You know it’s a bad day when the doctor begins by saying how he hates to deliver news like this by telephone.
He closed, in a gesture of awkward kindness, by wishing me happy birthday. It was April 15, 2010. I was 53, my children were 20 and 15, and I had just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia.
The next week I was hospitalized for the first of several weeks-long stints, dosed with an array of toxics intended to beat back the disease. I lost my hair and 30 pounds. That fall I went to Boston for more chemotherapy, total-body radiation and a stem cell transplant. Following that, a year of recovery in isolation at home; I had a newborn’s immune system, incapable of defending me against anything. Just as I returned to work the next fall, my imported cells, confused by their new surroundings, attacked healthy tissue in my arms. It took two years of blood treatments and steroids to settle things down.
You know what all that makes me?
First, because I’m here and healthy. Nothing deepens that sense of good fortune more than the memory of my friend Greg, a fellow traveler who was diagnosed just after the birth of his first child and who ultimately succumbed to post-transplant complications like mine, though far more severe.
Second, because an experience such as mine can be a gift — not that I’d wish it on anyone else. But it awakens you to life, teaching you to treasure a blue sky, a walk with your wife, a homemade squash roll straight from the oven. None of us can know how much time we have, so now I try to live as close to my passions as I can, every day. For me, foremost among these passions is writing.
Greg died in May of 2015, and as the anniversary of his death approached, I was moved for the first time to write about my experience. The result was a blog called We Meet Again, a name taken from a lovely poem Greg wrote, read by his wife at the funeral while their daughter squirmed in her arms.
I posted on Saturday mornings, which is when Greg and I had exchanged our weekly emails. I wrote to offer a patient’s perspective on our miraculous but flawed medical system, to thank those who had saved my life, and to share what wisdom I could with others afflicted by cancer.
My last posts were driven by questions from readers. One asked what it’s like to face death, another how to live with the awareness that it’s always there, lurking. These were questions that cut to the heart of things, and having addressed them as best I could, I decided that’s where I wanted to leave things. I haven’t posted since, but I still cherish the breeze in the trees.