Honoring one of my Guardian Angels on my 10 Year “Cancerversary”

As I have mentioned previously, unlike many cancer patients, I make it a point not to mark my “cancerversaries.” The day I was diagnosed was pretty freaking terrible, and I take Deepak Chopra’s caution to heart: “If your attention is attracted to negative situations and emotions, then they will grow in your awareness.” I don’t need to grow my awareness of negative situations, I’m all full up, thankyouverymuch. 

Today, however, marks 10 years, and I’ve found myself unable to divert my attention, especially because I recently lost one of the two people who were at my bedside that fateful day. As we all know, the people who show up on our darkest days mean everything. So, on this anniversary of a terrible day, which a very special person made a little less terrible, I’d like to share an excerpt of the eulogy I wrote to honor Mark, one of my guardian angels. (I think Mark would very much dislike being referred to as a guardian angel, but he’s not here, to either complain or to help me come up with a better term, so I’ll just deal with that whenever I join him on the other side.)



When I was 6, my family moved to Palm Springs. We had no relatives nearby, but my parents met another couple, Mark and Linda, who had also recently relocated to the desert with their children. We quickly became each others’ adopted families. 

Our families shared countless holidays, vacations and every day experiences together. Mark was an important figure in my life growing up; someone I trusted, enjoyed and loved. But, I never expected to need and rely upon him the way I would come to later, decades into adulthood.

In late December 2013, while I was visiting my parents in Southern California, Mark popped over. I was feeling awful despite months of back-and-forth with my primary care doc to treat an incessant cough. Mark (a retired MD) took one look at me and said, “Stop messing around with your PCP and go to a pulmonologist, asap.” I’d never been to a pulmonologist before, but Mark really pushed me, which was very unusual for him, so I listened. I saw the pulmonologist on January 3, 2014. One week later I would be diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. 

As luck (or fate) would have it, Mark was up in Northern California on January 10, 2014 and able to pop over for this, too. He sat in the waiting room with me before my biopsy, never letting on how serious this might be, though he must have been concerned (I was clueless). And, he was at my bedside along with Eric when I woke up and received my diagnosis. When the hospital started preparing to discharge me, Mark alerted them to my alarming heart rate and oxygen saturation, prompting them instead to move me to the ICU, where they started my treatment the next day. My parents flew in, and Mark held all our hands, translating all the medical jargon, accompanying us to appointments, and shepherding us all through some of the most difficult days of our lives. 

At so many junctures in my lung cancer journey, Mark’s intelligence and compassion made a crucial difference. I shudder to think of what would have happened if Mark hadn’t pushed me to escalate to a pulmonolgist when he did, if he hadn’t prompted the hospital to admit me to the ICU instead of sending me home, or if he hadn’t escorted me to a second opinion where I learned the critical importance of my cancer’s ROS1+ biomarker. It is my sincere belief that, but for Mark, my prognosis, as dire as it was, would have been much worse. To put it bluntly, without Mark, I likely would not be alive today. What greater gift can one person give another? I think of this often, with a gratitude far exceeding my facility with words.

Mark continued to be a medical sherpa (helping interpret medical reports, discussing treatment options, etc.) for me and so many others over the years, even while he struggled with his own health issues. We knew for years that his health was precarious and are grateful that he had as many good years as he did. I hope Mark’s family and doctors know that all the years that they took care of him, they benefited not only Mark personally, but allowed Mark to take care of so many others. Because you helped one man, my children still have their mother, and I, in turn, am trying to help many others with my cancer advocacy work. I think this is what Ram Dass meant when he said “we’re all just walking each other home.” 

I know Mark didn’t believe in an afterlife, but I hope he was wrong. It makes me chuckle to think of him floating around with a pair of angel wings (which would annoy the crap out of him), while he keeps tabs on his loved ones in between doing heavenly Suduko and Ken Ken puzzles. I will strive to make his memory a blessing by following his example: making the best of the sometimes shitty hand that fate deals out, helping others while I’m at it, and keeping a sense of humor through it all. Rock your wings, Mark – you earned them. Thank you for being one of my guardian angels.