I almost didn’t write this, but I changed my mind.
It all started when I dialed him by accident. His number is still in my phone. I haven’t spoken to him in years.
“Who’s this?” the voice said.
We laughed. We called each other by old nicknames. We spoke about his kid, his life.
I asked how his wife was.
Silence. The heavy kind.
“Don’t guess you’ve heard,” he said in a low voice. “She passed away, man.”
A gut punch.
She was the light of his life. The voice of reason in a world of idiots wearing tool belts. The woman who married a snuff-dipping foul-mouth and turned him into a decent human.
I was at their wedding reception, long ago. He was skinny. She was out of his league. They paid for the party themselves and held the shindig in a bowling alley.
Pitchers of beer, billiards, nachos. You should’ve seen the bride bowl in her wedding dress. I lost a lot of money betting playing pool that day.
We whip-creamed his truck and tied tin cans to his bumper.
They moved to Atlanta. He got a decent contracting job. They lived in a peach-colored house with a nice backyard and a porch swing.
He had a freezer in the garage, deer hunts on weekends. She had girls trips to New Orleans. Theirs was the all-American dream—complete with throw pillows from Target.
She got pregnant. They obsessed over names. Their baby was healthy. Their nursery was bright-colored. Their life was pure sunshine.
The company promoted him; more money. They moved to a nicer house; all hail square-footage. His daughter was learning the alphabet. On a whim, his wife went to the doctor for an exam.
The details don’t matter. But it spread fast. She was gone almost a year after diagnosis. Their life together was an afterthought. He was sleeping alone in a king bed. His toddler curled beside him.
That was twelve years ago.
His daughter is in middle school now. She’s on the volleyball team—a winning one. She has her first boyfriend. She is taking driving lessons. I feel like Mister Magoo.
My friend has a new wife—she is a gift from On High—and beautiful stepchildren. He’s made a lot of changes.
He quit his old job for a low-stress gig. He drives a 2003 Ford and works four days per week. Nobody’s getting rich, everyone is happy.
He plays with his kids in the afternoons, he has a dog, he even teaches Sunday school—if you can believe it. I can’t.
Like I said, I wasn’t going to write about him, his life is none of my business. But then, I’m not doing this for me. I’m delivering a message for a late friend.
“She would’ve loved you writing about her,” he said. “But will you say something for her?”
“Would you say something about how women need to get regular breast exams? Karen hardly ever went to the doctor. Breast cancer sucks man, she might be here today…”
This, followed by a long pause. A few sniffs.
Listen, I have no right to tell you what to do with your life. But if you’ve read this far, you ought to know something.
There are a lot of people in this world who love you so much it hurts.
I’m one of them.
A doctor’s appointment never hurt anyone.
Sandi in FL - January 24, 2018 7:45 am
Thank-you for this important reminder, Sean. A mammogram once a year takes less than an hour of a person’s time. Men can get breast cancer, too, although it’s not often discussed.
Grammy - January 24, 2018 9:29 pm
One of my best friends in high school died of breast cancer. He was 23 years old and weighed 80 pounds. He had been a star athlete, kind to everyone and extraordinarily good looking. None of that mattered.
Pam Bishop - January 24, 2018 11:16 am
Thank you Sean. You are special!
Julie Budnik - January 24, 2018 11:35 am
An exam saved my life when BC was detected early on my mammogram. I just had my final 10 year check up. Thanks so much for writing about this Sean.
Leslie in NC - January 24, 2018 12:02 pm
I can’t thank you enough for this very important reminder, Sean. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend’s wife. I was diagnosed with breast cancer this past September after a mammogram picked up an abnormality during a routine exam. I underwent a bilateral mastectomy in October and am still in healing mode, but I thank the Lord every day that it was caught early and hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes. We think it won’t happen to us, but it can and it does. Please ladies, get your annual mammogram…early detection is key and it saved my life.
Julie - January 24, 2018 12:24 pm
Excellent and truthful! Thank you for reminding women to take care of themselves. Our nature is to nurture others and we need to remember ourselves, too. Love your work. I look forward to reading it daily! Blessings to you and your bride!
Arlene - January 24, 2018 12:43 pm
I am so sorry for Karen and her family. Your message this morning might make someone think twice and go get checked. You said you almost did not write this….I am so glad you did because we who follow you know that life happens and your reminder could save a life. Thank you….and may Karen Rest In Peace.
