Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Life in perspective and what I learned today
Today, after attending my niece Caitlin's high school graduation (see post below), I went out for lunch with a young friend of mine, who is Cait's age and graduated from high school yesterday. The one big difference is that he took his final year of high school at CHEO -- the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
Misha was a goalie on the first hockey team I worked with as trainer after I moved to Ottawa. His dad, Angelo, was one of the coaches.
Mish had to take Grade 12 at CHEO, because just over a year ago, he was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour. I actually hadn't seen him since the end-of-year hockey party two years ago, but recently re-established communication via Facebook, after hearing third-hand of his illness, and that he was dying.
I actually picked him up at CHEO today, where he had been for blood tests. Right off the bat, I attacked the situation head on and asked him what is up. He told me without hestitation about his diagnosis, and doctors telling him that surgery was risky and could cause all kinds of complications, but without it, he wouldn't live to see two more Christmases. He said that made his decision simple.
So they removed the tumour and started him on chemo and radiation. He said physiotherapists told him he would never regain use of his left arm and leg (the arm is now in a sling, the leg has a brace on it), and that he would never walk again. He refused to accept that, and told them that he would be up walking within a week and a half -- and was!
Mish kept repeating to me how he's too stubborn to give up, and that what his medical team sees as hurdles and handicaps, he sees as challenges. He also told me that he intends to play hockey again, admitting that he'll never play at a high level, but he will play.
I asked him what his longterm outlook is. He says his doctors have quit telling him such things, because he doesn't accept them anyway. He does know that he won't live as long as he would have, had he not had cancer, but he's going to make the most of it.
Misha now volunteers three days a week at CHEO, working with other kids. He says he doesn't understand how people his own age who he has seen receive similar diagnoses to his, can just go into their rooms, turn off the lights, and give up. Things like that frustrate him more than his own condition and his continuing chemo, which initially saw him so nauseated, he dropped from 150 lbs. to 118. He's now back up to 135.
He's registered to attend Carleton University in the fall, to study psychology. He says he's very interested in how people tick, and how they react to various things, based partly on his own experience of the past year or so. He also told me about a couple of very interesting projects he already did for his Grade 12 classes, including going to a Senators game dressed as a clown, to study people's reactions.
I have to say, I was a bit apprehensive about seeing Misha today, but that quickly dissipated. I am very impressed and proud of him. When I dropped him off at home, we promised each other we'd get together again, and that he'll call me any time he feels like it.
Do I pity Misha? Not in the least. Do I buy into his upbeat, positive attitude? You bet. Cancer or not, no one ever knows what might come, so whatever does, just face it head on, and do your damnedest to beat it, not allowing it to beat you without a damned good fight.
Thanks, Mish. You might be less than 40% as old as I am, but you taught me several new lessons today, and reinforced a lot of beliefs that I already had, but might have let go dormant. I admire, honour and respect you.