Sunday, February 1, 2015

83 or 23, It sucks....

Cancer changes you. It not only changes you physically, it changes you emotionally. You don't take things for granted as you once did. You develop a sense of self, and of things so much larger than we can begin to comprehend. Some days we get glimpses into God's window. I love those days.

But death changes you even more. Jillian's death was the single most devastating event in my life. It knocked me out of the game, wounded and bloody. I'm still wobbly, but slowly I'm finding my legs again. Please don't have expectations of me. I never imagined that I'd have to fight for my grief. But I do, and I will. I have to say, I've found this road more complicated and full of potholes than the road I once traveled.

Through the changes wrought through Melanoma, I'm a completely different person. The melanoma community I'm involved with is embedded deep within my  heart. I'm not sure I've ever been around a group of people who embrace a person as fully and as fiercely as these people do. Through Jillian's journey I have been blessed to have met several of these people in person. I praise God for these beautiful, spectacular warriors. These are the people who know and understand. The people I trust with my heart.

By writing this blog, I hope that I can be the voice for some wounded soul traveling the same rugged terrain, and navigating over some of the same obstacles. And this brings me to my story.

Because of melanoma and Jillian's journey, I was reunited with an old friend. Tammy and I worked in the same restaurant many years ago. My first job at 16. When I made 1.67 an hour and was happy since it provided gas money. Where I wore a cowboy hat, Culottes, and life was mine. Tammy and I lost touch as we both grew up. She moved away, got married and had a family. Somehow she heard about Jillian's story and contacted me. Her father in law, Don Bidwell, was living with melanoma too.

Don was stolen from his family on January 9, 2015 at 9:43 a.m. He was 83 years old. One person in the US dies from Melanoma Cancer ever hour. That was Don's hour. And that hour begins one family's journey through loss, grief, laughter, tears and every other emotion you can experience attached to the Black roller coaster from hell.

Who was Don? Who was this man who lived his life on Earth among us? Every single soul has a story to tell. The unique story of their big, beautiful life and how that story keeps going on and on, connecting, moving, surging, as sure as the tide. That Force. That Being. That Soul, to be simply "Gone" is incomprehensible.


Don was born in Brooklyn and was raised in the hardscrabble streets. His father died when he was in his teens, leaving him to care for his mother. A Brooklyn boy knowing what it means to step up and take responsibility.
Don was a son.

After Don graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve and enrolled in City College in NYC where he earned his Associates degree in Engineering. He then went on to active duty in the Navy, where he served his country for two years in the Korean War.
Don was a scholar and a soldier. 

After Don left the Navy, he moved to Ohio and enrolled in OH University. While at his first dance, he saw a very tall, very beautiful dark haired girl. He didn't care if she was taller than he was. He had RED hair, which always got attention from the girls. When he saw her walking across the dance floor, he grabbed her hand and said, "We should dance if we are going to get married".

Don married his dark haired beauty right after graduation and remained married for the next 57 years. 

The life Don and his bride Cherry shared, produced a son, Mark. I've asked Mark and Tammy, Marks wife, their children Aubrey and Beatrice, to write something about this incredible man. Below are their words:

Of course summarizing my father would be difficult. He was a very complex person. He was brilliant, highly emotional, and vulnerable with an incredible sense of humor. There was literally no subject he couldn't talk on. Politics, History, Religion, Finance- it was incredible. He was definitely a product of his times and hadn't adopted well as the world progressed. He was passionate about the  progress of social justice. He devoted himself to reading daily, on every subject. He read several newspapers a day. He was passionate about sports, especially football and baseball. He wore his emotions very close to the surface and thought nothing of bursting into tears when his passions stirred within him, which was often. He had many human frailties, common to passionate people. Don was a genius. I know, a lot of people say that, but he truly was. He was a Vice President at a very young age(USS Lead). But most of all, he was devoted to me and my mother. - Mark

Don was arrogant and confident and also willing to laugh at himself. He took me to the Olympics when they were held in Utah and was determined to teach me to ski. After all, he taught Mark to ski, and Mark had raced all through high school and college. 
I was so determined not to fail that I was skiing the black runs by the end of the week.  

