For family and friends

Sunday, October 19, 2008

To My Son October 17th 2008

Adam died a few weeks short of his 23rd birthday. This is the age where life should be just beginning, filled with promise and endless possibilities. Careers are beginning, relationships are starting or deepening, and, in a few years, maybe a family. These are the mile markers we expect on our way to a full and happy life.

Was Adam cheated out of a chance to live his life? Were we, his family and friends, cheated out of a lifetime with our son, our brother, our friend? It would be very easy for me to be bitter.

Why my son? Why Adam?
Why this terrible disease?

These thoughts were front and center 2 ½ years ago when Adam was first diagnosed. We were unprepared, shocked, blindsided. Brain cancer was an abstract concept, something that happened to someone else, who lived far away. If Adam had died back then, I think I would have been bitter. Instead, I am here today celebrating my son’s life, inspired by him and by the stories so many of you have shared telling how Adam touched your lives.

So, did Adam have a full life? If I am selfish, I will say no. We needed him to stay with us longer. But what is a full life? Is it just a measure of your time on earth? Is it defined by a long list of accomplishments? These questions have been considered since ancient times and I looked hard to find a meaningful definition written by people much smarter than me. I eventually found it, written by a famous philosopher, Charles Shultz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip.

“I will be reading two series of questions – no answer is required, you will get the point.

Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
Name the last five winners of Miss America.
Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.
Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best Actor and Actress.
Name the last decades worth of World Series winners.

How did you do? The point is none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here is another quiz. See how you do with this one:

List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.
Name five people who taught you something worthwhile.
Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.

Easier? The lesson: The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones who care.”

I would be surprised if Adam didn’t make it on a few of your lists. He was a caring person throughout his life. This alone would ensure he is remembered by us. But Adam had another gift to give. How he lived his life over the course of the last 2 ½ years should be a model for all.

Adam’s diagnosis was essentially a death sentence. Glioblastoma has a 97% fatality rate with most people living less than a year. From the beginning, Adam made it clear he didn’t want to be seen as a cancer patient. He wasn’t going to take on that role. He made it clear to us that he wanted to return to school after his surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Patty and I were quite anxious about this. What would happen if he had a seizure? Would he keep up with his medication? Well, in the end, the previously highly regarded Dr. Cloughesy gave Adam his approval (despite a serious evil-eye directed his way by Patty) and away he went, thrilled to be back with his friends and with a new passion for learning biochemistry. Previously a mediocre student, Adam now excelled. In Organic Chemistry – the class that turns pre-med majors into marketing majors, he got an A. (Dad got a B). In calls home, Adam would tell me all about what he had learned and how this related to his cancer or his chemotherapy. On trips to the Oncologist, he asked tons of questions, which Dr Cloughesy, newly restored to respectability, patiently answered, staying late and stealing time from his family to help ours.

When the cancer grew back – as Glioblastoma always does, Adam underwent a second operation to remove tumor from the original site and from a new location outside the skull on his jaw muscle – a very unusual circumstance and very serious. This set back meant more surgery, new rounds of radiation and a more aggressive type of chemotherapy. Adam would not be able to return to UCSC. With out missing a beat, Adam enrolled in UCSD as a visiting student with a full class load. Undeterred.

The final year was tough. There was an additional surgery, multiple rounds of radiation and more chemotherapy. The disease and the treatments began to take a toll. Cancer found both of his eyes. The radiation knocked it back but his vision was severely affected. Tumors grew in his neck and radiation here caused serious pain. He couldn’t eat and dropped a lot of weight. This combined with a scarred jaw muscle forced him to have a feeding tube inserted so he could gain some weight – and resume chemotherapy. Through all of this, he stayed positive and kept making friends - his true gift. It didn’t matter to Adam if you were 8 or 80. He enjoyed talking to you, asking your opinions, and listening to what was happening in your life. It didn’t matter how sick he was.
Eventually cancer grew in places that couldn’t be treated. His eye sight failed and he had to drop his classes – a big disappointment. His jaws locked and solid food was no longer available. The only complaint I heard was that he wouldn’t be able to go to Taqueria Santa Cruz. As usual, he didn’t dwell on this; instead he developed a passion for Horchata and enjoyed a glass of this every day. In the end, cancer robbed him of even this.

In this rambling story there are several messages that I hope everyone takes with them. Adam’s gifts

Don’t give up. A few weeks before his death, Patty and I told Adam how proud we were of him, how everyone was so impressed that he stayed so positive. His reply, “Of course, why wouldn’t I?”

Enjoy what you have. Don’t waste time dwelling on problems. One week before he died, bed bound and having difficulty speaking – Adam arranged to teach John, Mac and I how to play Dungeons and Dragons with the help of family friend John Garrison. Adam left his disabilities behind, a cancer patient no longer, and completely enjoyed that afternoon. He proclaimed it “the best ever!”

