Goodbye Gökçen

Gökçen in Haifa

I learned Tuesday that my friend Gökçen Yýldýrým died. Since I assume most that will read this are Americans, I’ll spell her name the way she did when she had to use only ascii characters: Gokcen Yildirim.

I met Gokcen in the summer of 2002 in Haifa, Israel. I had just finished my PhD and was visiting a colleague at the Technion. Gokcen was a Turkish radiation oncologist doing a research program with some oncologists at the Technion. We both happened to be staying at a Technion housing facility and I was assigned the room right next to hers. We were the only two people on the floor, and the rest of the occupants were Israelis, so we got to know each other. In Haifa, Gokcen and I did some sightseeing together. When I returned to the US, we kept in touch.

In the Fall of 2006 Gokcen was working at M.D. Anderson in Houston and I went to visit her. When I asked her where she lived, I remember the way she said Kirby Drive with such enthusiasm. I’m sorry I can’t share that memory of a sound, but it always stuck in my head. We visited some of her friends from work at a beautiful house on a lake in Austin. She showed me around Houston. We played darts at a bar. The last time I saw her was at the IAH airport. It was a Monday morning.

Gokcen loved to travel. She worked hard and then she enjoyed herself. She was brave. Often very intelligent people are thought of as boring or uptight, but not Gokcen. She was at once both incredibly intelligent and also joyous and childlike. She was just so vibrant, so positive, so kind, and not in a trite way. Gokcen was genuine.

I remember asking her about her job, specifically if it was hard seeing patients die. She said, it was, but it reminded you how precious life is, and that you have to live each moment to the fullest. She did that as much as anyone I’ve ever known.

Last Sunday, Goken had a heart attack while playing tennis. There were a lot of things I should have said to Gokcen, and I’m sorry I didn’t. I thought we would always be friends. She will be missed.