Cancer & Why I’m an Asshole

Cancer & Why I’m an Asshole

If you’re lucky, college is four years – maybe more – to learn a skill set, take on a variety of life experiences and develop new, meaningful friendships.

My own experiences qualify me as “lucky” by that standard. I got good grades, covered a lifetime of years in experiences and for a couple of years during and after school, I lived in an unofficial frat house with two of my official ‘frat bros’ and one hilarious, broken-English-speaking Puerto Rican whom we met through

To call that experience memorable would be an understatement. We would string together night after night of celebrations that made us feel limitless.

Occasionally that meant drinking like we were trying to prove something, going to work without having ever gone to bed, and other times it meant heart to hearts over homemade chicken parmesan. It also meant bitching at each other for dirty dishes left in the sink, and occasionally beating each other’s asses if for no other reason than “that’s what drunk, bro-mantic college guys do.”

As fate would have it, though, I had a falling out with two of those three roommates – and the one that I remained on good terms with, in a twist of irony, was the hilarious Puerto Rican. The fall-outs aren’t what I’d call major, but they were significant enough to change the trajectory of those friendships. As the subsequent years went by, the friendships simply no longer were what they looked like they’d surely become.

A couple of years later, I reconciled with one of the guys. But I was too proud, too much of an asshole and too convinced that I was justified in my decision not to do the same with the other.

Over the course of three or so years, I had no one, least of all myself, to challenge that notion. Because hey, friendships come and go, right?

Yes, sometimes they do. Other times, though, friendships “go” because you’re too thickheaded to let your differences simply exist without having to keep score with regards to who’s right and who’s wrong.

And I could have continued on with that mindset for God knows how long without ever having to question it.

I’d heard rumblings from mutual friends that the other roommate – we’ll call him Ryan – had battled some serious health issues a year or so ago, but that he had gotten through them and healed well.

As true as that may have been, guess what? I didn’t flinch. I never bothered to call to see for myself, or to even say “hey, how’ve you been?”

That is, until I learned that Ryan’s illness had come back. At 28-years-old, his cancer had come back.

And instead of a surgery-only solution, as had been the course of treatment the first time, Ryan would be undergoing extensive chemotherapy treatments and a subsequent, more invasive surgery the second time around.

On Tuesday night this week, with my pride not pushed aside but completely shattered, I called Ryan. It was one of the most humbling conversations I’ve ever had. Sheepishly, I acknowledged what I’d learned about his condition. I asked him how he’d been feeling and how he’d been handling it. And I apologized.

It would’ve once been considered a nice gesture, but even then it would’ve been a reach. On Tuesday, it was a flat out embarrassment. I had to tell someone who was once like a brother to me that I was sorry for letting my ego prevent me from calling him for three years, and I was only now doing so because I’d found out he had cancer.

And if his health hadn’t been an issue, I don’t know when – if – I’d have picked up the phone at all.

Because so many times, life’s wake-up calls are someone else’s wake-up calls. Sure, life has cautionary tales, but most are far enough from your own reality that you can pay lip service to understanding the ‘lesson’ without ever having to implement it.

But reality – life – has a way of bitch slapping us with things we claim to know are true, but only when we’re forced to accept them. Like the family who thinks this hurricane will miss them like all the others. Until it doesn’t. Or the guy who doesn’t watch what he eats and never exercises, but wishes he had the second he gets a heart disease diagnosis.

The ‘lesson’ I’m loosely referring to is open to interpretation. But what I do know is that life and the events that define it exist independently of our best and worst intentions. That’s why good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. We won’t always do the right thing or the good and honest thing. That’s what makes us human. But what also makes us human is the ability to recognize and right a wrong when we have the opportunity to do so.

Many times, we’ll have that privilege. But sometimes we won’t.


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