Recently, Mindy, who none of you regular readers know, died of lung cancer. She was my decades-long best friend's wife. And she was my friend too, going back almost 40 years. Married to my oldest friend (starting in 10th grade), Cary, for over 35 years, Mindy was originally classified as stage I five years ago. Cary didn't tell me for a year or so after because he didn't want to burden me with another piece of bad news, and Mindy being diagnosed with lung cancer would most definitely have been bad news. She had a lobectomy (part of the lung is surgically removed) back then and that's pretty much all I know about the beginning stages. After the surgery, however, she was told she was cancer free.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend Mindy's funeral. I had my own post-scan appointment on the Monday morning following the Sunday funeral and night-time Shiva and the logistics of traveling back and forth from Washington, DC, to Boston and back were unworkable. Two weekends later, I flew up to Boston and spent four days with Cary, just him and me in the house - without Mindy, of course. We shared an awful lot about Mindy and life, reminiscing backward and contemplating forward. One afternoon, along with Mindy's first cousin, Julie, Cary and I visited Mindy's grave, about 20 minutes from the house, where I was able to pay my respects and say a few words in private. After standing alongside the gravesite for a few minutes, Cary took out his smart phone, bent over toward the ground and played "their" song, sniffling and wiping away tears in the process. A very touching moment. Another afternoon, I sat with Cary at their kitchen table and read through all the condolence cards with Cary explaining all the relationships to Mindy. One night, Cary and I went to dinner with his two sons, Jonathan and Jordon (along with Jon's girlfriend, Coleen, and Jordy's wife, Lauren). At dinner, I shared two jokes with the boys that Mindy had told years ago that, to this day, I keep in my repertoire; they had not heard them before. One involved an elephant, another had to do with Jesus Christ becoming a bell ringer. Cary's third—and oldest—son, Jeffrey, was not present as he had flown back to California on Tuesday where, after spending three weeks at home with his father and brothers watching his mother struggle to survive, he returned a few days after the funeral.
As for me, I teared up throughout the weekend. Over the years, especially after my parents moved to Florida, I didn't see Cary and Mindy as regularly as I had while my parents were still living in Massachusetts (four times a year, generally). From 1989 on, maybe we visited one another a dozen times in person: high school reunions, bar mitzvahs, a couple of Celtics games and the odd occasion where the timing/opportunity presented itself. All the while, going on 45 years now, we spoke/speak every couple of weeks, picking up in conversation without ever missing a beat.
What was particularly/uniquely difficult for me—and I don't think it is as difficult as losing one's "soul mate," as Cary described Mindy, just as they were beginning to embark on their final journey together: retirement—was that I too have lung cancer. As such, it was a peculiar position in which I found myself. Not only was I grieving the loss of a close friend, Mindy—way too young; she was younger than me by a couple of years—and the effect it had on my best friend, Cary, I was also witnessing first hand, up close and extremely personally, the ravages and devastating impact of a lung cancer diagnosis, a diagnosis with which I am all too familiar. Of course, I felt bad for Cary losing his beautiful wife. Of course, I felt bad for the boys losing a fabulous, devoted mother. But there was a part of me that felt bad for me. As a cancer survivor, it's easy to pretend that this disease isn't killing you until you attend a funeral/spend time with the family of someone who has succumbed to this terrible disease. Then it hits home, with a vengeance. "Cancer sucks," as so many of us know, but life must go on, as difficult as it sometimes is.
"This column is my life as one of the fortunate few, a lung cancer anomaly: a stage IV lung cancer patient who has outlived his doctor’s original prognosis; and I’m glad to share it. It seems to help me cope writing about it. Perhaps it will help you relate reading about it."