Chemo-Man


The first close friendship I ever had began when I was fifteen years old. Chuck and I went through high school and college together, we double-dated together (and got rejected together); we were confidants and counselors and chums through every important event of life.

Several years ago Chuck called to tell me he had cancer. The initial prognosis was very good, although he did have to undergo difficult treatment. In typical fashion Chuck shaved his head before the chemotherapy began, covered it with glue, sprinkled it with gold glitter, and walked around the house in his underwear, calling himself "Chemo-Man."

Chuck and I lived more than two thousand miles apart at this time, but we talked every Saturday morning during the time he was undergoing treatment. The chemotherapy destroyed his appetite; he was unable to keep food down; he became so gaunt and emaciated that he was almost unrecognizable even to his children. At one point an infection set in, and his condition was briefly touch-and-go because the chemotherapy had so weakened his immune system. But Chuck pulled through, and eventually he completed treatment. Chemo-Man had prevailed.

A month later, Chuck had his first posttreatment checkup. He called me that night: The cancer was back, the doctor told him, at levels as high as they had been before treatment. Being a doctor himself, he knew that the return of the cancer this strongly, this quickly, meant that he was going to die. It was a death sentence.

I was numb. When I went to bed that night, I couldn't even pray. "It's some mistake," I protested. "They'll find out it's okay." I marveled at how quickly denial sets in.

At 6:30 the next morning, Chuck called again. "You won't believe this," he said. Someone in the lab had mistakenly switched his results with those of another patient, who had not yet even been through treatment. It turned out that Chuck's cancer was gone and has not reappeared, these many years later.

"I'm going to live, " my friend said. "I'm going to see my kids grow up. I'm going to grow old with my wife. I'm going to live." For a few, moments we just wept on the phone like a couple of characters out of a Hallmark commercial. Chuck told me he was filled with a gratitude he had never known. He couldn't stop touching his kids or hugging his wife. Things that had bothered him before faded into utter insignificance. He was going to live-and suddenly he did not just know intellectually but actually experienced the truth that life is a gift. We don't earn it, can't control it, can't take a moment of it for granted. Every tick of the clock is a gift from God. Every day is a Dee Dah Day.

Ortberg, John. Life You've Always Wanted. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, p. 64-65.

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