The title comes from the husband of a dear friend who came to this realization when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Everyone seems to go through a period like this. My mother did. It ruined her life. It’s the period when a person hits the age and finds people both younger and older begin to die. For my mother it was her childhood friend, her younger brother, adn her father. All died within an 18 month span. She became an alcoholic.

My wife and I are going through it now. It isn’t just the illnesses, it’s the randomness and inequity of them. It started about five or more years ago when a dear friend in the clergy announced his retirement after an illustrious career in the pulpit. He was the standard by which others, far and wide, were judged. A few lost jobs because they didn’t measure up. Within a year came the diagnosis of Parkinson’s and his slow march into being an invalid, though not giving up an inch without a fight. He not gone, but he’s going.

Almost simultaneously came the diagnosis of his wife with pancreatic cancer. Miraculously she survived–to now be fighting uterine cancer.

A long-standing friend, my age, was faced with a diagnosis that his wife had a rare form of long cancer. Gotten immediately into a drug trial they were told they’d get a 13 month miracle. They did. The fourteenth month the devil came for his due. The next 14 months were beyond hellish. There was almost nothing left of her at the end. The cruelest irony was that she was an RN who specialized in critical care; he was a hospital administrator.

But the devil came for more than his due.  During his ordeal my friend’s brother was diagnosed with lymphoma. He lost his wife and his brother within six months of one another. What’re the odds?

Then there were two plucky little (literally) ladies, both in their own way Energizer Bunnies. Now there is one and sometime this week will come the fateful decisions for the other: is the treatment continuing to work and if so can she survive the treatment that has her allowed to survive. Oh yes, there’s also the looming PET scan. If something shows up on that after all these treatments, it won’t matter if she’s strong enough to continue them because they aren’t working. Then she gets to tell her family, down to the new grandchild that the Book Of Life has no more chapters. How do you deal with that? Actually she is–better than many of those around her.

Speaking about dealing, there’s the boyfriend of a dear friend. A dancing demon is he. Or was. Lives to dance, body like Fred Astaire. He’s about as thick and agile as a whip. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Stupidly, but maybe understandably, he disregarded the symptoms–for too long. Then he took too long deciding what to do. There is a currency of opinion with prostate cancer amongst oncologists that amounts to “wait,see, and test.” That’s the option he picked. Wrong choice. It leached into his bones. While doing the work up on that, it was discovered he had a lymphoma. That takes precedence over the prostate cancer so treatment was begun on it–when the team discovered he had a second lymphoma, one that wouldn’t respond to the treatment of the first. So a second treatment protocol had to be developed.

Now he goes into the hospital for almost a month for bone marrow workups, removal of stem cells, and then implanting of healthy cells into his bone marrow. I’m told it hurts like hell. Then comes a month in rehab. There’s a phrase on death row that’s used when a prisoner is walked to the death chamber. “Dead man walking.” Clearly his dancing days are over. Likely so are his walking days. 

Let’s throw in my brother, dead now five years. He smoked uncountable amounts of cigarettes. But he got colon cancer, not lung cancer, and was successfully treated. He “detoxed” during treatment and never smoked again. But came the fickle finger of fate. He got lung cancer. “Not to worry” he says to me. “It’s localized and they’re removing only part of a lobe of one lung.” Does that pass as good news? He thought so. Not so much me. Operation and rehab done, he hires a trainer and goes climbing up Mt. Kilimanjaro, which almost killed him, but he mostly did it and that was enough for him. Life seemed ok, ok enough for his wife to continue to smoke. He became a gym rat and life looked grand. Until it didn’t. The cancer came back with a vengeance. He went from alive to dead in a matter of weeks.

Pardon the French but it sucks, all this death stuff.

So what’s it all about, Alfie?”

Damned if I know. But courtesy of my wife, I’ve learned that I need to throw off the shackles of the Great Depression that my parents hooked me up with. It isn’t about money, life that is. It’s about what one does with it. It isn’t about spectacular stuff, its about stopping to look around, appreciate the songs of the birds, the colors of the flowers, the scenery on the roads less taken.

It isn’t that we only go round once. It’s that we don’t know when the ride ends. So every time the ride passes the brass ring, snatch at it, my friends, for all you’re worth. Every time you get it, the ride goes on a little longer. And that’s what its all about. Time. And what one does with it, because nothing is worth more than this day.


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