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Another close encounter

Yesterday I wrote about a young woman I met at the end of my show on Saturday. About the impact our little five minute conversation had on me.

Today’s post is about another brief encounter.

It was early 2018, and I was getting an infusion at MUSC. I have received the majority of my treatment at Emory in Atlanta and the St. Francis Cancer Center here in Greenville. But for six months I drove down to Charleston to go to MUSC. Proving that any reason, even cancer treatment, is a good reason to head to the low country. At the time I was only getting maintenance chemo, so the days were relatively short and painless. And one of my best friends in the world, the one and only Rob Daniel, lives within walking distance of the hospital. So after months of heavy duty chemo and fighting Atlanta traffic tooth and nail, I decided to turn my infusions into mini-vacations.

The things we do to get us through.

This particular trip in early 2018, I was waiting for the pharmacy to make my Avastin. I had been sitting there for about fifteen minutes when the guy sitting across the aisle lifted up his head and started talking to me.

Now I am an extrovert. 100%. Through and through. At the infusion center, however, I prefer to be left alone. But there was something about this guy’s face that was irresistible. It was bright. Even his eyes were smiling. There was a curiosity and a love that came right from his soul. It was unmistakeable, even to someone who had known him less than five minutes. He was there with his wife who was just as lovely as he was. It was clear they were in this together. Just like Jaimie and I.

So we started talking. He too had Stage 4 Colon Cancer. We had each been diagnosed about the same time in our lives. I had been 38, he had been 40. I was about one year into this brave new world and he had been battling it for five.

He had done FOLFOX, the drug I had just finished. He had done the same maintenance chemo. We compared notes on neuropathy. On sensitivity to cold. He gave me tips on how to handle the sore feet that was a side effect of the oral chemo I was taking. It felt like a big brother giving me tips on how to make it through high school. Doctors are great and therapists are amazing. But there is nothing like hearing it from someone who had been there before. He lived in Hendersonville, which is 30 minutes up the road from Greenville. He and his wife met at Furman. I told him I was going to start teaching at Furman in the fall. They were really excited about that.

He had so many insights. In addition to be being a patient, he was also a doctor. He had tried various diets and exercise regiments. He was extremely religious. A man of faith and a man of science. He had all his bases covered.

He was at MUSC doing a clinical trial. About 20 minutes into our talk the medicine started to hit him. We exchanged emails, then he leaned back his chair, closed the curtain, and that was it. Before he dosed off, I told them both about my blog. His wife would read it and leave comments from time to time. We exchanged a couple of emails. They wanted to see Stages but schedules never worked out.

I saw on Facebook that he died late last week.

I am not writing this for sympathy. Please don’t leave “Sorry for your loss” comments at the end of the blog. The only thing I hate worse than Hope Porn is Sympathy Porn.

But he was someone I looked up to. All because of that one conversation. The way he approached his recovery, with faith and reason, was inspiring. He was also a reminder that this disease does not discriminate. In my darker moments, I sometimes wonder if I brought this on myself. What if I had never smoked a cigarette. What if I never drank. What if I had run marathons or ate organic or taken multi-vitamins every day of life. But here was a beautiful, healthy person, sitting right across from me. A doctor. A family man. There’s a line in Stages, I say, “I am a person and people get cancer.”

That’s all it is. Being alive makes us eligible. It’s up to us how we face it. I hope I continue to face it like Travis, that guy who sat across from me once. I hope my face smiles just like his. And I hope that his wife Amy is surrounded by love until they meet again.

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