Yesterday, I was sitting at my kitchen table, laptop open, and a dilemma stared me in the face. My heart wrenched back and forth, struggling with the notion of hitting “play.” If I don’t, cancer wins. If I do, I risk having my son Benjamin, who was playing the Angry Birds board game in the next room, see me practically inconsolable.
In my world, cancer never wins.
Zach Sobiech was someone many of you never heard of a few months ago. He lived in Minnesota, liked the Vikings, loved playing music on his guitar, and adored (and sometimes barely tolerated) his siblings. He was one of those kids that was remarkable how all teenagers are remarkable. The future is limitless. They can do or become or live any way they want. The parents of these kids hope they become successful, but pray that they just make it to happy. As long as they get their children across the finish line to adulthood, they have done their job.
But what if that job never comes to fruition? And worse…what if you know that it will never come to fruition?
What if you knew that your child was going to die? Or your younger brother? Or your boyfriend? Or your classmate?
At the tender age of 14 years old, Zach Sobiech was stricken with an absolutely vicious cancer called Osteosarcoma…in layman’s terms…bone cancer. It is painful, it is aggressive, and the treatment is not something you would wish your worst enemy to experience. Zach and his parents fought the cancer with everything they had, from medical science to faith. Rounds and rounds of chemo blasted the invader while Zach struggled to stay alive.
After his last round, he went in for his check-up…expecting to hear good news. What he got was something out of a nightmare.
Zach Sobiech now had tumors on his lungs. And these tumors had back-up tumors on their way to the rumble in case they couldn’t finish him off, because this is what cancer does. It is a bully…and a coward.
As the cancer got worse, the only way that doctors would be able to save Zach would be to remove one of his legs and part of his pelvis. By the time all was said and done, he would never be able to sit up by himself again. Weighing his options, quality of life, all that he would endure just to survive, Zach and his family made the impossible decision.
There would be no more treatment. He would have between five and six months.
Think about how hard that decision is. Imagine your own child being attacked from the inside out…knowing that, barring any complication, at the end of month four, every day could be his last. To the outside person not going through this, it might seem like you were looking at death every time you looked at your own flesh and blood. You would stop seeing the young man. You would only see the disease.
But a funny thing happened on the way to eternity: Zach’s life grew abundantly in these last few months. He was always a fan of music, so he decided to create his own form of emotional therapy by writing songs and recording them. The most famous of these is called “Clouds.” On Youtube right now, it is at over four million views.
Gangnam Style still has more, but it’s still impressive.
The amazing documentary crew that is chronicling Zach’s story even reached out to some of their celeb buddies, who then recorded themselves lip synching the song. It’s amazing seeing Rachel Bilson, Sarah Silverman, Bryan Cranston, and the entire cast of the Office mouthing his words. And from the looks on their faces, you can tell that the lyrics have impacted them profoundly.
He got to drive his reasonably-priced dream car. He was able to record his music. His family life became the stuff of fairy tales…the happy ones, not the whole Cinderella evil step-sister thing.
He got to have a picnic with the love of his life on the 50 yard line of the freaking Metrodome! Who does that?!
Zach does that. He did all of these things. He lived his life like every day was his last, because every day could have been. It’s something we all need to do. This day could be the last for any of us. We owe it to our being to make it awesome, regardless of what we’re doing.
Sadly, Zach’s last day is now a matter of record. On Monday, May 20, 2013, cancer took his body. And yet, his soul lives on…and it will always live on through the cancer survivors: his family, his friends, and even those who admired him from afar.
Because cancer doesn’t just affect Johnny with a portacath or Suzy with a wig. It affects loved ones, friends, caregivers, and anyone who has watched someone go through it. I once heard the term “co-survivor” as a way to explain a parent who watches their child battle cancer, and nothing could be more accurate. My mom and dad have never done a drop of chemo a day in their lives, but they have both survived cancer. Stephanie, the woman who became my wife, survived cancer…and my manic idiocy of thinking I wasn’t going to be sexy enough with only one ball.
Because let’s be honest: balls really aren’t all that sexy.
Every nurse that injected me, poked me, stuck me with a needle, and commiserated with me survived cancer. My brother and his wife survived cancer. All of my close friends have survived cancer. Everyone who has ever been touched by this blog has survived cancer.
And that’s the point. Zach survived cancer because his story will live on forever. His family may feel like they can’t survive at this moment, because their idea of normal is now shattered. When they create their new normal, they will survive, and thrive, and they will help others who are going through what Zach endured.
I guess what I’m saying is that we are all cancer survivors in a sense, and this is coming from a literal cancer survivor, so even if you’ve never puked for a week solid or lost a body part, you’ve still survived. We’re here to tell the tales. We’re here to encourage those in the fight. We’re here to carry those who need carrying.
We are survivors. Take that, cancer.