Just over a year ago (June 25, 2008) I posted here about my young friend Misha, who had had brain cancer, and refused to let anything get him down. I was amazed and inspired by his spirit and determination.
He told me then that he didn't know what his long-term prognosis was, and his doctors quit telling him such things, because he refused to accept anything negative. He had already proven them wrong by surviving surgery and chemo, and walking, when they had told him that was all doubtful.
Misha did say that time that he knew he wouldn't live as long as if he hadn't had cancer, but he didn't know how long that might be.
He told me all of that when we went for lunch together. We stayed in touch via facebook and he came over to my place for supper one night this past spring.
I hadn't heard from him in a while, but have now learned why. Misha is now at Roger's Place, a palliative care centre for young people here in Ottawa. Simply put, he's dying, at the ripe old age of 19.
I've been in touch with Misha's father, Angelo. I met both of them the first year I lived in Ottawa, when I signed on to be trainer of the hockey team that Misha was a goaltender for, and Angelo was one of the coaches.
Angelo tells me that Misha has been spending a lot of time with family and friends, and that me visiting would be just fine. In his email to me, Angelo says that Misha "keeps on smiling which is always amazing to see" and that he's "facing this final challenge with a lot of courage".
I'm going to go for my first visit on Wednesday. Sure, I'm a bit apprehensive, but a lot less than I would be, if I hadn't had lunch and supper with him those times, and chatted online other times. I'll approach it the same way we've dealt with each other as trainer to goaltender and friend to friend: Head on and very frankly. In fact, Misha might not know it, but he taught me how to do that.
Am I upset that he's dying? Of course. He's only 19, for crying out loud. Things aren't supposed to be this way.
Am I still inspired by him, and expect to be inspired some more? You bet.
I've been a trainer and/or manager with almost two dozen hockey teams over the past 30 years or so. The goaltenders have always been my "pets" because while they're not really different from the other kids, they each march to their very own drummer and to their very own tune in their heads. I think that's another foundation of the friendship I have with Misha.
Angelo's going to tell Misha that I'm coming Wednesday afternoon. I told him that Mish and I will take it from there, and I'll visit more often.
I'm going to ride this out with my buddy, with a very selfish motive. I'm already a better person for having known Misha and sharing a bit of his journey with him. Riding it out with him to the end will make me that much better a person.