It’s crazy how one moment you can feel so alive and awestruck by the world. Then in another moment realize how harsh and cruel the reality of life can be. While I have been relishing in my day to day adventure filled life, I have been selfishly unaware of things that are far more important than myself. I have been self-seeking in my happiness, not fulfilling a promise I gave to a dear friend awhile back.
Back in late August of 2014 I went to Nashville for work and had the opportunity to use my night off to catch up with an old friend from back in my early High School days. He was coaching soccer down the road from my hotel, so I walked to go watch. We caught up over dinner and drinks and laughed at each other over how much we had changed over the years. We had always kept in touch, but we hadn’t seen each other in so long, so much was different now. Nevertheless I felt like I was hanging out with a close friend, teasing each other about work, giving out relationship advice… basically him giving me advice ha! It was awesome! Only briefly did he mention this weird pain in his jaw that he was having his dentist look at soon. No big deal, we barely talked about it.
Middle of September I was heckling him on the soccer pictures he was posting to Facebook. As a goalie myself we have always been supportive and critical of each others performances. It was lighthearted and fun, typical soccer banter. This was our friendship.
In October everything changed… He had a biopsy, surgery, and was ultimately diagnosed with Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma (ARMS) or cancer of the muscle. Dr. said that this cancer is very curable and responds well to chemo and radiation. She was very wrong.
Early November the Dr. said that the PET scan showed some spots in his bones (left hip, shoulder blade, mid-back) where the cancer had spread. Team Caleb shirts were made a few days later to raise awareness and money for Caleb’s fight. I bought one immediately. The end of November was the beginning of a long trek through Chemo and Radiation. Words I am all too familiar with. I donated more money to help with the bills. I wore his shirt often.
December 17th was his birthday, he is now only 28 years old. I wish I was there for your birthday… I’m so sorry I wasn’t.
January 5th thru 9th, was pretty brutal. He became weak, feverish and his blood counts dropped a great deal. While at an appointment with his oncologist it was decided he needed to be admitted to the hospital, on January 13th.
On February 11th he had an appointment, follow up with Renal docs from the long stay in the hospital, and Caleb’s kidneys had fully recovered! The appointment with the oncologist showed that the spots in Caleb’s hip/shoulder had started to die and scar over. Also, the jaw tumor showed dead tissue within. All of this, positive news.
On March 10th, Caleb and his girlfriend Bethany headed to Vanderbilt university, more chemo.
May 27th, Caleb’s jaw tumor has grown. It’s bigger and closer to the opening of his mouth. It has grown up towards the skull. This means that at some point, the chemo regimen had stopped working. Then his Dr. said she no longer thinks she can cure Caleb’s cancer.
I text Caleb that day. Told him I was praying harder than ever, told him I was there if he needed anything, told him “If my boyfriend and I get a chance we will come visit”. Why didn’t I book a plane ticket then?
June 15th, Caleb’s jaw tumor has gotten bigger still, just in the last week, and he was very uncomfortable. His oncologist was concerned with the growth and they were scheduled for a “debulking” surgery the next afternoon.
July 3rd, Caleb and Bethany head to NYC to visit Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center which resulted in being referred to Provision Proton Therapy Center for treatment on July 23rd.
August 3rd, Caleb proposed. He was going to get married November 1st, 2015! I texted him the next day, congratulating him on the proposal, the ring, and for being a hopeless romantic. I said how excited I was and how “you deserve all the happiness this life can bring”. I really meant that.
August 18th, almost exactly a year after seeing him and things were looking up!
Then September 24th came. I woke up from a dream of being at his wedding to Bethany, it was beautiful. A very calm, warming feeling to wake up to. Then I saw a post about them needing prayers… it felt urgent and scary. I texted him immediately, “I wish I was around to help, but I want to visit soon and help you and the lady any way I can. Let me know if you’re free the weekend of Nov.6-8th, would love to fly down.” There was silence. The buzz of a thank you never came. An open armed invitation to visit never arrived. Then I read about it…
Bethany wrote- “Caleb had a bad night last night that led to a 3am trip to the ER. He collapsed after using the bathroom and we had trouble getting his breathing under control. He’s got fluid build up in his abdomen that is just related to the cancer in his body. They are running other tests for now and trying to decide the best way to keep Caleb comfortable and allow him to rest. His body is fighting hard but it’s really getting knocked down over and over again. We were moved from the ER to ICU and he’s stable right now. We don’t know what the future holds for us over the next few days. We do know that becoming a married couple is one thing we wanted. So our beautiful family, friends, and nursing staff set up a sweet and perfect wedding for us. We are now Mr. & Mrs. Hanby!”
I messaged his mother on Facebook. I needed to get down there. I would go this weekend, cancel all my plans, I’m going.
“We would love to have you visit, but truthfully, we don’t think he’ll make it through the night.”
I didn’t know what to say… “I’m so so sorry. Thank you for welcoming me down during such a hard time. I don’t even know what to say, and I’m sorry for that. Caleb is a dear friend, my first real high school boyfriend, I’ll always have a special type of love for him. I hate that I didn’t visit sooner… Please tell him I’m sorry for that.”
Caleb died on Oct.1st 2015. I would not see him alive. I didn’t make it. I would not get to tell him all the things I still needed to say.
Immense feelings of sadness and guilt overcame me. Why didn’t I make the time for you? The time I promised I would make. Why did my excuses make sense when I made them, but now seem so pathetic of me?
Why didn’t I just go…
I only have the option to pray and hope you can hear me now. I don’t get the reassurance of your voice, I don’t get the response of your shy smile. I will always admire that smile though, the way it shot across your face when my brazen honesty made you uncomfortable. The way it stretched through your cheeks every time we saw each other. Your honest grin made everyone feel so welcome in your presence. Making you smile is my first memory of you and it will be my last.
So my prayer to you now is to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry I broke your heart in high school… twice. If I’m honest, I never felt good enough for you. Being your first kiss is something I will never forget, and I will hold it dear, but you were deserving of someone who loved you unbridled, open, on fire. I loved you then, but it was so quiet. At the end of it all, I am glad we stayed friends. I cherish that friendship.
I’m sorry I wasn’t a better friend through the other years. I remember our summer ice cream dates to catch up during college and the chats when you were heartbroken. I can’t tell you now how honored I am to have been a voice of strength for you when your heart was hurting. I should have been around for more every days, and not just the hard moments.
I’m sorry I didn’t come see you when I said I would… I know you wanted me to get to know Bethany . I know you wanted me to see your family. You wanted these things to happen, and sadly they came to be at your funeral. I was able to catch up with Cory, we tried for years to hang out with him, all together again. Although it’s been 8 or so years since I saw him, we were able to comfort each other.
I pray today for your memory to live on and for the comfort of your family when times get hard, because they will. I pray for Bethany and her peace, her heart and her soul moving forward. Her love will be a huge part of your legacy. I pray for the healing and acceptance of every single friend you touched, all of your new and old friends, Cory and even my own.
I beg today for forgiveness, from you and from myself, for letting little things come between me being the friend that I should have been to you. For not being there when I said I would. I know you never held that against me, but I will be a while working on the forgiveness of myself.
Thank you for teaching me so many things that I needed to learn. I’ll be seeing you.