Hope renewed after 4 years of suffering

It's unusual when a colonoscopy produces a sad and then happy ending, but in one such case it did. The rare occurrence involved my 63-year-old cousin, who was a prince of a fellow and my lifelong best friend. Five years ago this week, he died of cancer after a courageous four-year battle with the disease. By the time of the diagnosis, which came after a routine colonoscopy, the cancer had spread from his colon to his liver without so much as a trace of trouble. The term "Stage 4" was uttered matter-of-factly by the attending oncologists, almost as casually as they discussed the day's weather. Suddenly, my cousin devoted husband, father of two, and grandfather of three was facing a death sentence, a trip to the cancer gallows that was expected to take no more than 6 to 9 months. The timing, seemingly, couldn't have been worse. Days earlier, his daughter had happily announced that she was expecting her first child, long awaited good news that generated joy throughout the family. Just months before, my cousin and his wife finalized plans to build a sizeable and costly addition to their house, a project designed to accommodate the elderly needs of two parents determined to avoid a long stay in a nursing home or assisted living facility. A zoning variance had been secured, ground had been broken, and the foundation and framework of a 1,200-square-foot addition was in place when "Stage 4" cancer began tearing a life and lives apart. Offered little in the way of medical hope, he initially was resigned to his cancer fate until encouraged to seek a second opinion at a world-renowned clinic. There, doctors recommended an aggressive combination of "treatments" that they believed would prolong his life by perhaps a year, time enough to see a fourth grandchild be born. In a sense, the doctors were right, but the double-dose of treatments exacted a heavy toll, riddling a body that once stood the physical rigors of high-stakes athletic competition. Next he was sent to cancer specialists closer to home at a Chicago medical center, where he underwent a "targeted" therapy that bought more time, but at an even higher physical cost. And yet, between the gruesome series of treatments, he worked and worked, managing a marketing department for a regional publishing house, going about his daily duties despite constant fatigue, pain, and bothersome rashes. In short, he was a wreck, but "I'm an alive one," he told me with a broad smile. In his view, he was "cheating death." Again. His first escape came as a college student, when the two of us were in a small fishing boat on a northern Michigan lake one sleepy summer afternoon, trolling for pike. In the distance, came a rumble of thunder, followed seconds later by a flash of lightning that knocked us both off our seats as if we had just taken a roundhouse hook from a heavyweight boxer. Dazed and confused, with our hair standing on end, we came to the sudden conclusion that Mother Nature had sent us a message that fishing in an aluminum boat on a steamy, heavily overcast afternoon was not a good way to catch lightning in a bottle. Unlike most fish stories, this one did not grow with age, as we did our best to keep it under wraps for fear of revealing our lack of common sense and questionable IQs. But our brush with death, however near or far it might have been, cemented a "brotherly" bond that would last until his dying day, which ironically came on a Friday the 13th, 2011. Then, as I, along with his wife and two children, kept a round-the-clock vigil at an Indiana University regional hospital, we could only pray that his immense suffering was coming to an end. His wife of 26 years, Laurie, remained at his bedside as doctors and nurses administered care to alleviate his increasing pain. She suggested that the rest of us head across the street to get a bite to eat, hoping that the break would help relieve our anxiety over what was to come. As we finished our meals and headed back to the hospital, I felt a strange stabbing sensation in my back, so intense that it nearly buckled my knees. Within seconds it was gone, nearly as quickly as it had come. By the time we returned to my cousin's room, his life was over, ending just minutes earlier. As his lifelong friend, I suspected that I had truly felt his last pain. Several years later, while visiting his widow, who was still dealing with grief, I heard her confide that she had paid a recent visit to a noted psychic in hopes of getting a possible glimpse of what lies ahead. She was told that sometime over the next year she would meet "someone special," a man whose first name began with the letter "J" that currently lived in Florida. Six months later, while enjoying a trout fishing weekend with friends on the Au Sable River near Grayling, she would come face-to-face with good fortune. There she was introduced to "John," a longtime Floridian who just a year earlier had purchased a fishing cabin high on a bluff overlooking a scenic stretch on the Au Sable known to anglers as the "Holy Waters." To make their long story short, Laurie and John would soon become soul mates, beginning a long distance relationship that this summer will ring with wedding bells. Such "Holy" matrimony may well be the product of divine intervention, heralding lives begun anew, rich with love and hope after a prolonged stretch of suffering. Published: Mon, May 30, 2016