The good, the sad, and the cancer

norm reillyNorm Reilly was one of the good guys.

He was 56-years-old. I shouldn’t have to say “was.” Colon cancer changed the tense. Cancer does that a lot. It doesn’t care whether or not you’re a good guy. It doesn’t care about your age. Cancer turns “is” to “was” with reckless destruction.

I’ve known Norm for over 30 years. Knew him for more than 30 years. We were at the University of Georgia together, both of us involved in the athletic program. I took an instant liking to Norm, just like everyone who met him. He was hardworking and sincere, humble and kind. He was a loving family man. Norm was a fighter. I didn’t know about the fighter part until just the last couple of months.

Good people suffer. I’m learning that more and more every day. My father was a great man, kind and loving, just like Norm. Prostate cancer brought him incredible suffering. Dad soldiered through until the fight was gone, until he was shriveled and dark, quietly welcoming death. It was a hard thing to watch. The good deeds he performed in life were no weapon against cancer’s cruel march. I’m sure it was just as difficult for Norm’s family to watch him fade, God bless them. Cancer doesn’t care. Not one bit.

It was colon cancer that took my grandfather at the age of 68. I’m sure he was a good guy, too, but I hardly knew him. I was all of 9-years-old when he left us. His death is a smear on my family history that makes me the perfect candidate for the same form of cancer. After winning my own tussle with the prostate version, now I’ve got another cancerous cloud hanging over me. It never ends.

When I was 47-years-old, I had some issues that prompted a doctor to suggest a colonoscopy. Most men get their first colonoscopy at the age of 50. Good thing I’m not like most men. The doctor found and removed a precancerous polyp. Had I waited until I was 50…I shudder to think. The doctor suggested I follow up with colonoscopies every three years as a precaution.

I’m due for another gut wrenching exploration this year. Stay tuned.

Back to Norm.

He was diagnosed in 2007 with stage 4 colon cancer. Although we ran in common circles, Norm had moved to Alabama, and we hadn’t talked in years. I didn’t find out until just last December about his struggle. I didn’t know it was stage 4. I wish I’d asked more questions. I wish I’d understood the seriousness of it all.

Eight years into his battle, there was Norm, back at his alma mater, helping with television coverage as the Georgia Bulldogs played Winthrop in basketball. Norm was a workhorse. He was in pain. He and his family were no doubt stressed. It didn’t stop him from working the job he loved. I was at the game as a guest of a mutual friend who broke the news of Norm’s plight. I glanced at Norm as he worked away at the media table and made a mental note to approach him after the game to wish him well.

I never did it. I was recovering from knee surgery. The court was crowded. Norm was busy. I was eager to get home for ice and rest. I didn’t comprehend just how sick Norm really was. He looked just like good old Norm, just like he did 33 years before when we traveled together to track meets, riding in some rickety van to exquisite places like Tallahassee and Baton Rouge. He’d survived eight years. I assumed he’d survive many more. I concluded, wrongly, that we would have other opportunities to talk.

Now, all I can do is reminisce, regret, and remark.

Cancer takes the very best people.

It claims the people you would maybe, possible, perhaps might avoid at the neighborhood mixer.

It takes the unprepared.

It victimizes those who spend their lives preparing.

It targets the good, the bad, the ugly, the handsome, the smart, the intellectually challenged.

It wants us all.

It doesn’t care.

I do care. I hurt for Norm and his family. I know what it’s like to lose someone who is loving, kind, and undeserving of so much suffering. None of us deserve cancer’s wrath.

Norm Reilly was a great, great guy.

Norm Reilly IS a great guy.

Cancer wants to change the tense.

I hate cancer. I really don’t care what cancer wants.

I’m not ready to talk about Norm in the past. He’s my age.

Cancer doesn’t have to like it.

This IS war.

 

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