Scott — this is a true story that I hope brings you some hope.
As someone who’s been through a serious medical issue I can tell you from experience that everyone on the planet will come out of the woodwork to tell you how to live, who to see, what to eat, etc. in order to survive and live a happy life. They will all be right, and they will all be wrong. And they’ll drive you crazy.
Although my medical issues were no where near the level of your own, I have something to share from an experience I went through with a close friend. He was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and given horrific chances for survival.
I apologize in advance for the Hallmark Movie of the Week feel to this, but it’s all completely true. There is so much more to the story but I wanted to only include the relevant info, and that makes it long enough.
Tom was more of an acquaintance than a friend, but after watching other “friends” of his take complete and total advantage of his weakened physical and mental state, and his bank account, we stepped in to provide support.
In September of 2008 we brought him home from a cesspool of a hospital for terminally ill patients in Chicago because he was begging to be allowed to die in his own house. Some other “friends” of his had dumped him there to die and began using his house and cars as their own.
As we were packing his belongings to bring him home the nurse who had been the most involved with his case took me aside and said “50/50 for Christmas, no chance for 4th of July”. Tom was weak at the time but still walking and mostly able to care for himself.
The primary doctor he began to work with near his home also made dire predictions about his chances. Again we heard that 4th of July was out of the question. I had no point of reference for any of this, so all I could do was believe they knew what they were saying and do my best to be supportive.
Christmas came and went. Tom faithfully went to appointments and took hundreds of pills a week. He grew weaker, but he kept going. Then, 4th of July came and went and Tom was still going. He went through some depression at times of course, and fear, but he kept going.
He constantly found ways to distract himself and stay occupied. There were a lot of things he did that I didn’t understand at that time, but do now. Things like buy new frames and matting for a bunch of paintings. It seemed like a waste of time and money, but I didn’t understand that it gave him something to do. There was also another effect that I wasn’t aware of until later.
He went shopping a lot. Sometimes for a single item, sometimes just to browse up and down the aisles and stay occupied. He said it kept his mind off things, and again I didn’t understand. But, I drove him when he asked and carried things when he needed it.
The following summer Tom grew weaker and the chemo took a real toll on his body. He finally grew truly sick and — please read to the end to understand why I’m telling you this — he grew truly sick.
By the end of the year he was in a wheelchair and barely able to walk. We had become close friends by then and were managing his affairs for him, including the help we enlisted from an in-home care company whichhad an office around the corner from Tom’s house.
By that time, we had gone several rounds with the old “friends” of his who believed they were owed his house, or car, or furniture… it was like beating off vultures. One person who we really did believe was there to help finally showed her true colors and we realized she was also circling above.
Those people called and went to the house and the affect they had on Tom’s health was visible. When they left he would be weaker and in far worse shape from their negativity. We finally got them to leave him alone altogether, which was fairly easy since they lived two hours away and finally realized there was no prize for being his friend.
Once those people were out of the picture, and we had good, kind people coming by his house to keep him eating and occupied, some incredible things took place. The two women who were providing the most care went above and beyond what we asked them to help with. They cared for him like he was a brother, not a patient.
Through all of this his doctors continued to cluck their tongues and shake their heads. They kept telling him he had limited time. He did become as ill as I’ve ever seen another human being get in my life, even losing so much weight that I could lift his entire 6 foot 2 inch frame like a sack of groceries.
There were times when we sat by his bedside watching him breathe and truly believed any one of them would be his last breathe. We raced to his house in the middle of the night over and over when whoever was on duty thought he wouldn’t make it till morning.
But he did make it. Over and over. He made it till morning. And through the following day. He eventually stopped chemotherapy because it was obvious that it was doing more harm than good. It was one of the best decisions he ever made and he began to recover his strength faster after that.
They still said he was on borrowed time. He kept going. He quit about half of the pills next, and continued to grow stronger. About three years after they told us he wouldn’t make it till July 4th, Tom was back out of the wheelchair.
The two women became his friends as well as caregivers. They had both grown extremely close to him and continued to provide him with care and friendship. They went to see him when they weren’t even working, and were part of holidays and birthdays at his house.
Tom started driving again the 4th spring. He was still being told he had limited time to live, but he chose to ignore them. He started to cook and shop for himself again that year too.
In late 2012 Tom came to our house one afternoon and said he had something he needed to discuss with me. My heart sank, because I was sure he was going to tell me he’d received some horrible news. We sat at the dining room table in silence for a few minutes, until he said —
“I’m moving to California”.
He was pretty strong again by then. The care he got from Susan and Theresa had done wonders for him mentally and physically and I had no concerns that he couldn’t do it. Especially since he was going there with Susan. When her daughter asked her to move out West to help care for newborn twins she had gone to Tom and said —
“I’m not leaving without you.”
In the winter of 2012 they both sold off most of their belongings, Tom sold his house, and they packed a van for California. They moved in together and shared a house until her daughter was relocated to Texas last year. She asked him to move with her again but he wanted to stay in California.
Tom has been living a great life in California since. He is happy, which has made an incredible difference in his health. He was given a death sentence by several doctors in 2008, but he never believed them. No matter how bad things got he never stopped fighting and never gave up.
He surrounded himself with good people, blocked out the bad, and kept himself busy and distracted when depression set it. He chose to occupy himself with tasks that seemed pointless if you viewed them as a dying man, but since he never believed he was going to stop breathing, they made perfect sense to him.
Most of all he never stopped fighting for his life. I don’t know if I personally have the strength to push back against death as hard as he did, but of course there’s no way to know what you can endure until you’re placed in a situation where your only option is to fight or die.
Incredibly, he fought hard enough to win. I still talk to Tom once a month at the outside and he was recently found to be cancer free. He beat the odds and won, even when those of us around him that really cared about him didn’t believe it was possible.
Tom proved to me that we are what we chose to be. He showed me that we only lose when we stop fighting, when we stop trying to win the race. If he had never made it through that third year he still would have been an inspiration to me, because he had already fought harder than anyone I’ve ever seen in my life.
He wasn’t ready to give up, even when all of his doctors told him he wouldn’t last 3 months. It’s been almost exactly 8 years since the day I watched a nurse stand behind him and sadly shake her head as he walked toward my car.
Tom lives a happy life in California with good people around him and a dog named Archie. And he’s still my friend.
I hope you find some hope and peace in his story.