Reflections on World Cancer Day

Editor’s note: Earlier today, I wrote this piece and posted it on my personal Facebook page to honor a friend. One of my coworkers read it and encouraged me to share it on this space. I do so in the hope that it helps others who have heard similar news in their lives find comfort and companionship. Our hearts are with you, and with all who have been impacted by this terrible disease.

 

Today, on World Cancer Day of all days, I found out that a very dear family friend of ours was recently diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. I’m not going to reveal his name because privacy, but I’d like to share a little bit about how he impacted my life and my family.

I lost both my grandfathers to cancer within a year of each other when I was 10, so I never really got to know them growing up. However, this friend of ours was always over at the house; checking up on us, telling jokes, and hanging out. When my dad had the wild idea to build an airplane in his garage, this guy was there, helping us put each piece together. He had such a green thumb that he filled in his back yard swimming pool with dirt (my brother and I were horrified that anyone would choose gardening over swimming, but my gardener mom was thrilled). He eventually won us over to his way of thinking, though, because every time he’d visit, he’d always bring us some freshly-picked cherry tomatoes. There’s probably a little bowl of them sitting in my family’s kitchen as I type this. I remember sitting with my mom as she cooked dinner, snacking on those tomatoes to whet my appetite.

When we were kids, my brother and I would play kickball and baseball in his front yard, using his trees as bases. When I was in my teens and I thought (briefly) I’d be good at basketball, he let my brother and I go over to his house and use his hoop. His wife would always come out and bring us super amazing peanut butter cookies and he’d give us some pointers whenever he was around.

As we grew up, those pointers shifted from how to hit a free throw to how to get a job to whether or not we were bringing any girls home with us from college. When we eventually *did* bring girls home, he made a point to playfully embarrass us in front of them; his big, bushy eyebrows arching mischievously as he grilled our paramours on why they were with us (he was also a notorious flirt, and I hope he will continue to be as long as he lives). At family get-togethers (he was always invited), when the conversation turned to politics, he could diffuse any partisan argument with a single declaration: “As long as I have beer and toilet paper, I’m happy.”

He was a two-issue voter: Charmin and Budweiser.

He was also the only man I’ve ever met in my life that actually *preferred* Budweiser – not Bud Light or Shiner or whatever. We always kept a few in the fridge for whenever he’d visit.

Now, I’ve been told that this charming, kind man is in constant discomfort and has maybe months to live, maybe less. The suddenness of this news brings back memories of my grandfathers and the losses I felt as a child. But even though they were taken from me early in my life, I feel like, thanks to my friend, I was able to enjoy a version of many of the experiences I might have enjoyed with them had they lived. When people say, “he was like a grandfather to me,” thanks to him, I know what they mean.

Tonight, I’m stopping by the store on my way home, grabbing a pack of cherry tomatoes and a six pack of Budweiser. This Bud’s for you, old friend.

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