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Around the Kitchen Table

By Donald Ward


A dear friend has recently been diagnosed with cancer, and the prognosis is not hopeful. What was originally diagnosed as colourectal cancer has metastasized to his lungs and liver, and he is currently considering the advisability of chemotherapy — “to see if the game is worth the candle,” as he says.

I don’t want to lose him, so of course I want him to take the chemo. On the other hand, my friend believes that the quality of life is more important than the quantity, and if chemotherapy is just going to make his life miserable, with no realistic chance for remission, then it’s a sacrifice he shouldn’t be asked to make. In the end, the decision is his alone, and his family’s.

He is remarkably cheerful about the situation, though, laughing and joking in his usual manner when we went out for a pint the other night. He told me about the difficulties he had telling his grown children that their father has inoperable cancer, but other than that he was not noticeably “down” for the rest of the evening.

He feels he has been given an opportunity that few people are granted, and he quotes the Psalms: “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days” (39:4), and: “teach us to count our days so that we may gain a wise heart” (90:12). Further on in Psalm 39 the psalmist says: “And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.”

He sometimes experiences what can only be described as euphoria, he told me. Indeed, he seems almost to be looking on his illness as a gift.

But it seems unfair to me. After years of living with a congenital heart defect, he once confided that he never expected to live very long. But he recently survived major heart surgery. After years of preparation and planning, he underwent open heart surgery less than a year ago. It was a difficult operation, and for some time there was doubt that he would survive it. But he did, and now, as he says, “I’m in better shape than I have been for 20 years.”

If only it weren’t for the cancer.

He’s a heart man, I think, he shouldn’t have to be a cancer man, too. It’s not fair.

My friend has accepted the situation with better grace than I have.

He is preparing questions to ask once he’s on the other side, he jokes. He says he’s not asking for a miracle, though I have no doubt he would accept one if it were offered. I’m the one asking for a miracle. In the face of his goodwill and high spirits, I feel l a bit of a fraud. I am assailing heaven with prayers on his behalf, but it could be that heaven has plans of its own.

In the end we fall back on faith, hope, and love. I know he is a man of faith, for he attends the sacraments, including reconciliation, with honesty and joy. I know he is a man of hope, too. He could have eight months left or eight years, depending on how things go. Miracles are also possible, and we should not discount them simply because they are unlikely.

He is strong in the love of his family and his friends, and I can almost see Christ’s love descending upon him as a blessing on his weakness and his strength.

In the meantime he is under doctor’s orders to attend his daughter’s university graduation and enjoy himself and his family. Perhaps that is miracle enough.