Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: thankfulness

Sharks and Cancer


So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest…”  Quint, Jaws

It has been a very difficult year and a half. First, in November of 2014 my father died after a brief but excruciatingly painful fight with lung cancer which had spread to his bones. Almost one year later, last September, my wife died after a long fight with breast cancer which had spread to her lungs. And then only six months later, my dog died after a painful fight with a soft tissue cancer which had spread to his bones. One year, then only six months, part of me wonders what horror will befall us in three months. But I have to believe that the pain and suffering have ended now.  I can’t help but appropriate Quint’s quote to, “So, five of us went to Texas, three of us come home, cancer took the rest…”

Cancer has targeted my family for far too long now. I don’t want it to have any more power over us. My children have spent fully one-third of their lives living under the threat of cancer taking their mother and then their dog. Almost their entire teenage years, years difficult enough without cancer moving in to live with us, has been spent living under that dark cloud. They are 21 years old now and, in spite of these added pressures, will both graduate on-time from the University of Texas at Austin, each with over a 3.5 GPA. How they have been able to stay focused amazes me and is a testament to their strength of character.

I know people have had it harder than we have. I don’t claim to have a corner on suffering. And I am grateful for the seven years we were able to steal from cancer by moving to Texas and seeking treatment at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. I’ll never regret that decision. But if we could have a break from any additional pain for a short time, that would be great.

Each of us is dealing with these losses in our own individual manner. Certainly, grief counseling has helped, but we still face a world in which neither Lisa nor Delbow will walk with us any longer. We have had long discussions about faith, heaven, philosophy, and all of the accompanying topics. We disagree as much as we agree but the discussions are always lively and fascinating. I hope that we can each find some comfort in our positions.

Finally, there is the issue of moving forward. The house, already quiet from Lisa’s absence is now even quieter without Delbow’s rambling about. The kids are on spring break this week, so I have a respite before facing that still house alone. I now have six months of experience without Lisa and living alone. I hope this serves me well when the kids return to school. But before we know it, school will be over, graduations will have been concluded and we will be packing up for our trip back to Rhode Island. I hope it goes well and we can begin our new lives healthy. No sharks, no cancer.


As I wait for the anger and sadness to give way to acceptance, I’m forcing myself to look for any positives I can find in this situation. The pain of Lisa’s loss is still raw, and I cannot go more than a few minutes without feeling the immediate sting again. And yet it has almost been a month since she left us. Since I know that she would want me to move forward and stop with all the maudlin and lugubrious posts, I’m penning this piece in hopes of sparking some positive thoughts.

I am thankful for the (almost) 26 years we were married. Marriage is not the honeymoon. It is a process of learning to love someone while you both grow and age. Sometimes I was at my worst, and she was at her best. She still loved me. Sometimes she was at her worst, and I was at my best. I still loved her. Sometimes we were both at our worst, but we still loved each other. Again, it is understanding, accepting, and cherishing the quirks in a personality that allows one to love that person at their worst. You also don’t go into a marriage thinking that you can change someone. We all grow as we age. Change is part of life (as I’m learning). The greatest change I experienced after marriage was the knowledge that I was part of a team, a team against any obstacle thrown in our way. I say our way because it is understood that an obstacle thrown in front of one of us was an obstacle thrown in front of us, and we were determined to overcome (or embrace) it. I counted, and until death parted us, we were married for 9,489 days (7 days short of our 26th anniversary). In that time I think I felt every emotion one can experience toward a person, some good, some bad, but all toward the goal of forging ahead against seen and unseen foes. Whether it was an economic crisis, an emotional crisis, an employment crisis, or a medical crisis, we faced it together and won. We didn’t always win the battle against our foe, but we won the war of facing it together and moving forward as a team. That’s love. That’s marriage. That was Lisa and me.

