Fuck cancer.

Friday was the one year anniversary of my friend Jordan’s death. (This is my post from last year shortly after Jordan died, if you’re interested.) Jordan was my “chemo buddy”. He was my friend. Here’s how that came about.

Jordan was a little older than me and had retired from Xerox, where he had worked with my son. From the start, Sean told me that I would probably like Jordan, that we had a lot of similar ideas. It was while I was studying Judaism that Jordan and I really became friends. I chatted with him online about things (alas, we never got to meet in real life). We would exchange text messages or Facebook messages. He was a fitness buff and had taken the time to share his knowledge about exercise and nutrition with Sean and with me.

He once told me, “If the doctor tells you that you need to lose weight, please contact me. Fad diets are not the way to go. Between 1991 and 1993 I lost 64 pounds over 16 months. I did it the right way, by balancing my diet and exercise , and gradually losing the weight. I have never looked back.” He said he stayed within a 5-lb range.

Our chats were brief but spontaneous. And then came that fateful time last year when I announced I had cancer. I started chemo on May 20, the day after my birthday.

He wrote me privately, “I was diagnosed with Lymphoma last week and have started radiation this week to shrink a tumor. I will be starting chemo within two weeks. It will last for six months. So I am in your corner. We can support each other. I don’t post about it on the internet, just because I am a private person. But I am not ashamed by this. I am proud of those like you who are fighting back. I have a good support group of family and friends. I would like to be a friend in support of you.”

He was to undergo radiation first–ten sessions. For me, radiation was to come much later. Finally, I had someone to share my fears with. He shared his with me but didn’t want anyone at Xerox to know that he was ill. He said he’d tell his friends there after it was all over. I respected that and so did Sean.

Because we found ourselves in a pandemic, we couldn’t get together in person, and we couldn’t have anyone with us to support us during treatment. All of those movies where you see a woman’s tribe showing up for her at chemo sessions? That wasn’t going to happen for me. Jordan’s wife was there for him, and his children lived nearby. Sean was here for me, but there was so much I kept from him. I think he knew how lousy I felt, but I tried to hide the worst of it. I spent so much time in my room, in bed. Jordan and I talked occasionally by phone.

I told Jordan, “You know, I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of losing everything I’ve built up because of a disease that probably won’t kill me. I will have to really look at my options for how to move forward after treatment. Sean and I keep talking about heading back to NC, close enough to the big medical hub but outside the rat race. It’s cheaper and quieter.”

He called Sean, too, and they had a nice conversation. I don’t know what they talked about, but I know they were fond of each other.

We joked about being lab rats and compared all the procedures we were put through in that first month. He said, “Jude, just a little John Lennon thought that applies to us: ‘Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.'”

Ain’t that the truth, buddy?

At the end of May, we chatted on Messenger:

Jordan sent May 31, 2020, 10:21 PM: I know you are tired of dealing with cancer, but stay tough. You will beat it. I admire you for your grit. You give me hope.
You sent May 31, 2020, 10:30 PM: How nice of you to say. We’re both going to beat this!

I had started Adriamycin (Doxyrubicin) and Cytoxan (along with a lot of steroids and fluids). His course of treatment involved 5 days in a row of going to the center and getting a fresh bag of chemo that infused over a 24-hour period. To me, that sounded worse. His mixture was Rituxan, Cytoxan, Doxorubicin, Viacristine, and steroids.

I had an idea, though. My friends kept saying how much they wished they could be there for me, so I set up a Facebook page for my “Virtual Chemo Buddies”. After I found out about Jordan’s cancer, I told him about my group. I said, “I want my friends with me when I’m going through treatment. This way they can be there.”

On June 4th, he said, “That’s a great idea! I’ll be starting chemo soon. Can I be your chemo buddy?”

And so it began. I shared, he shared. He told me about “magical mouthwash,” a prescription mouthwash that was truly nasty (to my taste buds anyway) but which helped numb and heal the mouth sores you get from chemo and radiation. My friends welcomed him to our group and showed as much interest in his treatment as they did in mine. We even had a Zoom meeting one night. It was the first time Jordan and I had been “face to face” (at least virtually). It was wonderful.

