Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Leaving Those Behind

Yesterday, I received news I wished I hadn't received, but had been expecting. A friend of mine was diagnosed with a brain tumor several months ago. The doctors removed most of it, but unfortunately were not able to remove it all, and it has come back. With it, myriad problems have ensued, such as a seizure that resulted in a spinal cord injury. Now my friend is in hospice.

He is in his mid-30s.

Cancer seems to be very prevalent these days. Is anyone else worried about this? Eight years ago, I knew one or two people who had cancer. My mother had coronary artery disease, but not cancer. Then my grandfather was diagnosed with colon cancer. My friend's mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. My father was diagnosed with lung cancer. A friend's father developed tumors. Someone I used to work with about four years ago had cancer. He's battled it successfully. We just received news that a friend of Wiley's died over the holidays of her cancer (ovarian or uterine, I'm not sure) after having battled it for years. I remember talking to friends once over lunch. The man (and I'm paraphrasing here) said that if a woman was diagnosed with breast cancer, then both of them should be lopped off as a preemptive measure. I turned and asked him if he'd have both his nuts taken off at once if one of them was cancerous. I surprised him, but I was serious. I hope I never have to face that decision, but I worry that cancer is becoming mainstream. There are obvious causes for some cancers, but not for all of them. And why is it affecting people so young? Sure, Dear Readers who are in their teens and early 20s, you might think it's affecting "old" people, but just wait until you age and watch your definitions crumble. Two of the people I've known with cancer were over 50. They should all be over 70, or even 80!

My friend, who is now in hospice, will leave a small child behind, not to mention countless family and friends. He loves going to concerts for the indie bands, including Sonic Youth when they were still small, down at the Uptown Theater. He's big into making independent films and we would sometimes talk about his projects when we bumped into each other. He moved to New Jersey and back again when he found out there was no place like home. He's a dedicated worker whose desk was always organized so he could find anything, but to everyone else, they were just piles, albeit neat piles. The walls of his cube are completely covered with pictures of his little girl, and he beams with pride when he speaks of her.

I still hold out hope. Perhaps it's stupid of me since he's in hospice, as a friend told me that's the end of the line, but it's too soon for his light to burn out. But I am a better person for having known him. I realize there are people who delight in their child throwing spaghetti all over the walls, and even take pictures to laugh about the mess later. That just because you do one thing doesn't mean you're defined by that one thing. I hope that as his daughter grows, his spirit will live in her and her family members will talk of him often so he's not a stranger to her. When it's your turn to go into the great sleep, what kind of legacy will you leave behind?

UPDATE 1/11: hope extinguished. My friend passed away this morning.

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