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.


Blogger Shirley said...

Thank you for posting your eulogy to Adam. It was incredibly profound and inspiring.
Our love to you and the family,
Shirley Gresham & family

8:45 PM

Blogger Jan Boettcher said...

The funeral for Adam was such a loving tribute to him. So many of Adam's friends from high school, UCSC and UCSD there to show their love for this remarkable young man. He did indeed touch so many lives, and his memory will forever live on in the lives of his friends. Thank you Bill, Patty, Kevin, John and Mac for sharing your son and brother with all of us. We are better people because of it. God Bless, Jan Boettcher

8:58 PM

Blogger Barb Folsom said...

Bill and patty. I really wish I could of come to the service but my own health has its ups and downs. The eulogy was the best I have ever read. I asked why especially in regards to Ian being Adams exact opposite in regards to his leukemia, and yet the outcome was different, he is still struggling with it 7 years later, in that I find Adam truly remarkable BUT it is in a very major part to you and Patty being incrediable parents and Kevin, John and Mac being incredible brothers, and then there is your faith. I pray that there is a time now of calm and peace after 2 and 1/2 years of 24/7 stress. Barb Folsom

5:03 PM


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