Recently, a week ago in fact, Stuart Grief, a fellow non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV patient/survivor, died from his disease. Stuart succumbed to his cancer less than two years after his late fall, 2014 diagnosis. My wife, Dina and I first met him — and his wife, Amy, in late April 2015, at LUNGevity’s (the nation’s largest private foundation dedicated to lung cancer research, outreach, etc.; http://www.LUNGevity.org) HOPE Summit, a conference for lung cancer survivors, caregivers and medical professionals, held annually in Rosslyn, Va. At that time, six months post diagnosis, Stuart said he was “N.E.D,” which means “no evidence of disease,” the first time I had ever heard that acronym. We spent a few hours together for dinner at a local restaurant one night (Old Angler’s Inn, actually), enough to exchange pleasantries and email addresses. Other than that one evening, our association went no further. However, Stuart and his wife lived in Needham, Ma., the same town/suburb of Boston where my best friend, Cary, and his wife, Mindy live. Given certain circumstances, I thought there might be a foundation for a friendship between the four of them so I encouraged all parties to make a connection, which they did, and over the next/last 15 months they saw each other socially and spoke regularly on the phone.
Though the Griefs and Louries were not in touch directly, we did receive Amy’s email updates on Stu’s treatment/health status, and of course Cary updated me as well. Hardly were we in the inner circle. We were mostly on the outside looking in. Nevertheless, I was involved, emotionally, and certainly could appreciate and understand all that Stuart and Amy were enduring. When you’re a member of the club (cancer patient/survivor/caregiver), you, (at least I do), draw strength/gain hope from survivorship stories and unfortunately feel weakened/compromised by deaths and disappointments. When I received Cary’s email last Saturday about Stuart’s death, including a scanned copy of his obituary from the Boston Globe, immediately, I questioned out loud, rhetorically, its reality and promptly called Cary. After a brief conversation, as I caught him in the middle of something, it was all confirmed. We agreed to speak later in the day at a mutually convenient time and so I hung up the phone. Then I walked from my home office to the den to tell Dina that Stuart had died. I could barely get the words out before I started crying.
It was a blow to be sure. It was as if part of me had also died. I felt sad and oddly enough, somewhat at greater risk than before I had received the news. I hardly knew Stuart, and other than the lung cancer connection, there was no other substance to our relationship. However, as cancer patients, we are all connected; we are living the same life, fearing the same uncontrollable outcomes and juggling the same emotions; and what effects one of us, good or bad, effects all of us. Hearing about another cancer’s patient’s death is the worst possible news — other than our own discouraging news, that we can imagine.
But when you actually see it, hear it — and ultimately believe it (‘it’ being a cancer death), the reality of your own mortality/ health circumstances come crashing down; at least it did for me. I got my bearings soon enough and thankfully, for me, life has gone on. Still, I feel as if something is missing from my life. And even though Stuart and I never spoke after our initial time together, I felt as if he was part of my support system and I his. Not a key part, but in the conversation nonetheless — and most definitely in the club. Stuart will be missed, but never forgotten.