Connie - January 24, 2018 1:03 pm
Thank you for the reminder. Just in my small circle of friends, there have been 8 or 9 of them who battled breast cancer. It only takes a little time to go get checked.
Suzanne - January 24, 2018 1:30 pm
Sean~Thanks for the message~here’s another side~my BROTHER was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in August and left the universe after his first treatment in Sept..
Are you listening Guys? Take care!
Carl C - January 24, 2018 1:44 pm
Good morning Sean and thanks for your strong witness. Thought of you this AM at Daily Mass. Today is the Feast of St. Frances DeSales….patron saint of journalists. Have a great day.
Judith - January 24, 2018 2:11 pm
And here you bring the wet eye syndrome to me again. Oh my. So many friends over the years. Get the mammo smash ladies.
Dr Hockey - January 24, 2018 2:41 pm
When I married my wife, her mother had previously had breast cancer. As a surgeon I would frequently tell my wife that my game plan was for us to grow old together, and no where in the game plan does it say whether she needs to have two breasts, or one breast, or none.
Her mother died of breast cancer years later and since then both of her sisters had breast cancers, but are doing well.
My wife and I are both retired now and enjoying our grandchildren. Best of all, my wife remains free of any breast problem and has her yearly mammogram religiously. Yes, there have been some scares, and biopsies, but all has been good. She is much too important to me, our children, and our grandchildren, to let a little thing like a breast exam or mammogram get in the way of properly taking care of herself and our family.
Marilyn - January 24, 2018 3:00 pm
Thanks for the reminder Sean! Breast cancer isn’t just a threat for women, but men also! Self examination is so important. Forget the age recommendations for mammograms! I’ve known twenty and thirty year old women battling aggressive breast cancer. Get the mammogram!
Diana Williams - January 24, 2018 3:18 pm
My BEST friend is alive today because of regular breast exams. She fought breast cancer and won! Thank you for this Sean!
Jack Darnell - January 24, 2018 3:28 pm
You know how to drive a nail HOME!
Patsy Strain - January 24, 2018 4:07 pm
Pat - January 24, 2018 4:22 pm
This is God at work again…through your inadvertent phone call to an old friend that you haven’t talked with in a long time, to his sharing with you the loss of his wife, to your change of mind in writing about it…someone’s life could may be saved! Always look for God at work!
Jack Quanstrum - January 24, 2018 4:33 pm
Linda Chipman - January 24, 2018 6:48 pm
Thanks Sean. On The View this morning they discussed how important it is to get mammograms. They also added that men should get them too because men have breasts and they can get cancer.
Debra - January 24, 2018 8:20 pm
Thanks for writing this one.
Ava - January 24, 2018 8:50 pm
You may have saved a life today, maybe more than one.
Ellouise Pennington - January 24, 2018 9:26 pm
Pat Durmon - January 24, 2018 11:59 pm
Thanks for putting this out there. I caught my breast cancer in stage 3. It can jump on you and be aggressive even though you go yearly. I went 18 months between appointments. I suggest every 12 months and 2 days. : )
Candace - January 25, 2018 2:00 am
Just made the long-overdue appointment. Thank you.
Jo - January 25, 2018 7:53 pm
I think you may have just given me a much needed kick. Thank you.
Phyllis Hamilton - January 31, 2018 12:39 am
So very true. I lost a friend to cancer. She was actually a pharmacist but she hated Doctors and did not even have a family Dr. She died. The cancer was totally curable if she had only had annual checkups. We miss her terribly.
Debra - April 17, 2018 9:01 pm
I advocate for yearly mammograms. Never skip a year! Get the mammogram and ultrasound. I’m the friend on FB who reminds women to get Thiers done! In 2015, I had to go back for biopsy. Doc said 10% chance, probably nothing. It came back breast cancer stage 1 right side. Because I advocated, I knew what I would do, if I had to walk this walk. I signed orders for a double, even though it was only on right side. My numbers came back super low, negative for BRAC gene. Pathology notified us it came back on left side Stage 0. I never tried to save my TaTa’s, With God as my strength, I went through surgery, my cure rate came back 98%. No Chemo no radiation! I am alive! Yearly check ups saves lives! It saved mine,!
Tina - July 7, 2018 1:27 am
Thank you Sean. Some days you just need to be reminded that there are people that love you. Today is one of those days. Hugs.
Tom Cole - April 18, 2019 3:10 am
I am a male breast cancer survivor…Radical mastectomy on the left side…. caught it early and only hormone treatment needed…1% of 100 men with cancer, only one will have breast cancer…