“I’m gonna live till I die”

The last month or so has been traumatic, eye-opening and the motivation for great resolve.

In the last several weeks I have been aware of several tertiary friends, acquaintances and friends of friends who have died quick deaths in strange circumstances. In addition, I have three or four good friends who are suddenly battling big, serious illnesses. Then last week I was diagnosed with a skin cancer that I am sure will be fine, but it was one more slap in the face and the consciousness. Nothing is guaranteed to us. This remarkable ride we call life can end with the next breath.

Obviously, further fueled by my wife Jean’s death last June, for the last few weeks I have been telling friends that my new mantra is a very crude expression of Carpe Diem, Seize the Day. I must make the most of every day in every way.

Monday morning I had breakfast with a very funny, upbeat friend who has had a years-long struggle with cancer. He had just gotten up off the mat from a serious side effect of chemotherapy. He was his normal cheerful self, but midway through his Eggs Benedict he turned into Frank Sinatra and stared singing “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die.”

In a tenor that will not win him a recording contract anytime soon, but with considerable passion, he sang:
“I’m gonna live till I die!
I’m gonna laugh ‘stead of cry,
I’m gonna take the town and turn it upside down,
I’m gonna live, live, live until I die. They’re gonna say “What a guy!”
I’m gonna play for the sky.
Ain’t gonna miss a thing,
I’m gonna have my fling,
I’m gonna live, live, live until I die. The blues I lay low,
I’ll make them stay low,
They’ll never trail over my head.
I’ll be a devil, till I’m an angel, but until then Hallelujah gonna dance, gonna fly,
I’ll take a chance riding high,
Before my number’s up,
I’m gonna fill my cup,
I’m gonna live, live, live, until I die!”
I was moved and thrilled by my friend’s attitude and it completely affirmed my Seize the Day philosophy. We simply cannot worry about what other people think or say about us. We cannot hurt people and we must not beself destructive but we can definitely “fill our cup,” and we must. We can fill our cup by making a difference with our work, through our example and in the ways we love each other. We need to follow our own rule book and not worry about all the people who tell us we “should” do this or we “should not” do that.Do me a favor and reread the¬† lyrics of “I’m gonna live until I die” every day. Decide at the end of every day whether you kept the blues low, whether you had your fling, whether you rode high and whether you filled that cup with all the good you have done for others. That’s what I am going to try to do, because “I know not the time or place. “

Tim J. McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home,” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome son and Our Journey to Acceptance.

When someone tells you they’re having chemo they have told you nothing

Here is one more post on cancer stimulated by my friend Steve Buttry.

Between his Twitter account @stevebuttry and his Caring Bridge entries Steve is, as I said on his Caring Bridge account, “the patron saint of transparency.”

Steve is convinced he can help people by explaining his struggle. Obviously, as someone who has just written a candid book called “Some People Even Take Them Home:” A Disabled Dad, a Down syndrome Son and Our Journey to Acceptance, I also believe the power of our personal stories are the best teachers.

This week Steve wrote a fascinating post on the drugs that fight the drugs that fight the cancer. The post reminded me of a major truth I learned during my late wife Jean’s encounter with cancer: When someone tells you they are getting chemo, they have told you nothing.

I share this truth in the hope it will educate and edify friends and loved ones. Do not assume anything when your friend tells you they are getting chemo.

Jean and I used to sit in a chemo infusion lab for six to seven hours while she received two really tough drugs and an antidote three times a month. Right next to us would be a man who was getting thirty straight days of chemo and next to him would be a woman who was getting a monthly treatment. And then there are people like Steve who have in-patient chemo treatment.

The chemo drugs are very different too in their side effects and their potency. Some people suffer intense pain and discomfort. Others find themselves consumed in a battle between hope and despair. Not to put too fine a point on it, but chemo sucks.

When Jean and I started her chemotherapy regimen I admit I naively believed the process was much gentler than it turned out to be for her. I guess I had a false faith in how far the science of chemotherapy had come.

I lost Jean despite the chemo and I am sure that is why when I hear someone is undergoing the treatment a little piece of my soul chips away. I now have an empathy that comes from being the spouse of a chemo patient who couldn’t defy the odds. Of course, that makes me sad, but even more important to my personal character is now I can truly feel for the chemo patient.

My only point here is when you hear those words “I have to have chemo,” don’t assume a walk in the park, but don’t assume a horror show either. Be gentle in your assumptions, cautious with your questions, complete in your empathy and pray like hell.