When I was a younger man, I lived my life with a philosophy of, “What’s in it for me?” I thought I was invincible. I was in great shape, a student of the martial arts for nine years, a top rated racquetball player. I had good friends, a great job teaching at the University of Florida. I was on top of the world.
That all changed with one sentence… “You need to get your affairs in order, you have three months, six at the most to live.”
I sat across the desk from my oncologist as he spoke these words that shook my world, my very core. I thought he must be talking about somebody else. This couldn’t be happening to me. I am too young (25 at the time), I am in great shape… It can’t be true!
I was diagnosed with metastasized melanoma. A very rapid, fatal form of cancer. The doctor told me that there really wasn’t anything they could do for my type of cancer. He explained that once it was in your blood system, it was just a matter of time before it attacked major organs.
He asked if I would be willing to try different types of experimental treatments. In addition to chemotherapy, he wanted to inject me with tuberculosis from cows once a week, using a 24- prong needle right into my thigh. I figured I had no other options, so I said why not.
The treatment made me unbelievably ill. There were many times when I thought that death would be kinder.
At the time all this was taking place, I continued to do the best I could to live my life. My friends and family were very supportive. I had two dogs that were my best friends in the world. One was a Great Dane named Dante, and the other was a German Shepherd named Zack.
Then the strangest series of events happened.
One day when I arrived home from teaching at the university, I was shocked to find only Zack in the back yard. I had an acre of fenced yard for them to run in. The fence was five feet high, the gates were locked; but Dante was not there.
I knew no one in their right mind would try to take a 180 pound dog that was in a locked fence with a German Shepherd! The only conclusion I could come to was that Dante had leaped the fence.
This was not something he had ever done before. As a matter of fact, Dante was such a good dog that if I left the gate open, he would not have wandered off.
I spent hours searching for him. I could not find him.
Later that evening, I received a phone call from a trucker. He said that Dante had run into the road right in front of his 18 wheeler, and there was nothing he could do. He was very apologetic, and I thanked him for making the call to inform me.
Well, that night I sat there in my room crying. Questioning GOD about how he could take my best friend from me at a time when I was dying. I was angry and I was extremely upset with GOD and the world. I did not get much sleep that night.
The next morning, I was getting dressed to go to the oncologist for another round of injections when the phone rang. It was the nurse at the doctor’s office. She said that the doctor needed to talk to me. I was so upset and still angry, I reacted to her and said, “What the hell does he want!” The doctor got on the phone and he was crying, I could hear it in his voice. I thought to myself, this can’t be good.
Then he said those magical, wonderful words, “You don’t have cancer!” He told me that he had sent my slides and blood work to the top doctor in the world for melanoma, and he verified that I was cancer free.
Well, there we were, both of us crying and laughing. We were celebrating. I thanked him for the good news and immediately picked up the phone again to call my father who lived in California.
I woke my father up. I told him I had good news and I had bad news. He wanted to know the good news first. I told him I was cancer-free. He immediately said, “How could there be any bad news after hearing this?” I told him about Dante.
My father paused. I could hear him take a deep breath and he continued, “I can’t believe what you just said to me. I have to tell you a story”.
He told me that when he was in the army, he had a dog. Since he was the sergeant he was able to keep the dog with him wherever he went. One day the dog was missing from the barracks. He posted signs all over the base. About two weeks later, a private returned from a mission, saw the note and went to tell my father the sad news. Prior to the mission, the dog ran in front of one of the jeeps on a rainy night and was killed.
My father wrote home to my grandmother and told her of the loss of his dog. She wrote back and told him that she no longer had to worry about him in the war. That in the village in Romania where she grew up, they had a belief that if a man was close to his dog, the dog would give their life for the master.
My father and I cried… and then celebrated our pets.
Now most of you may not believe in such things. That is okay.
I believe that my dog jumped that fence for a very specific reason.
From that day forward, I made the decision to treat each day as a gift.
I don’t know why I was given all of these extra days. I do know that I am grateful for each and every one of them.
TGIT (tig’-it) is my mantra. It is a mantra of appreciation and gratitude for every day.
You do have a choice, each and every day, to have a good day, a great day!