He seemed hollow...lost. I first spotted him while I played my violin at the Huntsman Cancer Center. Everyone else listened intently—patients, nurses, doctors, and other medical staff members—but not him; he sat a distance away, staring out the window.
Even though I’d been hospitalized for nearly a month, the staff let me play for a gathering of people who also suffered from cancer. I performed in my hospital gown—classy, right?—creating a somber melody that flowed from my tumor-ridden body. I found it ironic that such a perfect song could emanate from someone so flawed. Despite many listening ears, I solely wondered about the depressed man by the window. As luck would have it, after my song ended and I packed up, every single patient filtered from the area except for the man who drew my attention.
A nurse asked if she could bring me back to my room because it probably seemed awkward to use my walker AND carry my violin. "Actually, can I stay for a while?" I asked, my eyes pleading.
"Ummm…okay. Sure." She nodded and left me there.
"Excuse me," I practically squeaked to the man, and when he didn't turn, I cleared my throat. "Sir?" Nothing. So I commandeered my walker—like a nascar pro—then simply went and sat by the guy.
"You have cancer, too?" he asked after a moment, obviously puzzled that I'd come to sit by him.
"Yes." Then I shared a little of my experience, hoping my offering would cause him to reciprocate. “I guess I’m not scared of death, I just don’t want to be away from my husband and kids, my family and friends. Who really knows what the afterlife is like? I’m just scared I’ll never see my loved ones again. Does that make any sense?”
“Unfortunately, I understand that too well,” he said, and luckily he DID share more after that. (There's nothing worse than an information hog who offers nothing about themselves and constantly asks questions!) Anyway, I intently listened to his story and learned that he’d just turned 43 and had been diagnosed around the same time as me. We’d both been told our cancer was terminal.
"Our stories are so similar, and we're young. But there is one big difference," he said after a minute.
"Well, we both have every reason to lose hope--and I think we've pretty much accepted our fates, but you... Well, you’re still somehow happy despite everything, and I’m not. Why?"
I remain quiet. I didn't readily know the answer.
"Why?" he asked again, this time with an unnerving desperation.
So many thoughts shot through my head. What could I tell this poor man? “Ummm…I’m still alive.” I had to think of something! “And that means there’s opportunity."
He snorted. "To do what?"
"To,” I glanced at my violin case, “play my violin. To make new friends. To share my story." I thought of all the stupid reality TV shows and America’s infatuation with celebrities. “Maybe I can help people stop focusing on inconsequential things. If my body is a sinking ship, the least I can do is give people perspective." I could tell he hung onto every word. "Maybe we can help other people find courage, comfort, joy…despite whatever they’re going through. If we can have terminal cancer and STILL strive to find the good, that's saying something."
He shook his head. "I honestly don’t understand you. You’re in hell right now. I know where you are because I’m right here with you."
"And yet, even here we can take consolation in the positive." I suddenly felt a strange emotion pouring through me; I think the only word for it is inspiration. "Today, I can be happy because although I’m hospitalized with cancer, I got to fiddle for strangers, and then I got to meet you!"
He broke out laughing. "Wait until my wife and kids hear about this!”
“They sound great.” I paused. “If you have limited time, don’t waste it. Find the good!”
“You make it sound, almost doable.” He turned and I glimpsed his reflection in the window. A huge smile played across his face. “Okay, well I guess it’s been kind of fun talking with you too. Today has turned out all right.”
"Hang in there.” I beamed. “Everything happens for a reason!” I stood then and adjusted my hospital gown just to ensure that I wouldn’t moon the poor soul on my way out. “I better get back to my room. Fiddling really took it out of me."
We waved goodbye, and as I left, I’m proud to say the man seemed much happier than before. Maybe he really had enjoyed the conversation, or maybe it just looked hilarious watching me fumble around with my walker and my violin before a nurse rushed over to help me.
I haven’t seen that guy since 2020, but I’ve often wondered if he’s found peace and inspiration. I hope I changed his life as much as he blessed mine. After all, he solidified something within me that’s led to a miracle! Following that single conversation, I decided to FULLY share my cancer story: my hopes, my fears, my sadness, my joys…even my failures. And now, against all odds, a publisher has signed my cancer memoir. Who knew such an immense blessing could bloom from the soils of hardship. On that day in 2020, could that depressed man have known how much he’d unwittingly change my life?
Opportunity surrounds each and every one of us no matter what your circumstance or even diagnosis might be. Bravely CHOOSE to embrace life! Get out there, share some of yourself, and see what the future holds. God gave each of us something special to impart to the world; what's your talent? Now, imagine the lives you might STILL be able to positively impact! Isn’t that awesome?! If I can have cancer, and still be having such miracles happening for me, I can only imagine what you can do.
Cancer memoir slated publication: June 2022. More details to come!
Below: Me today and on that day in 2020. 💓