Randy Reitman's Come Back From Cancer
Randy Reitman refuses to let stage IV colon cancer stop him from assuming the role of ARA president for 2011 - 2012.
PHOTO: MASTERWORKS PHOTOGRAPHY
Randy Reitman is preparing to take on the role of ARA president, a responsibility that would stir up some apprehension in most candidates. But while Randy is feeling some butterflies in his stomach, the challenge pales in comparison to what he faced over the past 18 months.
Randy was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in May 2010. He had an ileostomy in June, and started chemotherapy. Even with his health in concern, it was hard to keep Randy away from his family-owned and operated business, Reitman Auto Parts & Sales, Inc., in Melbourne, Ky.
"I only took two weeks off,"Randy said. "The doctor said after the first four or five [chemotherapy] treatments I would feel nauseous, but I never did. I never missed a tick."
There were more health problems to come. In February 2011, Randy began experiencing fevers and sweats. He took antibiotics for a while, but the symptoms didn't stop. Two weeks before Easter, the family rushed Randy to the hospital where it was determined he needed emergency surgery to replace a heart valve.
"He missed more time [from work] for his heart surgery than he did for the cancer,"said Fran Reitman, Randy's wife and co-owner of Reitman Auto Parts & Sales (ReitmanAutoParts.com). "He missed 45 days - two weeks in the hospital, and 30 days at home - but he had a computer at home. He would work from there, pricing vehicles and doing inventory."
Being able to continue to contribute to the business helped keep Randy in good spirits.
"That's what kept me going,"he explained. "Just being able to stay busy; doing what I could do to help out. I would call in two or three times a day. And when there were times when they needed me, they knew where I was. And I was tickled to death when I was able to come back in."
The President's Role
Randy also had to take a nine-month leave of absence from his duties on the ARA executive committee due to his health problems. While he still managed to attend several ARA (A-R-A.org) meetings during that period, he is eager to spend more time with the committee during his upcoming presidency. However, he admits his health problems still linger.
"I'm still not 100 percent,"he said. "I was thinking the other day about my upcoming term as [ARA] president and wondered, 'Did I bite off more than I can chew?' It's a little daunting to think about all the articles I need to write, speaking engagements and stuff like that, but I have a lot of support. I'll be fine."
Current ARA president Doug Reinert, owner of Chuck's Auto Salvage, Inc. (ChucksAS.com) in Douglassville, Pa., commends the ARA support system.
"We're fortunate to have a fantastic staff,"he admitted. "We have plenty of knowledgeable members and chapters. As presidents, we just need to pick up the phone more frequently and not be afraid to lean on and utilize ARA staff when it's needed."
Randy got an idea of how large his network of supportive auto recyclers is while recuperating from cancer and heart surgery. Several of them, including Mike Swift, co-owner of Trails End Auto & Truck Salvage, Inc. (TrailsEndAuto.com) in Des Moines, Iowa, frequently posted encouraging comments to the Reitman family on Randy's Caring Bridge page (CaringBridge.org/visit/randyreitman).
"At the time Randy was fighting his battle, my father [Dale Swift] was losing his battle with cancer,"explained Swift. "Randy and Fran would always send messages to me, and it made me feel good. With the Reitmans being in the auto recycling family, I just wanted to let them know that we were thinking about them."
Randy also noticed when ARA immediate past president Bill Tolpa, owner of Tolpa's Auto Parts (Tolpas.com) in Remsen, N.Y. closed his 'President's Comments' columns in the Automotive Recycling magazine with updates about Randy's progress.
While working to get his body back to full speed, Randy was able to take comfort in knowing his employees were stepping up.
"Everyone here was aware of what was going on,"explained Fran. "We all did our jobs, and things ran relatively smoothly. We even had a couple of people put vacations on hold."
The Reitman Auto Parts & Sales team is used to being figureheads in the auto recycling industry. Locator UpFront named Fran its most influential woman (2006) and fundraiser (2010); it named their son, Nick Reitman, most influential up and coming (2011); and named Randy as its most influential one-to-watch (2009), and most influential duo (with Fran, 2005).
Throughout the year, Randy made sure his fellow auto recyclers knew he was still focused on the industry, and that his health wouldn't affect his ability to do his job.
"I just told people to talk to me like they would normally talk to me, before the problems started,"he said. "Not like they were talking to someone with a disease."
Preparing for a full agenda of ARA presidential duty, Randy said he is planning to attend up to 25 ARA events this year. He has decided to focus his term on salvage acquisition.
"It's becoming harder for the general auto recycler to buy vehicles, and the prices are becoming a joke,"he added. "Things happen in numbers. There are 1,100 ARA members across the United States. If we can get half of us, who are legitimate auto recyclers, to show insurance companies that we are certified and can dispose of autos the proper way, maybe we can get somewhere with them in acquiring salvage."
Reinert stated he is confident the ARA presidency is in good hands with Randy.
"We've both been involved with ARA for many years which allowed numerous opportunities for us to share information,"he said. "He's a dedicated, hands-on owner and he relates directly to our members. ARA benefits greatly from his presence."
Swift reinforced Reinert's faith.
"Randy is a very good guy and is going to be a great leader for ARA,"he stated. "The nice part is that [ARA] gets a twofer; Randy and Fran. What a great combination to lead ARA."
Along with salvage acquisition, another goal for Randy during his ARA presidency is to keep the association's environmental standards elevated.
"I want to be able to say I had a hand in that and kept [the green initiative] moving forward," he added.
Fran said she plans to join Randy at the majority of his ARA-related functions. She pushes their sons, Nick and Adam Reitman, also employed at Reitman Auto Parts & Sales, to go as well.
"I like to show them what's out there so they can see how the other half lives,"she said. "It's paid off so far. They always see new equipment they want and cannot wait to learn more about it. It's made them more productive."
Fran noted both the business and the family are coping well.
"We are looking forward to the future, and seeing what we can do to improve the business,"she said. "What's happened is in the past and we can't dwell on it. Life goes on."
Determined to improve his health, Randy said he has started eating healthier. He currently weighs around 195 pounds, down from the 210 pounds he weighed when his health started to fail.
"I've got a whole different outlook on life,"he said. "When the health problems started I had just turned 55, and was happily married with kids. I was sitting on top of the world. Then all of a sudden, it was like someone hit me in the stomach. I'm not going to let this beat me. I'm going to live every day like it's my last."