What Are You Going To Do?

On Monday, I found out that I guy I worked with1 who retired earlier this year was diagnosed with kidney cancer a week ago or so. By time the doctors found it, it had already metastasized to the rest his body and doctors were giving him three weeks to live (without treatment) or up to three months with chemo.

Just this morning I found out that he had passed away.

Fuck.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Death is a bitch, cancer even more so.

My heart is heavy this morning and my prayers are with his family.

I think this also points out an important aspect of life that we sometimes like to overlook: tomorrow could be your last day. We are pretty fragile beings, all things considered.

I once read a report detailing how placing the human head at the top of the body was the worst design flaw ever2 because of how much it exposes a supremely vital organ to all sorts of dangers (falling, impalement, low-hanging ceilings, etc).

I’m not saying that tomorrow is going to be your last day, so don’t act like it is. Just recognize that it could be.

Do I really want to spend all my time working so I can retire and really start living? Shouldn’t I really start living right now, if I’m not already?

Carpe diem; ad proximum convivium.


  1. I knew him by name, but I didn’t work with him on a regular basis 

  2. well, maybe not ever 

Closure

I’m currently sitting at the airport waiting for my boarding call1. I’ll short board my flight to Seattle. I tweeted last night that I was “going to bed. Leaving for Seattle in the morning.” I received several concerned comments from friends regarding my trip back to seattle, so let me first allay your fears of some impending doom in my life: I am fine. I am simply flying back to Seattle for Ben Towne’s memorial service. I will return on Sunday.

The complete reason behind my desire to attend his memorial service are a mystery even to me. As best I can tell, it’s 33% for me, 34% for Jeff and Carin, and 33% for Ben:

For Ben, I was fortunate enough to meet him a couple times when I was helping Jeff with some computer issues. This was over the summer of 2008 and at that time Ben’s prognosis (at least in my mind) was good. He loved the movie Cars and had an extensive collection of Hot Wheel’s that I’m pretty sure rivaled mine when I was his age.

For Jeff and Carin, because of what Jeff has done for me (perhaps without even knowing it). Jeff (along with a few other key players) was instrumental in my high school Christian experience; and for that, I will always be thankful. Jeff has always been a fantastic youth minister and I hope that he returns to it. I’ve met Carin many times and she’s an absolutely wonderful and energetic person. She’s also a great, and at times humorusly sarcastic, writter. Her updates to Ben’s CaringBridge site were an amazing insight into the hard journey she and Jeff have taken.

For me, this is not the first time I’ve had to deal with a someone dying from cancer, nor (unfortunately) do I suspect it will be my last. Several years ago (early 90’s), I had a cousin, Jesse, die from cancer. The part that makes it difficult was the age difference. Jesse was only 5 months older than me. She was also the only older cousin I had. Her death put a two+ year gap between me and my next eldest cousin, Katie, who is about the same age as Brian (my brother). I didn’t realize it fifteen years ago, and I still can’t grasp the full ramifications of her death. How would my life changed had someone closer to my age been around? We both would have been out of college right now. For years after her passing, my Aunt and Uncle had a bell called the Jesse Bell. I haven’t seen it in recent years and I sometimes wonder where it went.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve asked myself if it’s even worth it to come all this way. Sometimes I think yes, other times I think not. My hope is that I can get can some resolution, both on Ben and Jesse.


  1. Well, I was when I started writing this post. I’m now in Seattle 

Lost, Angry, Confused, Helpless, Hopeless

From www.caringbridge.org:

Thursday, October 30

Scans yesterday revealed that the cancer in Ben has aggressively progressed since the end of July. There are four new tumors – three on his brain and one on his liver.

We will be starting full brain radiation tomorrow at UW Hospital. They will do this for two weeks – in the hopes of reducing the swelling in Ben’s brain and slowing the cancer from metastasizing to his other organs. In two weeks they will scan him again and from there we will make some very difficult decisions.

We are lost and in complete despair. At this time we ask that you please respect our privacy. We will not be taking visitors. Thank you.

Jeff and Carin

Lost, angry, confused, helpless, hopeless. Just some of what I’m feeling. I really don’t know where to begin.

1 My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
2O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;
And by night, but I have no rest.

-Psalm 22:1-2

For a long time, I’ve dreaded the though of seeing a post:

“Ben passed away last night…”

This isn’t that post. In some ways, though, I think it’s worse. I don’t think people are afraid of death, people are afraid of dying…the process of death. The process is what haunts us. If we just went to bed one night and the next morning we woke up in heaven, I think everyone would be pretty happy with that. So to see a post like this, that is what makes me sad. Ben is dying.

How can I keep putting off the what is surely the inevitable? I’m having to reject every ounce of logic in my being just to hold out hope for Ben.

