Five years ago this July, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was a terrible moment, and I remember so vividly sitting with my sister Karen in the waiting area outside the recovery room where my dad was laying, asleep in a drug induced slumber after his diagnostic procedure. His doctor came out an told us what was found on the endoscopic procedure. He didn’t need say much more….I knew the average survival of someone diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Months. This was it, I thought. My dad, who didn’t have any chronic illnesses, was not taking any medications, and someone I thought would live forever (just because I’m a doctor, doesn’t mean I’m immune to logic) was likely to die by the next Christmas.
So, with this new information, our family rallied. We were determined to make every day count. No matter what was going on in our busy lives, we would take family trips together, have a family dinners once a week. We would squeeze every last drop of living out of the next few months.
And we did just that: Las Vegas (above), Jackson Hole, Carmel, San Francisco, Paso Robles, salmon fishing in Alaska, salmon fishing in Oregon, Hawaii…we did it all. So many great dinners, so many great moments. We got together to watch Stanford footballs games, and cheered when they beat USC (sorry, Trojan fans). And we got lucky, because dad’s cancer responded to chemo and radiation, and he had…no, we all had….almost five years of full on living.
In my last blog, about jumping off bridges, I talked about full on living. Tim McGraw has a song, “Live life like you’re dying.” A fan or his music or not, it’s a good message. After all, in reality we are all dying just a bit every day.
And that brings me to this blog. Cancer has been called The Gift. Not because you would really want to be told you had cancer, but the diagnosis of cancer brings to the front that you are indeed mortal, and it’s a reminder that you had better (if you haven’t already) begin to live the life you want. Say the things you want to say, be with the people you love, and do the things you want to do. And that is what New Zealand has been to us. A gift. And here are some of the gifts of the last few weeks.
On Wednesday, I drove to the Balcutha hospital, as I normally do about once a week. It’s a small hospital (maybe, 12 hospital beds) in a small town about 100km from Dunedin. It was unseasonably warm for June (14C). During lunch, I walked across the street and admired the mighty Clutha river (one the largest in Nz) reflecting the winter sky. What a sight
Last week we went up to Timaru, a town about 200km North of Dunedin, to go to our former nanny’s (Mallory) and her husband0-to-be Nate’s engagement party. You see, Mallory went to high school in Timaru, and she was back here for a party with all her high school friends.
The party was fantastic, as was our time in Timaru. There is a big park at the oceanfront, and on crisp clear Sunday morning we strolled through the beautiful park.
The boys didn’t need to be told to have fun….
On the way home, we stopped in Moeraki, a small fishing village about 45 minutes North of Dunedin, and home to the famous Moeraki boulders (which I have pictures of in previous blogs). Moeraki is also home to Fleurs Place, a famous Nz restaurant infamous for its fresh seafood.
The food was amazing….truly one of our greatest lunches ever. And Fleur herself was there, helping cook and serve….as she always is.
The drive to Timaru was beautiful, at sunset, with snow capped mountains in the distance.
A couple of weeks ago the All Blacks were in town to play England. If you’re not from Nz, you won’t understand the passion Kiwis have for rugby (in general) and for the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team (specifically). It boarders on hysteria. We got tickets to the game months ago (it’s a sold out event, in a stadium that seats about 1/4 of the population of the city of Dunedin.
There we are in our All Blacks scarfs. Mallory and Nate had just arrived in Nz the night before, and they HAD to make the trek down to Dunedin for the game.
Matt never tires of tricking ophthalmologists into thinking he needs eye surgery.
The previous week we had organized a wine tasting of some California wines we had brought here, and it turns out we ousted all the Dunedin eonophiles and they, too, brought out some of their prized California wines.
We even sampled a 1994 Ridge Montebello. Wow! In the lineup are wines from Justin, Belle Glos, Regusci, Cliff Lede, Ravenswood, and I’m sure I forgot something… It was a great evening.
About two weeks ago, on a rare Saturday in Dunedin (we are often not here on the weekends) we went to the boy’s high school fundraising carnival.
For a few dollars, you got a sledgehammer, a pair of safety goggles and got to whack the heck out of an old car. It was fun.
It’s funny what happens every Monday when Deb and I return to work after a weekend off. One of our colleagues never fails to ask where we’ve been. And invariably, when we tell him, he just shakes his head and admits he’s never been there. Now, with just weeks before we return to the US, we cherish our time here even more. We know this will end. We are bound and determined to squeeze every last drop of fun to be had, to relish each moment. Why, just yesterday as we were leaving the grocery store I looked up at the clouds and saw this magnificent sky.
Life is short. Make every moment count. If you love someone, tell them you love them. If there is a bridge, and sufficient tethering equipment, just jump!
Enjoy, and cheers,