He could talk to anyone about anything, and the same week he taught me to ski we got put on the gondola with the band members Puddle of Mud. Did he care? Nope. He spoke with them about skiing, politics and whether or not they were investing their money right and treating their women with respect. They were smitten. He could charm anyone and was a shameless flirt.

My Father in law and I fought like cats and dogs the whole 23 years I knew him. We may be the same person. Stubborn, loud, fragile. We fought and loved and fought and loved. When I married Mark, Don wanted to put me in his clan and become my leader. I was (am) bossy. He called me and wrote to me nearly every day. He bought me ridiculously expensive presents. I think he liked the challenge. We argued about politics and once when he told the girls they would make good secretaries one day I thought I would kill him. He taught me about life. I taught him about people. We turned out to be a perfect match.

I was the first person that he told when he was diagnosed. Late in 2006 he thoughy he had bad allergies or a sinus infection. Really, he had a melanoma tumor that filled all available space in his sinuses. Doctors told him that he had three months to live. His was reply, "says who? " 
"Science and Melanoma", came the reply. Very quietly Don's reply was, "Melanoma has never met Don Bidwell, and Melanoma can go to hell". 

After chemo, surgery, radiation and then a clinical trial chemo(evastin), suddenly Don was NED. For 6 years. When we found out about Jillian and began to read Susan's blog he cried his eyes out. He could not believe the cruelness of life that would take what he considered to be a baby.

When the cancer came back last April, I think we all knew...he and I spent the last 7 months together planning for the end of his life. Surgery...again 3 months. He told me he had very few regrets and the one he did have he could remember. He wanted me to know that people were more important than anything. He kept telling me to love. He was true to himself right up until he died. Trying to make the girls smile. To make a funny. About a week before he died, (he was in a hospice facility), as soon as we arrived he asked Audrey to go ask for his pain med. Audrey returned with a vial and gave it to him. He declared that it was empty and that he received not a drop of medicine. In comes the nurse. He tells her I absolutely need another vial. I did not get any medicine. The nurse mumbled something about calling the doctor to which Don replied, bring me the vial. Again the nurse was mumbling about too much medication, about calling the doctor first and overdosing. I could see the girls squirming. THEN I saw the glint in his eye and he says, so what will happen? Do you think it might KILL me? He got the medicine. ~ Tammy

Grandpa taught us to do the "Lindy" and "Jitterbug". He taught us all the show tunes and showed us all of the musicals. We knew all the words to the score of Westside Story before we could understand the story. 

When Audrey fell in love with Bulls Eye from Toy Story, grandpa built her an exact replica! Next, when Audrey expressed an interest in sailing ( Don was an avid sailor) he built her a boat. While g pa was going through experimental chemo and our Dad was in Afghanistan gpa went on every field trip. He taught us to drink coffee( behind our moms back- we were 3&4) He taught us to ski when we were 2&3. He taught us to chop fire wood, build a fire and to drive a lawn tractor. We moved around a lot because of our dad being in the army but no matter where we lived he came to see us. He wrote us long letters and made up funny stories. 

He would come and visit and spoil us rotten..taking all of us and whatever friends my parents had out for dinner. He always made us laugh. He love us and he loved people. We remember the time g pa wanted to soften his ski wax so he put it in the microwave :)

We miss g pa more than we can express and we are sick of people saying "well , he was 83". "It was his time. " He was a person and his death has left a hole that will never fill and 83 or 23 it sucks. ~ Audrey & Beatrice (devoted grand daughters)

How do you begin to scratch the surface when trying to describe a lifetime of love and memories? How do you explain how you feel when that person you love like crazy is gone? You can't. What we can do is to love hard today. To take each day and embrace it, what ever it may bring. And to understand that it doesn't matter if the one you've lost was 83 or 23. Those silly platitudes do more harm than good. What does help is a hug and a listening ear. 

Don Bidwell
August 8, 1931-January 9, 2015