What do I pray for now? A miraculous healing? A merciful and peaceful passing?

What do I do?

Post script: The world seems very small now. Politics. War. Homework. School. Halloween. They don’t seem relevant now. For God’s sake, a child is dying! How can anything else matter?

Sarah Plants

Ben recently told me that a casual acquaintance of ours, Sarah Plants, had recently passed away due to cancer. I didn’t know her very well, but saw her quite a bit since she played Ultimate Frisbee on the UW team. Doug, her husband, also lived at Your Mom’s House last year with Ben and Quinn, so she was over quite a bit. I last saw her at Thanksgiving and she seemed very happy.

From thedaily.washington.edu:

Plants, 22, died Feb. 7 of a brain tumor linked to Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, the same rare hereditary disorder that claimed the lives of her father and brother. She was diagnosed with the disorder in October.

Plants had survived cancer as a toddler. She suffered from adrenal cortical carcinoma, or cancer of the adrenal gland above the kidney, and went through chemotherapy at 16 months old.

Plants was 29 credits short of earning a degree in Public Health. When she died, the University gave her an honorary degree. She had planned to go to graduate school to study nursing.

She was captain of the UW Element women’s Ultimate Frisbee team and the coach of an Ultimate team at Whitman Middle School.

Death is a bitch, cancer even more so.

Sad Times

I’ve been pretty busy this past week, mentally, physically, and emotionally. When I get this busy, my regular habits (for better or for worse) start to drop off. I hold off on checking/responding to email, I let me feeds go unread for days at a time and I pretty much just generally unplug from the world while I deal with what’s at hand (in this case: finals). To give you an idea of how far behind I am, I have 250 emails in my inbox and 828 unread feeds I currently have.

Unfortunately, life goes on; and with life’s continuance, death also continues.

That’s what this post is about. Two great people passed away this week: Marc Orchant and Anita Rowland.

While I had never met Marc in person, I have read his posts online and I know people who have meet him. All indications I have say that he was a kind and caring gentleman who really knew what was going on. Marc suffered massive heart attack about a week and a half ago. While he never regained consciousness, he was reportedly getting better. Around 3pm on Sunday, Marc suddenly passed away.

In contrast, Anita had been battling cancer since 2003. However, her death was also as unexpected as Marc’s. I’m glad I am able to say that I did have the pleasure of meeting Anita several times over the years at the few Blogger Meetups I was able to attend. I remember that Anita was always very kind to me and created a very welcoming environment.

While I will miss them both, I think I find it hardest to watch the people still alive who had a greater connection to Marc and Anita then I did. To see the depth of their sorrow and know that there is nothing I can do to ease it.

TDavid has a nice recounting of his interaction with Marc and Anita.

Chris Pirillo also has a very touching video on YouTube.

However, I think Warner Crocker summed it up best:

From wickedstageact2.typepad.com:

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” (Hamlet Act V, scene ii)

Death is a bitch.

Prayers for Protection

The youth pastor at my home church has a son, Ben, who was diagnosed with a Neuroblastoma almost two months ago. He’s only two years old. It’s sometime been difficult to be so far away from them; not that I could do anything, but I still feel helpless.

Yesterday, Ben began his third round of chemotherapy treatment with a drug called Cisplatin(cis-diamminedichloroplatinum(II)).

Ben’s Mom writes in their blog:

While this drug has proven in the past few years to be an extremely important drug in treating NB [Neuroblastoma], it will most likely damage his hearing. 3/4 of all NB kids will suffer hearing loss – the extent to which varies depending on the child. We have been told that the “best case scenario” would be just the loss of high frequency pitches but we won’t know for another six months (approximately) what the ultimate damage has been.

From en.wikipedia.org:

The ototoxicity of…cisplatin may be related to [its] ability to bind to melanin in the stria vascularis of the inner ear or the generation of reactive oxygen species.

I thought about this for a second, and I thought about how I might feel. Giving my son a drug which I know has a good chance of causing him to be disabled, causing him to miss out on parts of life.

Then I thought about the doctors who are researching cancer how hard they must fight everyday to try and develop better, less detrimental, drugs and treatments.

It almost makes me want to be one. Knowing that there is so much good that could be done, so much suffering that could be eliminated.

If I even get bored of engineering, I’d probably become a doctor.

However, I’m not a doctor. There is nothing I can do, save pray.

…we hope for a miracle – that for some reason outside of medical science his ears are protected. Or that whatever loss there may be, it will be minimal. So we ask you to please pray for him. Please.

Mad at God

I’m mad at God right now. Last night, Duane told us all that Jeff and Carin were at Children’s Hospital and that it appears that Ben Towne probably has cancer.

I feel a sickness in the pit of my stomach and the very first thing I thought of was Jesse. Not again. Why are you doing this again?