Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Impending Death of a Friend

First a little background - I have been training a husband and wife, both of whom are serious cyclists and both of whom are in their 60s, for the better part of five years. I have been training her, M, year-round, while I generally trained him, R, during the off season and early into the season. Like many of my clients, I feel like I know them very well and I think of them as friends.

A year ago this last December, in 2010, R was diagnosed with intestinal cancer after a couple of months of poor recovery after rides and just generally feeling worn out. It was operable with minimal issues.

However, as is often the case, the cancer had spread to the liver and was quite advanced. He was immediately put on chemotherapy. Over the following year, the chemo was adjusted a couple of times, and the progress was less than hoped. Early on, the tumor had ceased growing, but it was not shrinking. Over that time, R lost an incredible amount of weight, became increasingly fatigued, and has nearly lost his voice. Also during the past couple of months, the pain has become much worse, and he nearly always on some form of morphine at this point.

When M came in for her session this week, she told me that R had spoken with the docs and they have decided to stop the chemo and make arrangements for a hospice nurse. If possible, he wants to stay in the home until the end.

One of my clients, as I have mentioned before, is a cancer researcher. I knew from talking with her that the outlook was not good from day one. Somehow, though, I never stopped hoping that R would beat this and be okay. I certainly never wanted M to know that I was not fully convinced he could beat the big C.

I don't think she is able to feel the feelings at this point - she is in survival mode, which I totally get. I would be the same way.

But I have been unable to stop thinking about his impending death - R said two or three weeks but it's not clear if that is the prognosis from the docs or just his sense of it. The last time I saw him he looked tired and skeletal from the weight loss. But we talked until his voice gave out, and he seemed to be full of fight and determination.

But this is who he is - stoic, quiet about his suffering, unwilling to show weakness or pain, even to his wife. To him, he is sheltering her from the harsh reality of his pain. In his mind, this is how men are - and in that way, he shares a lot with how my father was with his heart disease and other health issues.

I am choosing to remember him with a wry smile, a deadpan sense of humor, and a competitive spirit that made him an outstanding softball pitcher (fast pitch), able to make a living in his youth hustling pool, and an excellent cyclist into his mid-60s.

And the hardest part will be seeing how this impacts M, seeing her pain and loss, because I know those feelings. I have offered any support she needs, and she will not ask for any. For her, the hour each week she spends with me is an escape from everything else, a time to focus on the weights, chat about pro cycling, or whatever else is current.

Everyone copes in their own way - I will gladly offer that hour each week, with an open heart for whatever she needs.

No comments: