Mystery gifts bring cheer to chemotherapy patient

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READING, Pa. -- Howard Rissmiller of Spring Township has always believed in helping others look on the bright side of life.

For the past three months while taking chemotherapy treatments at Reading Hospital in his second bout with lymphoma, the 71-year-old, who also underwent back surgery last year, has come across a number of folks who need cheering.

He will attempt to do that even amidst his own medical challenges.

"If someone comes up with a negative, I come back with two positives to try to cheer them up," he said.

But there is a secret someone out there who apparently knows Rissmiller's every move, and what kind of guy he is.

Since September, he has been getting a bag of presents from this mysterious stranger each time he shows up to sit in his chemotherapy chair.

The first gift was a toy grenade that made a noise like a real one.

A card with it said: "Your assignment today is to eliminate all nonsmiling people You know it's better to give than receive."

"I really don't know who's doing this, but I think the staff (at Reading Hospital) is in on it," said Rissmiller, a retired vice president of sales at a beverage firm whose wife, Bonnie, is a retired nurse. The couple have two daughters and three grandsons.

On different days, Rissmiller has received gifts of handcuffs, a gigantic plastic scissors to cut through hospital red tape, a huge pen to keep notes on the staff with an oversized eraser for big mistakes, and a criminal-profiling kit with the suggestion that he use it to keep tabs on his doctor.

All this is causing smiles in the chemotherapy room.

"It's getting so the whole staff is looking forward to me coming in for treatment," said Rissmiller, who has lost his hair, some of his energy and the feeling in his feet, but not his sense of humor.

Rissmiller thought the zany gifts were coming from a friend at his church, but he's not so sure now.

One of the church suspects just told Rissmiller's wife, "You just tell Howard he has a lot of guardian angels out there."

"I don't know where this person gets this stuff, but it's so creative," said a delighted Rissmiller.

If Rissmiller's lymphoma goes into remission, he said he will be able to have a bone-marrow transplant.

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