I am thankful for my children. My kids are wondrous. To experience what they have been forced to face over the past seven years, and to do so without complaint and with the ability to succeed personally, academically, and physically is astounding. Consider this recipe: Start with the fact that you are a teenager, complete with all of the insecurities and body changes associated with that time in your life. Add to that the fact that you have been told that your mother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Add to this mixture the fact that the local doctors don’t have a plan to fight her particular disease. Now blend that with the fact that you will be moving 2,000 miles away to start school in a different part of the country because that is where the hospital with the best opportunity to fight your mother’s disease exists. Don’t forget that you will be leaving all of your friends and everything you’ve ever known.  Combine all of these ingredients in only six weeks (only allowing time to pack up your home to get to this other, strange part of the country so you can begin school on time). Now concentrate on your studies while your mother undergoes chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, your dog suffers a potentially blinding eye injury, and your friends go on with their lives independent of you. Follow that up with a move back home for your sophomore year. The good news is that you think your mother has beaten her disease. Nine months later, having finished your academic year, you find out that your mother’s disease has returned, and you will be permanently moving back to Texas to be near the hospital and that the metastasis now prevents a cure to her disease and that she will live on chemotherapy for as long as it is effective. Are you still focusing on your studies? Are you looking ahead to college? Can you see past Friday? Time passes, and you’ve done incredibly well in school and now face college. Now you move away from home to school, away from your mother who continues to endure standard chemotherapy and clinical trials and all of their horrific, systemic side effects. You don’t want to leave, but over the course of your first three years in school you pull down a 3.5 GPA in one of the tougher, larger schools in the country. Now the worst happens, your mother dies, and you are expected to continue with your studies in your final year of college. Distracted and disheartened, you continue to excel at school, all with an eye toward graduate school. I’m sorry, but that is a recipe for disaster for many teenagers. And yet my kids continue to flourish in this bizarre reality. And they do so with genuine love and concern for each other and love and concern for me. I couldn’t be prouder.

I am thankful for my family. My father died on November 17th. It has been an incredibly difficult year. Being 2,000 miles away from home is difficult enough. To hear about the pain my father was enduring at the end was awful, and yet, it was nothing compared to what my mother, sister, and brother saw being by his bedside. There’s only so much I could do from this distance. The pain I saw, when I visited, was inhuman. And yet, both my brother and sister, reacting differently (as my children have) brought their considerable talents to bear in aiding both my father and mother. My mother found a strength I didn’t know she had, and my father stayed strong and committed to his faith to the end. Since then, my family has turned their concern and care to my and the kids. Again, it has been an incredibly difficult year. I cherish their show of concern and the love they have shown all of us.

I am thankful for my friends. These past seven years have shown me an extended ring of friends cast as far away as the U.K. and as near as next door. It is truly a testament to Lisa’s personality. I have heard from so many of you that it humbles me. I also know there is an inner circle of Lisa’s confidants that has been charged with staying in touch with me and the kids throughout this healing process. Friends have offered so much to me, but at a time when I am lost and second-guessing myself, it is hard to avail myself of their generosity. Please know it is neither my strength nor a shutting out of good friends that prevents me from asking for help; rather it is my limitation right now of not knowing what I don’t know. Someday I hope to have a better handle on things, and when that day arrives, I am confident that this circle of friends will still be there for the kids and me.

I am thankful for my job. No employer could have been kinder to me throughout this entire process. My chain of command has been nothing but supportive and eager to help. The only time I got into trouble was when I worked too many hours from home, not too few. I never wanted it to seem that I was taking advantage of the situation to get out of some work. Rather, when I did work, it was both a necessary distraction and an opportunity for me to feel that I could exert some control over my spinning life. For that and for their generosity I am extremely grateful. I don’t know where the kids and I will end up after they graduate, but I will make every effort to show my appreciation for everything my employer has done for me by attempting to remain a loyal employee.

I am thankful for my health. The past four months have been extremely difficult. I have worked from home the entire time and sat at my desk at the foot of Lisa’s bed. I have worked and eaten. The yard went to hell late in the spring, and I have not spent any time there to tend to it. In short, I’ve gained some weight being so sedentary and worried. I am now on an austerity program that would make Germany happy. I will begin to take better care of myself as it was one of the main things upon which Lisa insisted. Feeling that I needed to be here for the kids once she was gone (and for a long time after that), I will work to become a smarter eater and take better care of myself.

It still hurts. My stomach is still in knots trying to process the fact that I will never see Lisa again. Every time something happens I want to reach for my phone, to call or text her about it. God, I miss her. After writing this, I am still angry and sad, but I am thankful for the time we had together, for my children, for my family, for my friends, for my job, and for my health.