him feel better emotionally and physically. And he’s still committed to service, volunteering at St. Luke’s two days a week. At this point, Don’s given nearly 15,000 hours to help others, paying it forward and reaping rewards too high to count.