It is hot, hot, hot today and I am more than grateful that we have air conditioning. From my perch on the couch, I can gaze at the swimming pool. A slight breeze stirs the air, and three large plastic beach balls move in tandem on the surface of the water. If you were to banish them to distant edges of the pool, they would quickly regroup. Although their attraction is likely explained by physics (static electricity perhaps?), I like to think there is something else going on. Many species eschew the solitary life for one that is social; traveling in flocks, pods and schools confers certain advantages.
I prefer the herd to going it alone, and once I began blogging about my experience with cancer, I sought out other cancer bloggers. Most of these people I have never actually met, and yet some of them I have become so very close to. We’ve cheered, comforted and consoled each other online. On those occasions when one of us has passed, we’ve grieved with a sorrow that felt anything but virtual.
For more than three years now, I have followed the journey of a young man with rectal cancer. His name is Ezra Caldwell and we ‘met’ after submitting photos to the (ongoing) nytimes.com collage of cancer survivors; Picture Your Life After Cancer. In Ezra’s self-portrait he has intense blue eyes and a nosebleed. I was thunderstruck and wanted to know more; when I googled him I found his blog, Teaching Cancer to Cry.
Ezra is a brilliant writer, chef, craftsman (he designed and built custom bikes), photographer, pool shark, husband to Hillary and companion to Putney. He is, quite simply, an extraordinary human being who has touched the lives of so many. And, he is dying.
In December of last year Ezra learned that his cancer had spread. Faced with poor prospects even if he had further surgery and chemotherapy, Ezra made an extraordinary decision; he declined further treatment. For the past six months he has been in palliative care; a few days ago he entered hospice. His goals include managing his pain and maintaining lucidity. And, ultimately, to die with dignity.
Not only does Ezra continue to chronicle his journey, he is now offering limited editions of his photographs—sort of a personal retrospective. They’re selling like hot cakes, but I managed to snag one and I shall treasure it. Just as I have our all too brief friendship.
In the meantime, Ezra still has a lot to offer and I a lot to learn. Death is a tough concept, but by tackling it head on and honestly, Ezra is (in his own words) “raising awareness about a palliative approach to terminal illness and trying to make it an earlier and more natural part of the conversation, instead of simply a last stop before you die.”
All my love E…
*Living, Dying and the Laws of Attraction was originally published on Everyday Health in the Life With Lung Cancer blog.
L – can you get a message to Ezra? Because I have to get the kids to bed and I don’t have time to find his blog right now and I don’t want to wait until tomorrow to say thank you to him. One is, from his picture, I learned a new way to position my colostomy bag that might work better for me! And, as a fellow traveler on the rectal cancer path, I want to send my love and support – if you talk about the laws of attraction, I know that he attracts all good things – big love, big impact, and lots of prayers. Will be on his blog tomorrow. And I am headed to Brazil to see John of God and will pray for him there, too, and all of us on this wild road.
Marie, Ezra often signs off his posts with big love—I think you’re on to something! I forwarded your comment to him. Enjoy your time in Brazil and take good care.
Wow. Stunning. You really got me with this one, Linnea. Thank you for introducing Ezra to us and for writing about his experience and about palliative care so beautifully.
Thanks Julia, Ezra is a beautiful human being—so full of grace.
Thank you Tiffany.
Yes, this reinforces my sense that we must fulfill your invitation to meet again this summer. Let’s do it before the Busy gets away with us.
Oh my gosh, and I had never even HEARD of that collage of survivors. My gosh – not only do I need to get on there… browsing there made me realize I’ve lost my connection to that feeling. I’ve gotten too busy.
Dave, that collage is pretty amazing. It has been some time since I’ve perused it, but reading the individual stories and seeing all those beautiful faces is an amazing experience.
thank you for sharing … years ago my Dad chose to move on rather than continue to fight a loosing battle with pancreatic cancer … with chemo beating he hell out of me I so much better understand his choice to die with dignity …. and why the thoughts see-saw through my own head even only beginning the fight .
Patrick, my own father opted to try chemo when he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. I had just finished my first four rounds (back in 2005) and I believe he felt that if I could do it, he could too. I was 45 and he was 83. In retrospect, I wish he had made the same choice as your father. It’s tough—the will to live is strong; irrespective of age. And most of us will march through hell if there is something better on the other side—it’s just a hard call to make and that other side is not always easy to keep in focus. Best of luck to you Patrick—stay strong.
I have followed Ezra, Hillary, and Putney for several years now. I agree completely with your assessment of his character and am filled with love and admiration for him and for the way he has chosen to live. He is in my prayers and I will include you as well. You are an amazing person to share your story. You will give others courage and hope.
Thank you Mara. As we have shared Ezra’s journey, I somehow feel as if we are already acquainted. His story fills me with so many emotions, but mostly awe. Selfishly, I would like to write an alternate chapter or two but can only respect his brave acceptance of mortality while he continues to devour life at a furious pace. I am pleased and honored that you have added me to your kind thoughts.
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