Friends come through for ailing Davis artist Gay Powers

05/12/2012 12:00 AM

05/28/2012 4:22 PM

Her friends made it happen.

At 66 and desperately ill with the recurrence of an aggressive form of non- Hodgkins lymphoma, Davis artist Gay Powers needed to move closer to the Sutter Cancer Center in Sacramento to prepare for the stem-cell transplant that doctors say is her best hope.

But she couldn't afford it. Medicare covers her medical care but not assisted living expenses for the six weeks of pre- and post-transplant care she requires. Powers lives on a small fixed income and lacks long-term care insurance.

"I prayed," she said. "I had zero money. I prayed it would work out."

It did, thanks to an email fundraising effort that her friends undertook.

"I'll tell you, it's amazing when you get 100 bucks from somebody you didn't expect to contribute," said Powers' longtime friend, Bill Ritter, a political consultant who lives in Davis.

"She's been beautifully supported by her family and friends. It's been a really healing thing for Gay."

Ritter also found the Chateau on Capitol Avenue, a Sacramento high-rise senior living community with short-term housing for medical patients, located two blocks from the hospital. Powers' stay will cost almost $8,000, friends say.

Powers has been living in a small fourth-floor apartment there since April 25. "I'm the new kid on the block here, and I'm getting spoiled," she said.

It was the early 1980s when Powers, who is divorced, moved to Davis to study art. She eventually returned to school for her teaching credential and taught for a dozen years in the Dixon schools until her illness.

Over time, she became known for her civil rights activism as a member of the Davis Human Relations Commission. She also became known for her art: canvases that are flowing and bright, filled with light and symbolism.

And many acquaintances – though not all – knew that she was the daughter of the late character actor Lionel Stander, probably best known for his role as Max in the TV series "Hart to Hart."

"Gay has been a spectacularly generous and giving person for a long time," said another friend, Jeff Ruda, who is director of UC Davis' art history department. "She's spent much of her life in Davis doing things for other people, even at her own expense."

After Powers was diagnosed with late-stage lymphoma late in 2010, she underwent chemotherapy treatment.

"We were hopeful she was cured, but a quarter to a half of people in remission ultimately relapse," said Dr. Michael Carroll, the oncologist who directs Sutter Cancer Center's blood and bone marrow transplant program.

By this February, the cancer was back. Now Powers' best hope of survival, Carroll said, involves high-dosage chemotherapy followed by an autologous stem-cell transplant during a three-week hospital stay.

In late March, Ritter sent a long email to Ruda as well as to Powers' twin sister, conveying the details of her procedure and the cost of the 24-hour medical supervision she needs both before and after.

Gradually, the email bounced from one friend to the next. And small and large pledges of funds arrived.

"I also purchased a couple of Gay's paintings," said Ritter. "She gets very sensitive about not wanting to take advantage of people. But she's in this crisis."

Within 10 days, he said, the informal campaign had raised enough to cover the cost of her outpatient stay.

Powers' hospitalization is scheduled to begin in mid-May – and in preparation for that, she's undergoing outpatient lab tests, infusions and, since Monday, the harvesting of stem cells from her blood.

"It's devastating news when your cancer comes back," she said. "People have stepped up for me. It's humbling. You don't think people can be that great, but they are."


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