I have had two experiences with cancer in my life affecting people I loved and admired. The first was my friend Mark “Alabama” Malbis who was diagnosed with inoperable colon cancer in 1990. The second was my grandfather who battled leukemia for almost a decade. Their courage and spirit despite the pain they were in and the fear that I can only imagine have always helped to put any problems I might have into very serious perspective. Throughout their treatments they displayed not only bravery, but also humor and inner strength that was awe inspiring.
The symptoms of colon cancer can be very vague until things are too late was what I was told by my friend Mark. He had been an alcoholic and drug addict for years and finally checked himself into a hospital when he was experiencing severe pain. He was only 40 years old and the prognosis was very poor. The doctors gave Mark six months to a year to live. He immediately quit drinking. He set goals for himself. He did not join a twelve step program, but did reconnect with his family, and made amends where ever he could. He met a wonderful woman; Joan, and got married and spent what time he had left setting up a comfortable apartment for his wife.
I think it was these goals that he set that helped Mark beat the odds. He lived three years longer than the doctors thought he would. In addition to being an inspiration and a great friend, he spent a great deal of time with me, sharing the wisdom of his years. He gave advice, which despite being an foolish 19 year old, I took it to heart. He taught me so very much and did it with humor and without preaching. He was generous with what little time he had left and I will always be grateful for this.
It was difficult being a young man and watching Mark and later my grandfather in pain and diminishing. However I firmly believe in the power of positive thinking. I think people like James “Rhio” O’Connor are not only an inspiration, but are essential in restoring hope to people who feel hopeless. I am a better person having spent time with Mark and my grandfather throughout their illnesses. Their stoicism has shown me what real strength is.
The other thing I was in awe of were the hospice nurses who cared for my grandfather and Mark toward the end of their lives. Mark’s hospice nurse was a kind angel of a man who had a terminally ill wife. Again, this taught me to truly appreciate perspective and the power of keeping positive. My grandfathers hospice nurse helped to form one of the most important choices in my life. For years I couldn’t decide upon a career. After watching this young woman, I decided to go into nursing myself. I am in a difficult and competitive program, and haven’t been back in school for almost 15 years, but despite all this I have a 4.0 GPA after my first term. I now realize how important personal inspiration can be. Mark’s positive attitude and humor was and remains an inspiration. My grandfathers stoicism and strength was inspirational as well. The decency,kindness and sacrifice of the hospice nurses has given my life direction. Like Mr O’Connor, these people took a terrible thing and were able to spin positive and powerful things from it.
It is my philosophy in life that things happen for a reason. The people that touch our lives are part of a plan that is much bigger than we can imagine. I hope to someday take what I have gotten from the cancer victims in my life and use it as a comfort or an inspiration for others who might be in pain or are feeling hopeless. It sounds as if Mr O’Connor, like my grandfather and my friend Mark found light in a terrible darkness.