My husband and I have spent the last three weeks watching our friend die.

Jeff is only in his early 50s. Three years ago, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. The worst kind. Stage four. Already, signs were showing that it was spreading to other organs in his body.

Somehow, among miracle of miracles, he made it passed his expected life expectancy of two years.

Then, all of the sudden, two months ago, he started to go downhill very quickly. We asked his wife what we could do, if anything, to make the transition more smooth, or help her in any means possible. She suggested that a short visit would be wonderful for Jeff. So, we started three weeks ago with a short visit, then another visit two weeks ago, and finally, a visit yesterday. But it doesn’t look as though we are going to be able to make it for a fourth visit. Jeff has gone from bad to worse.

We know Jeff and Pat from church. No, scratch that. My husband actually knows Pat from childhood. They grew up together in Rosemont, Minnesota. They just happened to stumble upon each other, once again, many, many years later in our little Catholic church in Cedar Lake Township, Minnesota. It was a reunion of sorts, when Steve and Pat recognized each other in church on that Sunday. The rest, as they say, is history. It was a wonderful reconnection and a great way to instantly gain new friends quickly. We learned that this was Pat’s third marriage, and that Jeff was her soulmate. She had finally found her soulmate!

After the initial rekindling of the friendship between Pat and my husband, the four of us spent a few weekends together enjoying meals at each other’s homes, and going out to eat and having a few German beers. Just six years after that reconnection, we would learn the horrible diagnosis. And we would closely follow Jeff and Pat as they fought this awful disease. Cancer. And although you hope and pray for a miracle, sometimes you get it. But you learn that miracles can be fleeting. And you learn that eventually there will be no more miracles, and the cancer will have its way. You don’t want accept it, especially as an outsider. Perhaps you even choose to ignore it. But as an insider, we have learned that Pat and Jeff are both heroes.

One of the hardest things for my husband and I to except is how they talk about death so nonchalantly. Clearly, it is on the horizon. And there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it at this time. So, as recently as Christmas, they were talking about picking out funeral plots, caskets, who will say what, if there will be a eulogy, and what the headstone will read. It was all very light chatter, almost like you would talk about your job or what you did last weekend. We left dinner that night speechless, staring out of the car window like we had just seen a ghost, or passed through one. How does one react from that kind of chatter?

Jeff managed to return to his job for quite a few months, and continue to attend mass up until March of this year. By then they had learned that the current treatments weren’t effective anymore. The cancer was growing.

A few times, new protocols were tried. A few managed to buy him a few weeks, but by May and June, Jeff was too weak to even get to the treatment centers. Three weeks ago, Pat suggested the brief visits after we asked what we could do. We brought her the fixings for a great Manhattan (Pat, by the way, is the friend who got me started on this magical concoction), and we spent some time with Jeff, rehashing funny times at church or family gatherings or past events. At that time, Jeff could join in on our conversation. He was lively, alert, and content.

A week later, he seemed a bit more weary, but he still offered a few words and joined in our conversation. He shared with us a few spiritual gifts that other parish members had brought him. And he thanked us for coming.

But as of yesterday, his wife could just brush his hair back way from his forehead and speak for him. Just one week. It is sad.

It is devastating.

The hardest thing for me, I realized, is coming up with something to say. When we visit Jeff, it’s not as though you can ask him, “How are you feeling?” Because we know how he’s feeling. “How are you doing?” Well, we know how he’s doing. “Is there anything we can do for you?” No, thank you. What else is there? What do you say to a person who is dying? And then, what do you say to the person who will survive him? Do you say, “It will be OK?” Do you say, “It will be better when it is over?” Do you say, “I don’t know what to say.”

“What can I do for you?”

Sometimes, just letting somebody know you’re there when they need you, can be most comforting. Sometimes, just showing up with a Manhattan and an ear to listen to all that has been happening can be enough. But it still makes me feel as though I can do more.

You hear about people dying every day. Sometimes they are relatives and sometimes you’re not there to witness the event. But you were there at the end, to say goodbye. Perhaps you were at a funeral, or a wake, or a service. Actually watching somebody deteriorate week after week, then day after day…it starts to do things to you. It starts to make you think.

We all have everyday problems. We complain about so many things. And I suppose that is the way we cope with those problems. It’s OK. I think it’s healthy to deal with difficulties in that respect. However, watching Jeff die has put life into perspective in many ways. I’ve learned to be much more grateful for what it is that I have and what it is that makes me happy, rather than what I don’t have and what makes me angry. I’ve learned to take deeper breaths when my husband or my children say something that upsets me. I’ve learned to turn around and walk away if things are not going in my direction. Because I realize, that perhaps they weren’t meant to go in my direction. And I can’t control everything that is put on my plate.

I can, however, except my difficulties for what they are. And I can face them. And I can determine what to do to obtain the best possible outcome. I am healthy, and I am alert, and at this point in time I have my health. And I know many people out there reading this who cannot say the same thing.

All I can say is you will soon find peace, if you haven’t found it already. Be peaceful. Be you. Be. You will be remembered for who you are, not who you were, or who you hoped you would be. You are not a burden to those who care for you and to those who love you. Instead, you are a symbol of hope and eternal life. You are a teacher, a spiritualist, in your own right. You are why we believe in God.

We believe in you, Jeff. And we love you. May the light of the Lord shine upon you and guide you safely home.

12 Responses to #CancerSucks

  1. Petite Pacer says:

    What a lovely tribute. My heart goes out to you and Jeff and his family.

  2. Ruth Thomas (Running in Reverse) says:

    Oh Theresa, this has touched me to the core of my being. Tears are flowing because every word you say is true. What problems we may have pale in comparison to what he and his wife are going through. I pray for God’s peace and mercy in his life as He brings him home. And I pray God gives his wife and friends the strength to go on. I am so sorry…

  3. Terry Varga says:

    What a beautiful tribute.

  4. Oh Theresa: This made me cry! I lost a good friend to this type of cancer almost three years ago. I will be praying for your friend, Jeff and his family along with your family. God gives his strongest soldiers the hardest battles to fight in this world. I am so sorry…prayers for all! Please let me know what I can do for you.

  5. Kate Swanberg says:

    Prayers for Jeff, Pat and those that are walking this journey with them. Know that your presence fills that void when words fail. “So faith, hope, love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” 1Cor13:13

  6. Bev Kavouras says:

    Oh sweet sister. This is the best blog you have EVER written. For whatever reason, God placed Jeff and Pat into your lives again. You did exactly as He would have wanted. You were there to listen, not to tell. God bless you and Steve as you go through all the emotions. I’m glad you were there for them. They are good people. Your words were from your heart………I could tell. I love you!

    Aunt B

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