Chance Encounter With Fellow Cancer Survivor Leaves Lasting Legacy


Cancer survivors share a unique connection. In this post, a survivor writes about meeting a stranger with stage 4 cancer who had an incredible impact on him.

Hey, cancer survivor, who inspires you?

There are approximately 17 million of us in the nation. Think about it: We’re bound to meet a fellow survivor just about any time. My chance encounter took place at McDonald’s, and made an indelible mark on my life.

I noticed a man staring down two tall stacks of hotcakes, hardly taking a breath as he wolfed them down, leaving his coffee untouched. Cheerfully, I remarked to the stranger, “You must be extra hungry today!”

Hardly stopping the assault on his breakfast, the man replied seriously: “I’m still in the middle of my chemo treatments, and this is the only thing that I can keep down.”

Four years into my own cancer journey, I stopped in my tracks, transfixed and anxious to learn more. I sat down in his booth uninvited and got instantly acquainted with the kindred spirit whose life was an open book.

Getting to Know “Fred”

“Fred” (not his real name) confided that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer and was facing down his chemo following the life-enhancing Whipple surgery. I was in stage 3 of my fight against prostate cancer, fortunately in remission, but taking nothing for granted. Stage 4 might pounce on me at any time, I told him.

That day, I learned of his grueling hospitalizations when post-surgery complications became too serious to ignore. I learned he was losing weight fast, thus his binge on hotcakes. And I learned that his personal goal was to hold steady at 120 pounds.

Fred was a fighter fiercer than any contender in the ring. He was fighting against monumental odds, and his will to survive was inspiring to witness. He explained that the Whipple surgery was his optimal chance for survival, buying him some precious time.

Time to get back riding his beloved motorcycle, which he was so proudly showing me pictures of on his cell phone. Time to get involved again with church volunteer work. Time to spend with his devoted family. No time to waste.

Cancer is like a storm trooper, brutal in his advances, taking no prisoners. Fred wanted to remain a free of its clutches for as long as possible.

Our Last Meeting

The last time I saw Fred he was at the phone store to pick up the latest model. His philosophy: Move on, stay one step ahead of cancer, lead as normal life as possible. And he did it with an attitude.

As he explained to me once, “I went through the Whipple surgery and I’m not afraid of anything or anyone.” I think I heard him growl.

Once I heard my elderly dad say, “Never buy any green bananas.”Fred’s philosophy matched my dad’s sentiment exactly.

Just six months after our first meeting, I was saddened to learn that he had passed away, surrounded by his loving family.

You just never know who you will meet along this crazy journey, but one thing I do know is that cancer survivors everywhere share a kinship like none other. In our close-knit world, a stranger becomes a friend, and a friend becomes a confidante.

Back at McDonald’s

Recently, I returned to McDonald’s for my usual coffee and egg sandwich. Then, pausing, I doubled back to the counter to add one more thing to my order: A stack of hotcakes, in my friend’s honor.

“Here’s to you, Fred,” I said softly, taking my first bite. “Give ‘em hell, my friend.”

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