cancer

Exit 223. I can learn something from the way that they lived their lives.

Death.  Never an easy topic to discuss.

Comic book writer Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and many other superheroes, died a couple weeks ago.  I recently saw the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, based on the true story of Freddie Mercury and the band Queen.  Freddie was only 45 when he died, and yesterday was the anniversary of Freddie’s passing in 1991.  My pastor knows another pastor in the same denomination whose toddler granddaughter recently died unexpectedly and suddenly.  And, hitting closer to home, a friend from the church I went to when I first moved here lost his battle with cancer this weekend.  He was only 30; he was in the college group at church when I first started going there, and his older brother was one of my first friends when I moved here.

I feel especially bad because this guy and I had kind of grown apart.  We didn’t argue or have a falling-out or anything like that; we just grew apart from natural causes as life took us in different directions.  The same thing happened with me and his brother, who no longer lives in California.  I’ve grown apart from a lot of people over the course of my life, and I’ve always told myself that no one is in the wrong here, that growing apart is just a natural part of life.  But now I have to accept the fact that it had been well over a year since I had seen him face to face and now I won’t get to see him again.

Death also always makes me wish I had known people better in their lifetimes.  Like I said, my deceased friend and I didn’t really run in the same circles anymore.  Similarly, at the memorial service for another acquaintance who died unexpectedly in 2012, I learned all kinds of things about him that I never would have expected.  And, as I have written before, I didn’t really discover Queen’s music until the months just after Freddie Mercury’s death.  But I can still appreciate everything and everyone in my life now, because I never know what will happen in the future.

And I can learn something from those who pass away and the way that they lived their lives.  In the case of my friend who had cancer, he was one of the nicest people anyone would ever meet, being kind to all of those around him and committed to knowing God and living for him.  And that is something we can all learn from.

Exit 82. Take nothing for granted.

Thanksgiving is this week, at least here in the USA.  This always lends itself to thoughts and conversations about thankfulness, people sharing what they are thankful for and the like.

I’ve been going to a new church (new to me, at least) the last two weeks, much smaller and a bit different compared to most of the churches I’ve been to before, but not in a bad way.  At one point, the pastor asked us to get into small groups of four or so and discuss what we are grateful for, and tell about experiences that gave us a new perspective on gratitude.  (The sermon tie-in, besides Thanksgiving, was to Job 42:6, where Job essentially repents from all his complaining to God.)

I always find this kind of conversation humbling.  I can be like Job at times, focusing on everything that has gone wrong without remembering that I actually am a lot better off than so many people in the world, even than so many people around me.  The first thing that came to mind in this discussion is that I’m grateful that I am relatively healthy, and this is something I tend to take for granted.  This was on my mind because of a relative who I’ve just gotten to know in the last few years.  I hope it isn’t too awkward that I’m mentioning her here, because I know she reads this.  It isn’t my story to tell, but basically she is seriously ill and doesn’t have much time left.  She is around my age, late 30s.  I think of people like her, faced with an illness in the prime of her life, with a family to take care of… or like Alpheratz, the student from the school where I work who has never known a normal life because of the brain tumor she got in first grade, yet who is always upbeat and cheerful about life (I wrote about Alpheratz here)… and I realize that I really don’t have any right to complain.  I have a roof over my head, I have a job, I have food, and while I may not have a wife or children of my own, I have a lot of friends and relatives who care about me.

So wherever you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, take nothing for granted.  Remember what you are truly thankful for, and do everything you can to reach out to those less fortunate.  I’m just going to leave this here now.

Exit 39. Hearing her story really put my own life in perspective.

As I believe I’ve explained before, by some quirk of fate I’ve become The Cool Teacher to some of the kids at my school.  A group of my students likes to sit in my room after school to work on homework, or sometimes just to hang out and play games on their phones.  In the last month or so, some of their friends who are not in my class have been joining them.  Most of this group came from the same elementary school, so they have known each other for many years.

A few days ago, the usual group was there, and a new girl (new to the group, and not in my class, but not new to the school; she came from the same elementary school as most of the regulars) was with them.  I’ll give her the astrocode “Alpheratz.”  While they were there, they were talking about how Alpheratz has a key to ride the elevator.  The only students who are allowed to ride the elevator are the ones who can’t climb stairs for medical reasons, so I figured that she probably had a sprained ankle or something.  I hadn’t noticed any blatantly visible reason why Alpheratz couldn’t climb stairs.  “Why do you have an elevator key?” I asked, expecting a routine explanation like a sprained ankle.

“Cancer,” she replied, as matter-of-factly as it is possible to say that word.

“What?” I said.  I knew I had heard right, but it was totally not the answer I was expecting.

Alpheratz then went on to explain how she had started getting headaches as a kid and had been dealing with a brain tumor off and on since the beginning of elementary school.  Her friend who was in my class started talking about all the fundraisers they held for her and her family when they were going through this.  About half an hour later, when the kids were leaving my classroom, Alpheratz came over to my desk with a piece of paper and said, “Here.  This is for you.”  She had written two pages for me to read about her family, her condition, the surgery she had in first grade, and all the pills she has to take now.  (I won’t go into any greater detail about that, because it’s not my story to tell.)  And because of this, she has problems with balance and can’t climb stairs.

What struck me the most about all this was her positive attitude.  She didn’t hesitate at all sharing all this with me, and I had just met her an hour earlier.  Hearing her story really put my own life in perspective.  This girl has been dealing with this since first grade.  It’s pretty much the only life she knows.  And no one knows what will happen to her in the future.  But all she can do is keep on doing the best she can.  If I had been in her situation, I don’t think I could be so happy and positive and open about all this.  I’d be complaining about life not being fair, and I’d probably be really angry.  I’ve been in some irritable moods lately, but none of it has anything to do with the excruciating pain and uncertain future that Alpheratz must be going through.

Like I said last week, sometimes I just need to make do the best I can with what I have instead of complaining about things not being the way I want.  Alpheratz is a perfect example of this.  She was dealt a hand that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and you would never know it just from seeing how she acts around her friends.  I want to remember how much I do have.  I’m relatively healthy, and I can climb stairs.  I have so much to be thankful for.  And I really hope this girl is okay and that she makes it, so she can go on to inspire others.