We all knew the day would come, having heard two words, pancreas and cancer strung together in a lethal combination, creating for all intents and purposes, an assault weapon! Over these past four years, however, our warrior, Larry, continuously fired his own assault weapon against his mortal enemy, teaching all of us who knew and loved him, the true meaning of a word many take for granted…resilience. And although we may have fooled ourselves into believing his victory would be measured in decades, not years, he and his partner at every step on the road he traveled, his loving wife Beth, taught us to move forward, ever forward, always seeking the next treatment, adding a huge dose of hope. There were many times we expected the end, Larry would rebound, and we would receive his message…”I am back to fight another battle!” He had more roads to travel, and cancer was not going to deter that travel. No, he was always looking ahead, whether it was to his next treatment, or the next date with his grandchildren!
Larry was one of the most resilient men I know, ”succeeding, even excelling, despite incredibly difficult circumstances,” as one might define resilience. But until cancer entered his daily vocabulary, we thought of him as simply a dear friend with an incredible sense of humor; warm, witty, caring, smart, cultured (adoring the opera, an interest in a wide variety of books and movies) socially enjoying a drink and dinner with friends…us…he was part of the fabric of our lives.
Beth and I had learned at a young age how important it is for busy friends to carve out time together, so for probably 30 years, she and I have a weekly appointment to speak with each other every Saturday morning at 8:00. We sometimes joke that if anything major were to happen during the week, it would be fine to call at another time, but we are so devoted to our connection on Saturdays that both her family and mine rarely infringe upon our date with one another. Over the years, because I am always ahead of myself, I began to call at 7:57 a.m., and one time, when I reverted to the 8:00 time, Larry pointed out that I was “late!”
Just a few Saturdays ago, we were joyfully discussing Larry’s acceptance at Memorial Sloan Kettering for a medical trial of immunotherapy, a new frontier in the treatment of aggressive cancers. The physicians were as impressed with his drive, determination, fight, spirit, and yes, unbelievable sense of humor as all of us who love him, have been. His doctor told Beth and him that she was so pleased she had two successes already with the protocol, and Larry told her “he gladly volunteered to be her third!” He wanted to win this battle any way possible…after all, he had grandsons to watch grow, new grandchildren to be born, a wife to love and cherish, sons and daughters-in-law to adore, friends and family to write into his book of life. He was willing to be poked and prodded, weakened and rebuilt…whatever it took to live longer, to find the cure for himself and others. But two days ago, in our Saturday conversation, I learned that, in fact, Larry wasn’t doing well. He was feeling very poorly, and unless it was a passing virus, hopes were fading he would be well enough to make the trial date the following week. The disappointment was palpable all around, as I notified my family and close friends who kept Larry in their healing thoughts.
From that Saturday morning, the end came quickly, and by early the next day, he was gone. Four years of donning his armor, and jousting with abandon; four years of awakening the victor…four years of resilience and fortitude…his unique determination always driving him, until he could fight no longer.
Tomorrow will be the day of farewell to our formidable warrior, and many will say his life was shortened by his enemy…and it was. But I will always treasure what Larry taught me…that resilience is how we face adversity, and that instead of succumbing, he surmounted the threats we all fear. He did it well, he did it longer than most, he used his humor and determination to keep him moving in the right direction. I believe that none of us knows how resilient we are capable of being until we are challenged. I doubt Larry ever knew what he was capable of being…but during these four years, he showed us how well he was able to do it.