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  • Mark Pajak

A Cup Of Coffee


This may be the hardest post that I have ever attempted to write, however, throwing caution to the wind, here goes anyway.

A little over eight years ago (boy do I like writing that), on a Friday morning, I was hit with a bombshell – I was diagnosed with cancer. Initial diagnosis was Multiple Myeloma. Subsequent blood draws and tests confirmed the initial diagnosis.

So, what I want you to imagine, and picture is myself that “diagnosis” afternoon and the subsequent weeks of letting the diagnosis take root and grow through a mindset that was heavy with anxiety, anger, frustration and of course a lack of information which was accompanied by an old belief that went something like this “you got cancer, you gonna die – quickly”. Get the picture? Well, if you don’t let me help you - I WAS A MESS!!!

I needed help.

Then one day I got a call from Hattie. She was a casual friend who both my wife and I knew. She asked me if I wanted to go get a cup of coffee. I said sure because I was aware of her initial cancer diagnosis – lung, non-smokers, advanced, six months to live cancer. A diagnosis that was already about 1.5 years old.

We met at a coffee house that has since gone out of business. I got a 12- ounce latte, extra hot, no foam. She got a 16-ounce cappuccino (of course - foam). We each paid for our own coffees – always. We sat and visited well after the coffees had gone cold. The first thing she said to me was “welcome to the C club” and I thought “this is not going to work”. I hated that statement and still do. Non-the-less it must have turned a leaf over because we made an appointment for another cup of coffee for the next month. This means that over the last eight years we “almost made it to 100 cups”. I love that line and I believe there is a good book to be written with that title.

Our meetings were about cancer - hers, mine and others who were in a similar situation. Yes, she asked about my wife and kids, and I did the same to her but mainly it was about cancer. One of the first questions I asked her was “what do you hate the most about having cancer?” She was quiet for about a minute and did not speak. So, I asked her “what does she like about having cancer? And within 15 seconds she gave me several answers. The one that stuck the hardest was that cancer really opened her eyes – to both the tremendous joy and suffering that is present in our world today. She said that if I ever felt like woo is me, I could go down to the soup kitchen and help. Or go to the Interfaith house and help there. Or take a walk and witness all the natural beauty once I step outside of my front door.

Hattie taught me to not “fight” cancer. She accepted her life with cancer and moved forward. I have learned to remind myself that having cancer is no different than being left-handed. It is what it is. That is not to say that you give up or lose faith or become obsessed with dangerous hobbies.

Change is inevitable and often times comes without asking permission. Fighting MM seems to be a losing proposition. I mean, no one gets out alive. All the energy and purpose and fortitude and courage in fighting - well how about we put that towards acceptance, adoption and the compromises needed to live with MM. That seems so much more manageable. In a nutshell, that was her message each meeting.

Last August she fell and broke her hip. Our meetings moved to her house. I did buy the coffees on those occasions I must admit. The visits were great however there seemed to be a huge shift in our meeting dynamic. No longer was I the student. I was the teacher reciting her wisdom as best as I could. She was trying best as she could, to remember and smile. It was good, sad and everything in-between.

I visited her in the Hospice house in December and just about a week ago. She was sedated because the caregiver said she was becoming too anxious about wanting to go home. We visited yet again with coffee. I just set hers down on the table next to the bed. I tried to talk and she tried to talk but really what can be said that hadn’t been said over the last eight years. So, I sat there looking at the pictures on her room’s wall and drank my latte. Then I got up and explained to her that I would be back in two weeks because I was starting another chemo protocol which had been knocking me down for days on end. She smiled as best she could, I smiled as best as I could, and I left. Seven days later she is gone.

But that is ok. I know it is ok (and trust me I know very little) because of what I write next. The most important line in the post:

Hattie will be missed.


PS: If there is anyone out there who needs to visit or has time for coffee, let me know. Who knows maybe we will get to 100.


PPS: Song of the month

For the last year or so I have been posting a song to go along with the writing. This month is no different however this month I really like both the song and the words. So much so that I would ask that after reading the above you take time to click on the song of the month and listen. I have included the words for your thoughtful pleasure.

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