Dor-tor etek nash-gad vokaya t’Chris
I’ve been surrounded by Cancer my entire life, one of my earliest memories is hearing that my Grandpa Herb had a colostomy bag from his rectal cancer surgery. As a probably 4-year old with no frame of reference, it didn’t phase me a bit – I didn’t think twice about it. These childhood & adolescent memories include long term survivors (like Grandpa Herb – who had his colostomy bag for decades) as well as other relatives who eventually died either directly or indirectly of cancer. As a young adult I was further strongly impacted by cancer deaths, most importantly by the death of my Mom of surprise pancreatic cancer at the relatively young age of 55 – a death with profound impacts on me especially after I helped my Sister Anne with end-of-life caregiving.
Between those personal experiences and my oncology research & drug development projects – I am very familiar with death caused by cancer. This familiarity has increased recently as I become more & more involved with CRC patient advocacy. Due to the sheer number of patients on message boards in various stages of disease, I read of fellow young CRC patients passing away at a sad rate.
One aspect of having cancer is you develop close friendships with fellow patients and care-givers. Through your shared experiences – that people not directly involved with Stage IV cancer (especially CRC in my case) can’t truly even imagine – it is a level of friendship & brotherly/sisterly love that words can’t adequately describe.
About 3 months ago, I saw a text arrive from a close CRC friend while driving. My gut instinct was to not wait until home, so I pulled over and read it. It was a text from Julia telling me that her husband Chris’s health was deteriorating rapidly and that they were actively considering hospice instead of the clinical trial options I had been discussing with them. This was the first time that a fellow CRC patient I was close to came to that point of the disease. My immediate reaction was similar to a sucker punch to the gut, I lost all breath. I then started to sob.
Who are Julia and Chris? They are some of my earliest CRC friends. Both welcomed me to the CRC community with open arms. Frankly they are simply awesome. Due to an inside joke, Julia started calling me “Little Brother”, I called her “Big Sister” – whenever we exchanged emails or texts, that is how we signed them.
Julia truly felt like a Sister to me, Chris like a Brother.
You have actually met Chris and Julia once before – in this post from last winter. I was flying back home to San Diego from giving a cancer talk in Barcelona. When they heard I would have a short layover at JFK, they both immediately made plans to take cabs to the airport to meet me in person. Chris was the first to arrive – we spent over an hour before Julia joined us, talking next to the luggage carousel where we could jointly meet outside of security. We jokingly referred to it as “hanging out in the luggage lounge”. I can’t remember who came up with that first (I’ll give credit to Chris) but it made both of us laugh. It was a wonderful meeting where we talked about all aspects of the disease, including broad discussion of life and death.
It was the one and only time I met Chris in person. Here is the only picture of us together, the three of us hanging out in the “JFK luggage lounge”:
Chris passed away from CRC today. He was my first close CRC friend to die.
I lost a Brother. Chris Shomenta was quite simply a fine man. I didn’t get to know him directly as much as I truly wish I could have – but what I did get to know was exceptional.
In addition to similar musical tastes we also shared a love for science fiction. Chris was a huge Star Trek fan. In my Currently Incurable Scientist column last month, I intentionally used a Star Trek reference as an inside joke with Chris. After the column posted, I very quickly got a text from him saying he loved it 🙂
This was written today stream-of-conscious so, I hope it made sense… I am still shell-shocked.
In honor of Chris and his love of Star Trek I wanted to end with this, I think he would still love the inside joke.
Dor-tor etek nash-gad vokaya t’Chris. Nam-tor ek’etek nelauk k’tevakh hi vesht tvidonik k’ha’kiv t’osa-veh.
Translated from Vulcan: Today we honor the memory of Chris. We are all diminished by his death but we were enriched by his life.
The world lost a fine man today. See you on the other side Brother.