Jay made me laugh. He had a dry, sarcastic humor, like my own. We had other things in common. We were regulars at the blood cancer support group at Gilda’s Club Delaware Valley. We also volunteered our time there. We also had been treated for lymphoma. I, for Hodgkin’s, he, for non-Hodgkin’s.
Jay had a harder time of treatment than I. His non-Hodgkin’s never really went away, as I understand it. I’ve been in remission since 2003. Jay suffered from interstitial fibrosis due to his chemotherapy. It permanently impaired his breathing but he seemed to get by pretty well most of the time. Other than the really good job chemo did as permanent, male birth control, I haven’t had any long term side effects from treatment.
One of the benefits of his condition was that it allowed Jay to get a disability pension from his job as a middle school teacher. You may read stories of tearful, retiring teachers, reluctant to leave and lose contact with kids. Jay was not that teacher. I think he was more than happy to leave. He didn’t seem impressed with the students and would tell me of the drugs readily available in the school bathrooms. Jay was not one afraid to speak his mind.
We would see each other mostly in support meetings. We would take turns playing the straight man, with our bad, dry jokes and plays on words. We would goof on our doctors, fellow patients we’d met and hospital food. At our meetings, if there was someone new, each of us would have to tell our story. We’d heard each other’s treatment history so many times, we could’ve told each other’s story. With all due respect to Gilda’s staff, we’d been through so much treatment, and so many meetings, we could’ve run the meetings and given the staff member the night off.
Jay spent a lot of time at Gilda’s. He’d volunteer to answer phones. He’d help club members with computer problems. He’d volunteer to help at major events.
Jay loved hockey and the Flyers. He had no interest in baseball or football. He also loved France, especially Alsace Lorraine. Jay and his wife took frequent, long vacations there. During one trip, I think to Paris, he ended up in a hospital. The particularly attractive French nurse who treated him made his time there easier. I think he was reluctant to leave.
I guess the best way to describe Jay is as a character. He was full of life, humor, wit, he cared about others and would give you a hand if you needed it.
Today I learned Jay died three days ago. It sounds like an infection, in addition to his interstitial fibrosis, and maybe the return of his cancer, was his undoing. Jay was ill for a while, it sounds like the doctors he saw didn’t get a good handle on what was going on. He ended up in Cleveland, I’m guessing to go to the Cleveland Clinic. Given a choice, I doubt Jay would’ve wanted to die in Cleveland, far from home, in a city without an NHL team. I’m guessing Jay was in his 50′s.
I haven’t been spending as much time as I used to at Gilda’s, so it’s been a while since I last saw Jay. It was a bright, sunny day, Jay was in good health and I hope that’s how I’ll try to remember him, not as a desperately ill man battling for, but losing, his life in a hospital bed far from home.
Seeing, and talking to, Jay, was always a pleasure. He will be missed. The world is a little darker now, more humorless, without Jay. We lost another helpful, caring, funny, loving man due to cancer.