Friday, April 17, 2009

Melanoma brotherhood

My friend Tom is dying. I’ve just returned from his apartment, where his wife and three kids have gathered, and who are in the process of saying their goodbyes. The cancer that’s been slowly sapping his strength this past year has surged and is now flipping off switches. Based on appearances, it’s a little surprising that his body is finally surrendering. As he lies bare-chested in bed, it’s easy to imagine him being able to bench press his weight. He’s still so powerful. While his internal organs may be ravaged, you’d never guess it by looking at his upper body. This man is made of steel.

Tom and I are part of the melanoma brotherhood. When I was first diagnosed in ’06, he mentioned casually to me one day that he too had had surgery for advanced melanoma in ’94. He told me that to encourage me. You don’t go that long “cured” of cancer without wanting to talk about it. Fourteen years later Tom’s melanoma recurred, just before mine did the same. It makes you wonder if we were breathing the same bad air. This sequence of events rattled us both, but also made us fast friends. A bad actor like melanoma can do that.

Tom is a country boy, a Vietnam vet, a model railroad enthusiast, and a practical joker. I’m none of those—but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re joined at the heart. We’ve prayed for each other, grieved over our setbacks, and celebrated our victories. We sit next to each other at church, me in the pew and Tom in his motorized wheelchair. I punch him when he starts to doze during the sermon. When we were at a Beavers baseball game just 13 days ago, he said suddenly after we hadn’t spoken for half an inning that he was so happy I was healthy again. We locked eyes, and both nodded our heads slowly. I had to smile: The guy knows he’s dying, and he remains concerned about the well-being of a friend who can run circles around him. That’s an example of his character.

I don’t want to see Tom go, but the choice isn’t mine. I’m not good at goodbyes. So this is my farewell. He’s safely in the hollow of God’s hand, and that's a good place to be.

That’s Tom (the bald guy) in the picture at the top, showing off the scale-model planer mill he built from scratch. The mill is modeled after one in which he worked in Alsea more than 40 years ago.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Peter.

Bless you,


wags said...

I'm sorry to hear that--you talked about him a number of times, and he sounds like a great guy. You mentioned going to the game with him, and I somehow felt that getting out like that was a positive step on the road to a longer life. I'm hoping it's as merciful an end as possible.
Blessings to him even now--and his family,