I last saw Mark at his 50th birthday party a little over a year ago. He had moved back to Chicago, had met Sarah, and had a cool job at NBCChicago.com. Mark seemed to be firing on all pistons. I was genuinely happy to see him, but our relationship had been strained by time, and I felt somewhat distant. Three months later the call came - Andy, I need to talk to you. I called him back rather quizzically. I remember it as an awkward phone call: Mark had been diagnosed with cancer. He was scared; he wasn't afraid to tell me that. He was understandably panicked, wanted advice from me, since I was a cancer survivor, someone who had been in his situation. "Do what the doctors say" was my reply, "but its different for everybody" I added as a caveat, "I was very lucky". This wasn't comforting to Mark in any way because the doctors were saying he would probably not live very much longer and there wasn't much they could do for him. Mark had already been very sick. Cancer is a horrible word. I don't like it because it is very vague. Cancer can be synonymous with death. For me, cancer, or more specifically, non-Hodgkins large B-cell lymphoma, was a year of my life that was confusing for me and my family, battling the knowledge of what cancer is, how is it possible that it is treatable for some and devastating for others. I survived it: both the non-Hodgkins large B-cell lymphoma and the confusion. All I did was what the doctors said to do - lots and lots of tests, surgery, and chemotherapy. And I was very lucky.
I had also told Mark that I was going to group therapy, for cancer survivors. Ironic, that here I was, commiserating with cancer patients - complete strangers, some of whom were in various stages of survivorship, or diagnosis and treatment, just like Mark. Group therapy helps others who are going through it, by discussing among other things, simply sharing experiences and that it's possible to survive some types of cancer. I was doing this for myself, to gain perspective on who I had become - slowly over several years - finding out I had grown as a person as a result of my experience with cancer. Yet tragically, I had no idea how to help my friend, Mark. My words seemed weak. Like there was nothing I could do. In one year, I had been diagnosed, treated and cured. In one year, Mark was diagnosed, treated and died. The sadness I feel is tempered only slightly by the knowledge that I can share my story with others. I was very lucky.