Pancreatic cancer robbed me of my best friend

Ema and Gumpy Syrup Festival

Almost four and a half years ago, pancreatic cancer robbed me of my best friend. My Grandfather wasn’t the only family member I have who has battled some form of cancer, nor was it his first fight. But he is the only one who lost.  He battled with one of the deadliest cancers on the planet, pancreatic cancer, and held it at bay for longer than he should have. He is the reason A Healthier Michigan’s three month #KickCancer awareness campaign is so personal to me.

Gumpy, his family nickname, was diagnosed only three months after successful surgery to repair a heart valve. His body wasn’t strong enough for another surgery, and a successful Whipple resection gives no guarantee of a long, healthy life. His body was also not strong enough to endure aggressive chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

I was told by a friend, who was a doctor and whose grandfather had also succumbed to pancreatic cancer, to enjoy the few months I would have with Gumpy. Despite the long odds against him, our family was able to enjoy three more years of his humor.

Grandma did yeoman’s work as a caregiver and often ignored herself in the process. My mom and I would drive out to the family farm in Vermontville almost every weekend during the summer to try giving Grandma a respite and take care of the things around the house my grandparents just couldn’t do anymore. And I became intimately familiar with most of the Lansing area’s emergency departments during Gumpy’s fight.

In a way, our family focused on becoming the caregiver’s caregiver. If Gumpy were rushed to the emergency room, I would take Grandma to the cafeteria to make sure she had something to eat. We all learned Gumpy’s medical history and kept a list of his medications so we could give Grandma a break at the hospital. We went to many of the doctor appointments because they were both so tired; it was easy to confuse the doctor’s instructions.

Many days, I sat and listened to Gumpy talk because he needed to get things off his chest. When the pain was too much to bear, I would quietly hug him while he cried. I got to know how he was feeling based on his hugs alone. Even though we were close before, I got to know him in a way I didn’t know possible just from being interested in what he had to say and it is the only gift cancer has ever given me.

I think we all knew, including Gumpy, that he didn’t have many days left on earth. So we all tried to make sure he was able to do those final things he wanted to do. Our last Tigers game together was a scorcher at Comerica Park against the Texas Rangers. He was able to go to Florida one last time to see the sunset from his favorite beach. He was able to fly to Idaho to see his youngest granddaughter get married.

All of those events took a lot of coordination and patience. But his last night in hospice, when I was holding his hand, reminding him why he meant so much to me and that I would keep the promises I made to him, I could do it with a clean conscious.

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  1. Oh, David!! What a wonderful tribute to all in your family!! Your care and love shines through this essay. Gumpy is so proud of you. I can hear his laughter from the other side as he waits on the other side and treasures his sojourn here on earth. You have certainly been enriched by this experience. I am touched by your open heart.

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