We were taking an early afternoon beach break on December 31st, when she turned to me with a funny kind of smile.
"Do you remember another time we walked the beach on New Year's Eve?"
Now, I'm not ordinarily a time-and-date kinda guy, figuring, I guess, that if you can remember the big ones, like April 15th, her birthday and your wedding anniversary, you'll know just about enough to stay out of jail, and out of trouble, too. So I admit, it took me a minute to figure out just what she was talking about.
And then I remembered.
It was ten years before, while on a much-anticipated wintertime visit to the Carolina shore, that I first displayed some weird symptoms that annoyed me and alarmed her enough to trigger a doctor's appointment when we returned to Illinois. It's an odd sort of memory, because, on one hand, we had a wonderful time with a pair of our dearest friends. But there was also an strange sense of foreboding that was sort of rattling around in the back of my mind that week. Something was wrong. I just didn't know how wrong it was.
Turns out, I had prostate cancer. Like most guys, I had understood that kind of cancer to be slow-growing and almost benign.
Like most guys, I was mistaken.
While it is true that many men contract a form of the disease that is a sort of passive plague, so to speak, there's also a version that is aggressive and quick to grow and spread in a life-threatening fashion.
That's the kind I had.
What happened next has, surprisingly, grown sort of dim in my memory, but I do know there were several surgeries and a quick, scary recurrence of the cancer, plus extensive radiation and drug therapies that left me anemic and wondering if I had been hit by a bus. Luckily for me, I was also the recipient of an overwhelming outpouring of love, prayers, patience, humor, faith and hope from family, friends and absolute strangers. So, It is no wonder to me that after a few years my cancer was declared undetectable and I was officially in remission.
I still am. And if the after-effects of the disease and its treatments still occasionally make me wonder which tree I fell out of, hey, at least I'm still around to complain about it.
The sun was warm on my face as I pondered her sudden memory. Offshore, we had seen a leaping pod of dolphins minutes before, while waves lapped gently onto the low-tide shore. I thought about the years that had passed, and the wonderful things I had been allowed to live for. Like the times we get to spend together traveling and enjoying family, friends, people and places. Or when both of our sons fell in love with smart, pretty girls who love them back. And, of course, there's the astonishing sensation that occurs when someone calls you "grandpa."
Heck, I even found this job along the way.
Fact is, what could have been the worst time of my life--and, perhaps the end of it, altogether--has gently turned into a sweet season of unceasing joy. And that's my hope for all who fight the good fight against cancer and other challenges.
Or, at least, that's how I see it.
Ten years after.