Don’t Mail it in – Do your best, understand that life has no guarantees

And finally,
The world is full of friends you haven’t met yet. Be open and start meeting them. Be some one who cares.

To see this, to experience this, was life changing. This is why I am not bitter and why I don’t want you to be. When I look back on his life and see the lessons he left for us, his family and friends, I see that, Adam accomplished much. I believe he accomplished his life’s work. On October 4th at 12:54pm, God called Adam home, gently, and in the company of many friends and family. We will miss him always and think of him often.

Finally, as his father, who he looked to for guidance and affirmation, I want to say,

Well done Adam, well done.

Love Dad.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I haven't heard from a lot of people needing hotel rooms, so we don't have any group rates but if you need a room here are a few suggestions.
Best Western Stratford Inn-on the beach in Del Mar-very pretty a couple of miles from everything
Doubletree, Marriott, Hampton Inn-all next to each other, about a mile from everything-type in zip code 92130 for the area you want

Friday's service is at St. Therese of Carmel at 11 am. If you need to mapquest for directions the address is 4355 Del Mar Trails, San Diego, CA 92130. We will have a reception immediately following the service at the Pacific Athletic Club. It is across the street from the church. We cannot park at the Athletic Club but if someone cannot walk there, let us know and we can arrange for someone to drive you there. They have never let anyone have a reception there so we need to stay in the area they have given us. No working out or swimming in the middle of the reception! If you need anything, let us know.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

We are still working out the details but the funeral will be at St. Therese of Carmel Catholic Church in San Diego on Friday, October 17th at 11:00am. We plan to have a reception immediately following the service. So we can have a better of idea of seating and food, please send me an e-mail. We would love to have as many people as possible come and celebrate Adam's life. If you will be needing a room, let us know, Bill will be working on getting a block of hotel rooms. Details will be posted later.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Dear Friends,
On Saturday, October 4th, at 12:54pm our beloved Adam passed away. He was surrounded by friends and family. We are grateful that his passing was peaceful. Our hearts are breaking but we still have our memories and the many inspirations that Adam gave us. All through the last 2 1/2 years, Adam never complained or said why me. He really did take advantage of the time he had and looked forward to beating this disease.

Adam throughly enjoyed talking to the brain cancer researchers at UCLA. He donated tumor materials from his operations so they could study the genetics of glioblastoma and eventually find a cure. Those of you who know Adam would agree that he would not want a bunch of flowers. He would prefer that any money went instead to further brain cancer research. UCLA has a charitable site that supports the neuro-oncology program, for both research and patient care. Our family can't speak highly enough of these caring, dedicated people. Please consider donating to Art of the Brain. We would ask that you select "tribute gift" when making a donation to honor Adam Balch. The following link will bring you to the website.

We would like to thank everyone for your support and kind words to Adam and our family. We will always be grateful. We will follow up with a post giving details about services for Adam.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Adam is holding steady. I think some of the swelling has gone down at the back of his neck (swelling from his last round of radiation) as he says his neck feels a little better and he can move it a little. He seems to be breathing a little easier. We try to keep him comfortable, which was hard today as it was 87 degrees. Tomorrow it is supposed to be cooler. Adam has some friends coming over in the next couple of days which should make him happy. I want you to know that I read Adam all of your comments that you leave on the blog. Thanks for all of your support.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Adam's health has steadily declined over the last week. We called Hospice today and will follow up with them tomorrow. They will most likely bring over a hospital bed tomorrow and take over with the management of Adam's pain. Adam's spirits and sense of humor are still there. He played a mean game of Dungeons and Dragons, with Bill's help, against Mac, John, Bill and family friend John Garrison. Bill said Adam made several snide comments that cracked everyone up. John and Mac are taking the news very hard. They get comfort from the dog. Poor Jack will probably be bald by the end of the week from all of the petting. Thanks to everyone for all of your support.

Friday, September 12, 2008

It has been a busy week for Adam. On Monday he had a PET scan and a CAT scan. Tuesday he had an MRI, blood work and a doctors appointment. The PET scan showed that the tumors are only slightly bigger, good news. The MRI shows another tumor towards the back of the brain where a vein that takes blood away from the brain, splits, and then drains into the neck. This tumor is starting to block blood draining out of the brain. Adam is seeing the radiation oncologist on Tuesday to see if radiation can be done on this tumor. He was so sick from the last round of chemotherapy that Dr. Cloughesy put off his chemotherapy for a week. The vaccine is SUPPOSED to be at UCLA next week so hopefully that will arrive and Adam can get the shot.

Wednesday Adam had his first physical therapy appointment. The physical therapist massaged his neck and jaw and did some exercises with him. He has some exercises that he is supposed to do at home.

Our goal over this next week is to fatten him up and work on his jaw exercises.