Yesterday I got some shocking news. A friend of mine with the same cancer I have and who was undergoing the same treatment path and who had the same surgery died.
He, like I, slowly lost the ability to eat and then, after going to a doctor, was confirmed to have a massive tumor in his esophagus which would require chemoradiation for six weeks (same as me) and then an esophagectomy. With very few differences, he took the same road I did. Last I heard was at the end of July he was heading home after finding antibiotics to treat an antibiotic-resistant infection. Yesterday I opened Facebook to a flood of messages offering condolences upon the loss of this man.
I was introduced to him by a mutual friend who told me I should get in touch with him since we were in similar situations. When I reached out, I found out he had in fact been going through exactly what I was going through. His story was eerily similar, only he waited slightly longer to see the doctor. I was able to manage some solids when I started chemo. He was on full liquids full time.
For all intents and purposes we were doing the same thing, dealing with the same ups and downs, and sharing (at times) our treatment stories. I checked in with him periodically to see how he was doing. He wasn't a close friend, for sure, but I felt attached to him because of our similar situations.
Now he's gone, and I can't help but feel guilty because all I can think about is how tenuous my own grip on life is.
Look, this isn't me being morbid. The five year survival rate for esophageal cancer is so low it's frightening. If it spreads anywhere outside the local area of the tumor (which, like it or not, mine has, even if it's only one lymph node) the survival rate is 24%. If it goes further to other organs, that number falls to 5%. Most people don't even know they have it until signs start presenting themselves, and unlike breast cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer, colon cancer, and others there is no national campaign of awareness and education for it. You don't know how you get it (I got it from decades of untreated acid reflux; did you know that could happen? I didn't) and you don't know you have it until the damage is nearly irreversible. And here I am. Pushing on, fighting it, day after day.
And Joe isn't.
And it's just that random. A roll of the dice from both of us. I'm fighting to make the point, while Joe rolled craps.
I don't know how I feel about this other than to point out that I will NOT let this beat me. I will fight until I'm in the ground and if that's 5 years from now, 10 years from now, or 30 years from now, I will fight with my last breath because I don't know any other way to do it. For some reason, the big guy upstairs didn't see fit to call me home which means I have a lot left to do in this world, and I owe it to the world, my family, and friends to give 100% of myself every single day to make that life worth living.
Joe was a good guy. His friends have said things about him I hope people say about me one day when I'm gone. For now? I'm not. And I'm no longer going to be satisfied with anything that wastes what time I have left on this earth.