If I hadn’t answered the phone, my evening would have been perfect. I had just finished putting the kids to bed and I was headed downstairs to watch a movie with my wife.
When I felt the phone vibrate in my pocket, I retrieved it and saw an unknown number. Usually, I ignore calls from numbers I don’t recognize, but something compelled me to accept this one.
I was pleased to discover that the caller was one of my best friends from high school. It had been a few months since we had seen or talked to each other and I was surprised to hear his voice. After of few minutes of small talk, my friend’s voice turned grave.
“I have something to tell you,” he said. “I want you to hear it from me before it gets posted all over Facebook.”
My friend was the jokester of our group and it felt strange to hear him speak these cryptic words, but I was totally unprepared for the news he was about to share.
“I have colon cancer,” he said. I was waiting for the punchline, but it never game. I was shocked. At the time, my friend was 39 years old. How was this possible? He was too young to get colon cancer. Thirty-nine year old guys don’t get colon cancer.
I finally mustered the strength to ask, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” he said. “I’ve already started my chemo treatments.”
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked out of courtesy because I didn’t know what else to say. My friend and I had many wild adventures together. He was even one of my groomsmen. The thought of losing him troubled me deeply.
“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I’ll be okay. I’m going to beat this thing.” He tried to lighten the mood by cracking a few jokes, but I could hear the fear in his voice. We chatted for a few more minutes and said our goodbyes.
I went to visit him a few days later. He opened the door and smiled. I tried to smile, but seeing him in his weakened state troubled me.
We sat down in his living room and he told me about his journey. When he first received the diagnosis, he didn’t believe it. He went to three more doctors to get additional opinions. They all confirmed the initial diagnosis. He told me how difficult it was to tell his parents and his daughter that he had cancer. He explained how the chemo had ravaged his body and made him feel tired all the time.
“Sometimes it’s hard,” he said “And I just want to give up. But I’m going to keep fighting for my life.”
“And I’ll be here to fight with you,” I said. He chuckled and settled into his recliner.
“You wanna watch the game?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said.
Although my friend struggled through the treatments, he was able to get the cancer under control and regain his life. I’m glad to say that my friend is healthy and doing well. He recently celebrated his 43rd birthday.
But his battle forced me to think about my own health and mortality. As a consequence, I’m more diligent about getting my health screenings and taking care of myself.
I also learned a lesson about the importance of friendship. My friend was able to persevere through the tough times, because his friends rallied around him and gave him the support and encouragement he needed. We all need friends like that in our lives.