I had a difficult time this spring keeping my perspective. Between the cancer diagnosis, and then the revelation of the BRAF mutation, I did a good bit of feeling sorry for myself. Cancer is a powerful word, and it packs a mean punch. Even if you know that your cancer is one of the easiest to cure, and that you stand a greater chance of survival than most, it's hard not to worry and think about worst case scenarios. That changed for me in the middle of June.
I was taking a walk with the girl when we ran into a neighbor. During our conversation, she mentioned how badly she felt for the family that lived two doors down from us. I told her I didn't know what she was talking about. 'Oh,' she said, 'he has cancer. I can't remember what kind. Skin cancer, maybe? But he's really sick. He came to the block party and only stayed for like, two minutes. He looked awful.'
Two things crossed my mind. One, I was really glad that we had hardly told anyone about my cancer. This family didn't need to hear that someone in the neighborhood also had cancer, but that she was going to be just fine. And, two, this news was terrible. We're friends with only a few of our neighbors, and we don't know this family well at all. What I did know was that he was younger than us (39, as it turns out), and that he has a wife and three young kids- roughly eight, six, and two years old. It was terrible.
Over the last six weeks, anytime I have started to feel badly about my situation, I have thought of him and the pain he has had to go through. Not just physically, but emotionally. How many times did he look at his sons and think about not watching them grow up, think about the times he wouldn't get to spend hanging out with his boys? How many times did he look at his daughter and think about how he wouldn't be around to look out for her, and watch her turn into the young woman she will become? I imagine these were the thoughts going through his mind, because they certainly went through mine before I realized how likely it was that I probably would get to do these things. He probably never had that luxury.
Things took a turn for the worse last Monday. He passed away that morning. The husband thought that something must be happening because he saw a Catholic priest go to their house Sunday night and leave about ten minutes later.
My next door neighbor called me the following day to tell me the news. At first I wasn't sure about going to the funeral home. We really weren't more than neighbors and I would have to have the girl with me at the funeral home. Also, I'm really not a fan of viewings. I was raised Catholic, and I've been to maybe ten or twelve viewings in my lifetime. My Methodist grandfather had a memorial service- honestly I think those are a much better way to go. However, I ended up changing my mind Tuesday morning. He was a neighbor and I decided that the very least I could do was pay my last respects.
The place was packed, but we were still in and out in ten minutes. I signed the guest book, knelt at his coffin, and spoke with his wife. I didn't know anyone else there. I came home and made myself a drink. The summer afternoon had been sunny and pleasant. Not at all what it should have been like for a young father who lost his life to an aggressive cancer. Later, I ran into neighbors who had also gone to the funeral home. They had also felt they need for a drink when they left. As my neighbor said, 'It just stinks'.