When I was shuffling through old keepsakes to find things to include in my blog about my sister Megan for her birthday (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DudtXbvIDWg), I found this card Greg sent me when I was sick with cancer. I started crying, but I also laughed…
The crying part was something that I am familiar with. I don’t know and can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a sibling, cousin, son, fiancé, or best friend. But I do know how it feels to lose someone you know who was fighting the same battle that you fought. For me, it’s a mixture of loss, asking unanswerable questions, and wishing there was more I could be doing. I am a cancer survivor, and announce that fact proudly whenever it’s appropriate. But when I am reminded of those who have lost their battles, I begin asking why I am still here. I start getting flashes of “Survivor’s Guilt”.
My junior year of college, two people I knew lost their battles with cancer. One was Danny, who I knew from high school. He was just a couple of days away from going home after his bone marrow transplant, but caught something before his body was ready to fight any more. The other was a 13-year old named Justin who I had met while I was in treatment. He was only ten at the time, and was one of the bravest people I have ever met. We requested to share a hospital room when we were getting treatment at the same time, and watched the Sox games with passion. Justin asked his mother to call me so we could hang out towards the end, but I was in the hospital having my stomach pumped and on my way to rehab. Although the guilt of not being there for Justin is something that I don’t think will ever go away, I know his passing is something that gave me the strength to never drink again.
When Greg was diagnosed, I began wondering if there was something wrong with the water at St. John’s (3 SJ students within 3 years of each other diagnosed with cancer?). I sent him a card to let him know I was there if he needed support even though I knew (like me) he was already surrounded by a very loving family and close friends. I was reminded of Danny and Justin throughout Greg’s up and down battle with this horrible disease. There were already two people I knew who were no longer with us, I did not want a third. Plus, I already knew Greg’s family and had grown up with his cousin Mike. He had to make it through, I thought…
In 2004, my friend Matt lost his close friend Casey to cancer (see: http://caseymemories.blogspot.com/). When I got my flashes of guilt, there was now another person I thought about. Again, I thought of Greg and was glad when I heard news of him doing well and striking out a lot of batters. He had hit some bumps (small and large) in the road since his diagnosis, but I still was confident he was going to be okay.
When I heard the news last year that things were going poorly for Greg, I didn’t want to believe it. I kept thinking something will happen, and he’ll be okay. Even when he passed, I didn’t want to believe it. I got sad, mad, and guiltier. When I told my friend Matt that Greg was my “go to person” whenever I felt guilty about surviving, he told me that I was the person he thought about when Casey entered his mind. It helped, but I still wanted Greg to be here…
I don’t know if many cancer survivors have the same feelings, but I do feel I owe it to those who have passed to make something special of my life. And not just “You work with cancer patients, that’s great” special, I feel a need to make my time on earth really count. For Danny, for Justin, for Casey, for Greg, and since Greg’s passing for my friend Aimee’s mom Linda. Danny, Justin, Casey, Greg, Linda, and the several Hope Lodge guests who have passed away since I started here 3 years ago. I think of them every day, and I ask them for help. I tell them that I am trying my best to make my life extraordinary, and I need their strength to guide me. And I know they are somewhere watching over all of us…
Okay, that was enough serious stuff. I did mention that this card made me laugh. It made me think of Greg and all that guilty crap I just described. But then I looked at the card and all the birds and the message inside and I chuckled. It just didn’t seem like a card that a freshman in high school would pick out (maybe I’m wrong?). I thought of Greg and what he’d be thinking of this card today, and smiled. And it made me think of all the cards I got when I was sick. The pictures on the front and the words already in the card aren’t nearly as important as the signature you read. I got this card from Greg. It meant a lot to me then, and it’s really damn special to me now. Greg, it’s been over a year since you left us, but your card from 18 years ago made me laugh. You are a constant source of inspiration, and you will always be part of my life.
Speaking of inspiration, this t-shirt (donated by my awesome Aunt a.k.a. Auntie) was part of the first Greg Montalbano Golf Classic – an event that is a testament to how much Greg’s life meant. For more information, you can go to: http://www.1ball2strikes.org/index.html
And for my other Greg-related t-shirts:
Greg’s Globe obituary:
Greg on Baseball Reference site:
My poem for the guys…
Danny, Justin, and Greg
I struggle to sleep every night
Under a blanket woven with
Kindred cancer threads,
Will I ever find reasons
For all this malignancy?
The weight of four lives
Is concentrated chemo in this
Survivor’s guilt quilt,
I owe it to them to show
Why I’m the one still here.
How long will I have to
Listen to this Aerosmith song,
I’ll keep hitting repeat until
I can no longer move my arm.
Danny, Justin, and Greg,
Every line is dedicated
My hospital brothers.
Please help me
Bring this sick world
Closer to a cure…