Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Stories from the front lines of The Big L

Acute myeloid leukemia.

The Big L

My brother Dan has it. So does my retired coworker Marirose. You may know someone with AML.

If you're the praying kind, say some prayers for these fine people. Wish them good health and cheer. Long life and happiness.

It's a relentless killer. Doctors and researchers have come a long way but there is so much more to be done. The survival rate is around 23 percent. Chemo and bone marrow transplants prolong life, sometimes lead to remission and even cures.

Dan has subjected himself to all of the treatments in the past year. It still wasn't enough. A month, the docs say, as if they know to the day your span on this earth. It's their best guesstimate. It never really helps. But it's the question everybody asks: "How much time do I have, Doc?"

The answer never satisfies. But we are curious and we ask.

So who knows?

Last week I flew down to Florida to visit Dan. He was surrounded by friends and family but his only big brother lives 2,000 miles away in Wyoming. Bad news travels fast and I would have been on the first plane out but couldn't get on it so I settled for the 100th plane out. Dan and I had time together, and time surrounded by family. Dan and I were the first two of nine born to Anna Marie Hett and Thomas Reed Shay. We're less that two years apart. Our Mom liked to joke that she didn't even know whether Dan could speak until I went off to kindergarten. I was his mouthpiece, his constant companion. "Danny needs a drink of water" or "Danny is hungry." Once I went off to school Dan handled his own requests, and has been doing fine with them ever since.

A wise person once said that you can tell a lot about someone by the people he surrounds himself with. If you didn't know Dan, but were in a room with his friends and family, you'd know what a fine person he is. He has a cool wife and three great kids. He has friends from high school and friends from five years ago. He has air traffic controller friends (his career for 25 years) and biker and surfing buddies, Harleys and surfing being his main hobbies. An old Air Force friend called on one of the days I was there. His house is a busy one, filled with laughter and stories and good food and cold beer.

Dan not sipping the brews these days, as his intake seems devoted to painkillers of a different sort. Makes it tough for him to string words together to converse with all of the people in his life. Part of that is due to "Chemo Brain," and part to the leukemia itself. It's advancing on all fronts.

Pray for Dan. And if you're in a giving frame of mind, you can give to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society or the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The best thing to do is live every day as if it were your last. I had my own brush with mortality in 2013. You never know when you arise in the morning if you will see the sunset. Make it count.


RobertP said...


I am very sorry to hear this update on Dan. I am not surprised that you are there for him and what a great testament you give.

My prayers are with Dan and the Shay family.

Take Care,


Michael Shay said...

Thanks, Bob. You're a a good friend. Best to you and your family.