Posted: 14 Aug 2008 07:00 AM CDT: He is the dog we never had. He’s a Burnese Mountain dog. A big one. We always knew what his name was going to be…“Spanky”…no matter what. The fact that he would be a toy didn’t really bother us. We couldn’t have a real one because we both traveled too much. So here he is, sitting with me on the bed. My comrade in cancer. A boy and his dog. – Leroy Sievers
This is the final post Leroy Sievers made to his “My Cancer” blog on the NPR Web site. It went up last Thursday, August 14. Leroy died the next day Friday, Aug. 15 after a long battle with three kinds of cancer.
Leroy was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2001, then with brain and lung cancer in 2005. He did a ton of treatment, all kinds surgery, radiation, chemo, and experimental stuff and lasted another 2 1/2 years, before finally giving out. Not giving in: giving out. There’s a difference.
Leroy never gave in. If you read his blog regularly, or listened to his pieces on NPR’s Morning Edition, you could hear him playing cat-and-mouse with cancer. Or a long, deadly game of chess. "OK, cancer, I see what you’re trying to do next; here’s my counter-move. And you respond with a metastasis in my spine? Ah-ha, take that More radiation."
There was always a certain glee to Leroy’s posts about treatment. Never "Oh woe is me." Sure, I’d hear the occasional somber voice, with a note of discouragement. But always, always followed by "Tomorrow is another day. And I’m not giving in."
Instead, Leroy gave out. His body just plain couldn’t take any more: any more treatment, any more attacks, another battle on a new front. I can imagine it happening, the tipping point Malcolm Gladwell wrote about, in such a different context: the cancer cells inexorably, finally gaining critical mass, overwhelming all of Leroy’s defenses. The bad guys winning. As I kind of knew they would, someday. And always hoped they wouldn’t.
But I still believed, in a tiny part of my brain and a big part of my heart, that Leroy would find a way to beat cancer. He was my hero: a gifted writer/reporter, a blogger with a huge audience, someone who was fighting the good fight and holding out his hand to the rest of us. "Come on. You can do this. Look at me cancer’s pounded me with everything it’s got, and I’m still here. Come on, don’t quit. We can do this together."
And now he’s gone. This guy I never met, never knew" except through his words. Suddenly, the words have stopped. The boy and his dog are gone.
But Leroy, I’m picking up the torch. Your cancer is MY cancer. It belongs to all of us. And you will never die, as long as there’s one writer with cancer out here fighting and writing about it.
Hey, Leroy thanks for the words. I’m passing them forward. And when it comes time for me to hand over the baton, I hope I can do it with as much grace as you did.
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.