I heard from the widow of a beautiful soul I knew for many years that my old friend Les has been struggling for the last few years against a rare and relentless form of cancer called liposarcoma. He’d always been thin, but this cancer, which attacks fat cells, found plenty of places to grow large, aggressive tumors among major organs inside his body. Since his cancer is rare, and research dollars are scarce, they don’t have many options to treat it. They remove chunks of him and keep him on chemotherapy, while paring down their predictions for his life expectancy.
His daughter graduates high school next year. He told the oncologists he wanted to live to see her graduate college and they told him it was possible. Then it was trying to keep him alive until she graduates high school next year. Now it is any day, apparently.
I hadn’t realized it had been so long since I spoke to him, I’d known nothing about his grim situation until a few weeks ago when I found out by chance. Last I’d heard he’d had complete remission from a scary bout with prostate cancer a few years back. We’d kept in touch over the years, but not that closely, and apparently not for a while before the pandemic lockdown.
I called today and a woman picked up Les’s phone. It was his older sister, who told me her little buddy was in bad shape, emaciated and grey as a prisoner in Auschwitz. Something the doctors told him recently had finished off his will to fight, she surmised. Her little sister, who lives near Les, had called and told her that if she wanted to see him, she’d better get down there. She arrived the other day.
He sleeps most of the time, they installed a hospital bed and have hospice nurses to attend him at home. He’d been falling, so now he’s pretty much confined to bed, except when he’s helped to the bathroom. His sister, who I met once during a shiva call after their mother died, seemed glad to talk and we chatted for a few minutes. She’d moved to Kansas City, which was nicer than she thought, her daughter had insisted she move to where they were. She passed a Denny’s when she got near her brother’s place in Arizona and bought a shake they used to love back when they were kids in Brooklyn. He hasn’t been eating, nothing, for days now — never a good sign. She offered him a sip of the milkshake and “the little stinker drank 3/4 of it”, she reported happily. but nothing since.
We talked about things, moving between little details of our lives and her brother’s misery and soon to end life. I told her to send my love, and Sekhnet’s, to Les, since he seemed to be sleeping. I told her I’d try him again soon. She told me to hang on and tried to rouse him. She persisted for a long while, repeating my name a few times, it seemed he was deep in sleep.
Then I heard sounds coming from Les that I have never heard come from a human being. The sounds were like a series of strangled barks overflowing with emotion. He was trying to speak, or was in distress, or both. His sister told me calmly that she needed to call the nurse, she thought he had to go to the bathroom and she wasn’t strong enough to help him out of bed by herself. I told her to take care of him, and herself, and that I’d call again in a few days.
I’m still thinking about that sound Les was making.