How I Comforted My Friend Dying of Cancer

My friend, Kevin, was like a brother to me, so I cursed cancer when he died, yet am thankful for the time that we had together.

On the evening of Jan. 9, 2022, as Kevin lay dying, a floodgate opened, washing over me with precious memories about my dear friend.

I recalled how welcoming “Kev” was when the Burundi refugees arrived in our city and sought to become part of our Quaker worship community. He was so accepting and cheerful.

Or, how he dropped everything and invited me to lunch when I became stressed out with freelance writing work drying up and a bank balance near zero. He was so wise and understanding.

Or, how he was a wonderful husband, son, brother and integral part of an extended family. He was so devoted and loving.

I remembered, too, in 2020, my shock at seeing Kev at Gilda’s Club where I had been attending a cancer support group for two years. Turns out that Kevin had a bone marrow disorder that signaled a possible onset of acute leukemia.

“I am so fatigued most of the time,” he told me then. I put my arm around him as I introduced him to my fellow cancer survivors. Kev came to our meeting the following month.

Alas, it would be our last in-person meeting.

The pandemic had steamrolled into our lives, disrupting everything. Kev chose not to join our group on Zoom and it became increasingly difficult to keep up with his health journey.

My spirits rose when I learned, in the spring of 2021, that Kev was brave enough to take part, along with dozens of other volunteers, in a fundraising event for Gilda’s Club.

Appropriately called “Over the Edge,” it involved rappelling down the side of a 18-story hotel building in our city, with professionals standing by to handle the safety harnesses and the “drop” to Mother Earth. It took a lot of nerve and strength to participate in the event, and I saw that as a great sign that Kev was making a comeback from his health challenges.

It also gave him a chance to repay the kindnesses and support from Gilda’s by raising hundreds of dollars in pledges for its programming efforts.

His future looked distinctly brighter as he celebrated his 65th birthday in May of 2021. But his outlook soured when acute leukemia took hold of him a few short months later.

For seven weeks, he was isolated in a hospital bed undergoing cancer treatment. It was a triumphant day when he was released home, though at first, he was weak and frequently fatigued. In a few weeks, he started to do a little yard work and began cooking again — returning to some sense of normalcy at last!

Then, his oncologist gave him the choice of a lifetime of chemotherapy or undergoing a stem-cell transplant. He chose the transplant route, lining up a sibling whose stem cells proved to be a match. Finally, he told me, he had a path forward to better health.

But, sadly, in the late fall of 2021, before he could have the transplant done, he developed complications from his leukemia that sent him to the hospital, and, within a week or so, hospice.

When I learned from his sister that he only had a few days left, I began to rail against the unfairness of it all. Here was my good friend, always so full of life and always willing to lend a hand, on his deathbed. First, the pandemic had robbed me of the opportunity to visit him during his hospitalizations and brief remissions at home. Now, cancer was stealing him away entirely.

Cancer had forced him into early retirement and made him an invalid, clinging to life by a thread. Why did it have to happen to Kev? I thought. Why him? Why now? I raged on and on.

So, on the evening of Jan. 9, 2022. I agonized over just how I could reach out to this good friend and good man. Finally, it hit me. I would, as writers are prone to do, put it all down on paper. But that wasn’t enough. I needed to get it to Kev as quickly as possible. And so, I sent him this email via his sister and asked her to please read it to him:

“Dear Kev, you’re surrounded by loving family, but please remember you have a big extended family as well. I feel privileged to be part of that larger group. I am the only son with three sisters and never had a brother. So, you see, my dear friend, I look to you as a brother.

“You’ve always been a leader at our Quaker meeting and in your inner circle, but never accepted accolades. When I saw you at Gilda’s Club that night two years ago, I hadn’t known that you were facing a serious illness and had come to be in our midst for support and information. I was pleased to tell the group about our long and deep friendship and put my arm around you.

“Please know that I always will be there with you in spirit, my brother. With love and holding you in the light, Ron”

Kev passed away the next day. I still curse cancer for taking him from us way too soon, yet I am filled with joy that our paths crossed in life and that we had enjoyed a friendship stretching back some 30 years.

So, here’s a final word for this beautiful soul, this treasured friend, this remarkable human being who is gone, but never forgotten.

“I will miss you, brother.”

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