The Reluctant Race



When death comes knocking on the door of someone I know, the passage of time seems to change and serious thoughts become foremost in my mind. I need and desire human connection at times like these.

For me, the past month has been a time of reflection, analysis, and an appreciation for the relationship I’ve had with the person that probably knows me better than anyone else on planet earth. That person is my sister Pat.

One Month Ago

Every year I try to make a phone call to my family members when they have birthdays. On December 10, I happened to be standing on top of a very big ship when I decided to make the call to Pat.

I was overlooking Cape Canaveral and the rocket launching pads of NASA (lower right corner, Figure 1), as well as several other cruise ships in port at the time. The day was warm, the breeze was light and the seas were calm.


I was in the port about to take an 8-day cruise so I knew that I only had a short time to place the call. We would be leaving within 3 hours. I hoped she was home and would answer the call.

When Pat answered, it was 1:06 pm and I wished her a happy birthday. She said thanks, and during the next 15 minutes, I tried to connect with her by describing the beautiful scenery I was viewing. I described the ships I was seeing, the ports we would be visiting, the excitement of taking cruises, etc. I tried to hook her into taking a future cruise with us.

Within about 5 minutes into the call, however, I knew that something was amiss. I thought at the time that either she was either mad at me, or something was wrong with her. I was hoping it was the former, rather than the latter. Instinctively, I knew it was the latter.

I knew something was wrong with her because she would only give me one-word answers to anything I said to her. She would say “yeah”, “no”, “ok”, and other simple words like that.

She had no energy, comprehension or enthusiasm. It was like she was not able to receive or transmit communications anymore. I wasn’t able to hook her into taking a cruise with us, unlike Hemingway’s old fisherman of the sea did that day when he caught the huge marlin. That failure made me sad.

This also confused me because it hadn’t been too long since I last talked to her, so her behavior really caught me off-guard. Why is she acting like this, I thought? Why did she have such flat responses to the excitement I was throwing her way?  We have never had a one-way conversation like that before. In many ways, I felt like I just talked to a stranger.

Now, a month later, I understand why the conversation happened like it did. I know this because I had experienced this scenario before, and that story is one I will always remember.

About 10 to 15 years Ago

There was a sweet girl in her early 20’s that I once worked with that delivered the daily mail within our office. I saw her frequently and on several occasions I had short talks with her about different topics. One day, I saw her and was talking to her when I suddenly realized that my words were slicing right threw her without a hint of recognition on her part.

Although she was looking at me, there was no cognitive connection to what I was saying. Her eyes stared at me but her brain was disconnected. It was as though she could see me but couldn’t hear me. I mentioned this behavior to some of her co-workers to see if anyone else noticed what was happening with her.

About a week later, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer. That was the first time I saw first-hand what brain cancer does to us.

Once the Cruise Returned – 8 or 9 days Later

Within a day of returning to the mainland, I called my other sister Dorothy to tell her about my unusual phone call with Pat and to share my concerns about her health. Before I could get very far into the discussion, Dorothy stopped me and told me a story I didn’t want to hear.

It turned out that earlier that day, Dorothy took Pat to the hospital to have a medical diagnosis made because Pat was in a state of rapidly declining health. This occurred while I was on the cruise. What she told sent me spinning into dizziness like the rocky cruise had done.

Rapid Degradation of Health

Pat would likely not be with us right now if it weren’t for the actions of Dorothy. For this I am very thankful. The doctors said that Pat would have died within 48 hours if Dorothy had not brought her to the hospital on that day. In effect, Dorothy has bought us some additional time with Pat, which gives all of us some time to say goodbye.

My Gratitude

I am thankful because now I have some time to tell Pat everything that I have always wanted to tell her. I have time to thank her for all that things she has done for me, and that is a very big list. I have time to relive stories with her and to remind her how important she has been in so many aspects of my life. I even had time to take my family to Chicago for a quick visit with her two weeks ago. For this, I am thankful because Jett got to see his “Auntie Pat” and “Auntie Dorothy” once again.

Although I am tempted to write all the ways that Pat has impacted my life in this article, there is too much emotion and tears for me to pull it off. My body is shaking just thinking about it. I can’t sleep because of it since I know that time is running out. This race against spreading brain cancer is shorter than I want it to be.

I’ve got to get into Pat’s brain before Pat is gone. I’ve got to run very fast. I’ve got to tell her everything that she has meant to me while she can still appreciate what I am saying. I’ve got to use the remaining time wisely by organizing my thoughts and delivering the content the best way I can. This is a big challenge.

As Pat told me yesterday, “My doctor just told me that it is likely that I’m going to have a seizure and then I’ll be gone. It can happen at any time.” This will likely occur because brain cancer will not stop its onslaught until the race is over.


Figure 2 – Long before I was born, I had 3 sisters and a brother. In the top row from left to right is  my sister Dorothy, my cousin Darlene, my sister Pat, and my cousin Judy. In the lower row, is my brother Danny, my sister Fay, and our friends Patsy and Jimmy Jennison.

Final Thoughts

Always remember that we are only alive on earth for a very short time. Appreciate every day that you have, enjoy your good health and love your family and friends. Appreciate the blessings we have been given.

One thought on “The Reluctant Race

  1. Ken, I am sorry to hear what you are going through. But as in every difficult situation, there are always things to be grateful for! Your sister still is with you. It is very difficult to think about the death of someone very close to us – it is probably more difficult than thinking about our own death, I guess. May God make it easy for your sister to bear the difficulties of cancer and may He make it easy for you and the rest of the family to cope up with the difficult situation and to make the best use of the time you still have!

    Thinking about death is the greatest reminder that we can have on earth to really help us cut through a lot of clutter in our life.

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