We both kept telling each other that we were going to kick cancer’s ass. I was facing 16 rounds; he was facing 6, but those six were heavier duty than mine. Treatment varies depending on the kind of cancer you have. He was still working at a government contracting job from home while going through a living hell of drugs. I worried about him. We checked in on each other every couple of days, privately. And we posted happy, positive things in the Virtual Chemo Buddies group.

He still had his hair after the second round; I did not. I joked that at least it was summer! The chemo was very hard on him, but he tried to stay upbeat. He had two weeks off (as did I) after his first round. He wrote to me at the end of June. He was having trouble sleeping and said he was talking in his sleep more. He said he was tired in the mornings, but he told me a couple of times that he had gone for half-hour drives, and that they had restored him somewhat.

That first chemo round really sapped him. Later he shared that it had crashed his white blood cell count.

Jordan sent June 26, 2020, 11:04 AM: Do you ever have days where you feel like you just don’t want to go on anymore?

You sent June 26, 2020, 11:15 AM: I have them but I try not to indulge them. I had a few hours like that on Wednesday morning.

Are you okay?

Jordan sent June 26, 2020: I am okay. I am not doing myself in. I’m trying to deal with the fact that I have more chemo to deal with, as do you, and even when this is over, I will never have back my former life.

Round two for Jordan was only a 1-day course of an easier regimen. He wasn’t tolerating the original plan well. After round two, we checked in. I was dealing with an infection that had caused my next round to be postponed. I was upset.

Jordan sent July 7, 2020, 11:07 AM: Don’t get down. You will prevail.

You know lately I have been dreaming that I have one or two courses in high school, and I have not attended them so I won’t graduate. Very strange.

What’s weird is I have a college and two grad degrees, but over the years I dream about high school.

How prophetic his dreams were. If chemo were high school, he definitely would not be finishing those last courses.

Jordan sent July 20, 2020, 11:44 AM: How are you feeling? My third chemo session is on Wednesday, so I am in a good physical zone right now.

I told him I was having heart palpitations and was going for some tests at the cardiologist. My heart managed to survive, but my pulse was in the 120s most times. I felt short of breath and anxious when it got that way. His birthday had just passed, and he shared this:

Jordan sent July 20, 2020: My birthday and Rebecca’s are three days apart, so we celebrate together. It was fun. Chocolate mousse cake.

Jordan sent July 22, 2020, 9:58 AM: I am at the infusion center, about to receive my dose of 10W40.

You sent July 22, 2020: Hope it takes all the squeaks away! I’m waiting to see the oncologist. My platelets are too low, so I think I’ll have another delay of treatment.

Jordan sent July 22, 2020: Don’t get discouraged. It will all work out.

Jordan sent July 22, 2020, 10:16 AM: I look at it this way. The results are more important than the process.

He made it through that third round. I told him that I actually asked them to postpone my next infusion so I could get over my infection.

Jordan sent July 24, 2020, 1:41 PM: Don’t get down. I was so down before my chemo and in the first cycle, I even thought about no more chemo and letting the disease take it’s course. And I did want to live. But I pulled it together and decided to fight hard.

On the 25th, he wrote to me that he was tired but was in his element, “Watching baseball.” I wrote to him again on the 28th. We were both so tired, that the frequency of our chats was slowing down a little. I asked how he was doing.

Jordan sent July 28, 2020, 2:54 PM: The exhaustion has hit me the past two days. I am just sitting and lying around. Zero energy. I probably will feel like this into the weekend, and then I will start coming around. Next infusion is on 8/12.

We just have to be patient.

My next infusion was to be August 6. I wrote to him on August 5, but got no response. I was going to call him that weekend, after my side effects began to wane, but I never got the chance. He had taken a turn for the worse. I found out when news of his death was posted on Facebook. Because I had not yet met his family, I had to learn it that way. And because of the pandemic, I could not attend the funeral.

Jordan never made it past round 3. He missed those last courses and did not graduate.

I hate cancer. As it is, I’ll be looking over my shoulder, hoping it doesn’t catch me again. At the advanced stage I had, well, let’s just say I’m in remission. I still have no energy and can only do short sprints of things. But I know what Jordan would tell me. “We have to be patient. You’re a strong person, and you’re going to be okay.”

I miss you, buddy. I hope you are living it up in the world to come. Love, Jude

2 thoughts on “Fuck cancer.”

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