Dear Superman,

Dear Jack,

I don’t think I have ever met anyone like you. Sure I have met strong, inspirational people but they broke the mold with you. I wish there were more people out there like you. You exhibited incredible strength, compassion, spirit and love.

I liked you the day I met you. There was just something about you. You had this presence and I could tell you were a doer.  I also liked that full head of hair, red shirt and the stylish shoes and socks you were wearing.

I think the turning point for our friendship was when we met for lunch.We had sushi and we talked about you getting involved as a co-chair for a patient family advisory council. We connected on this level only cancer survivors can understand. We talked about our treatments, our families and our fears that we often don’t even talk about with friends or family. You asked me if I thought about when it might be my turn again, when I might succumb to a cancer that could come back. You shared your own fears but it all felt a long way off. I knew as we shared our lunch, we were in it for the long haul and would always be friends.

You told me about your incurable cancer and how you became your own advocate in your fight which had extended your life. Patients need to take control, need to be educated and empowered to manage their care. You were damn sure you were going to get the word out and help patients navigate the often scary and confusing process.

I respected you for your determination and unwavering passion to make things better for patients. Many people would have given up when the going got tough but you never did. Even when people told you to step back, you stayed the course. I was amazed and inspired by your spirit. It was just non negotiable with you. You never gave up.

You taught me that if you want to make a difference, make change, it isn’t easy, it takes a lot of grit and determination and little by little people will start to listen.

You were relentless in your fight, continually looking cancer in the face and saying “I dare you. You don’t know who you are messing with.” It did work for a while, actually more than a while, you defying the odds for 10 years. And then as things seemed to be stable, cancer threw you the biggest curveball of all, a new virulent cancer, totally unexpected and unrelated to your daily fight. You took it on and we all started to get lulled into that place where you actually think mind over matter will work. Hope is so powerful and Jack you were the king of optimism, hope and persistence. You became our Superman. Even as you were regularly undergoing treatment that would give you all kinds of horrible side effects, I would often forget how hard it was physically because you always had a smile on your face. You would push through and would hop on a plane to fly across the world to give a speech to ensure that the patient voice was heard. You were racing against time to fix all these problems you faced and many other patients faced.

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Several times over the last year I told you in many of our conversations that it was ok to not be Superman, even just for a little while. Not to put so much pressure on yourself to be that role model. You didn’t always have to act to tough, so strong, it could be exhausting. We would understand if you took a break.

You agreed but it just wasn’t you.

You never stopped moving.

You lived your days, intentionally. Despite all the noise. You reminded me to try to block out the chaos around me. The twists and turns that are not planned and try to throw me off my game. To stand my ground. Fight for what I believe is right, no matter what. To take in each day and remember how lucky I am to be alive. To live and die gracefully and with courage and resolve.

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Cancer survivors are often inpatient, in a rush to do things, before our time ultimately comes. We stare our mortality in the face. In typical fashion, you worried as your health deteriorated that you would miss the biggest gathering of your friends and family. “Everyone will be there except for me” you said, and so you made sure that party happened while you were still here. The night was a beautiful testament to a wonderful man and a wonderful family. You looked your dapper self and tried to hide your physical pain. I didn’t want to believe that our farewell hug and kiss at the end of the night might be the last.

Here I am again, staring out into the sea of clouds thinking about someone I lost. Fuck you cancer. Fuck you. I have no better words.

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We lost one of the hardest working, most compassionate and driven patient advocates. We lost a loving friend.

Jack, it is our turn to take over. Your work should only inspire us to work harder, in your name, in our name. I will miss our conversations though I can still hear your voice and I believe I will always hear you cheering me on to continue the work you were so passionate about.

You inspired me every day that I knew you and will continue to inspire me for the rest of my days. Your warmth and love shined through and will continue to shine through your family and friends.

I am heartbroken yet inspired to move on with intention. Until we meet again, my Superman, our Superman.

Jack Whelan

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About Shari

I am a wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, two time cancer survivor and patient advocate. I am a "somebody" who is not an expert but rather has many life experiences and reflections to share.
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