Saturday, September 20, 2008

The fight of his life

When a work-related accident forced him to quit, Rick* moved back from the mountain village where he was working, to the city.

"They didn't have the facilities to help me heal," he told me one day as he sat in my office chatting about his future. He was excited. After two years of battling both his injury and a cancerous tumour they'd found the year before, Rick was on the road to healing.

"I had the surgery June 10," he said, a smile spreading across his face. Its warmth felt like butter melting on a piece of toast. "So far, so good. Four months and I'm still clear."

"Congratulations," I told him. "That's fabulous news."

We talked a bit about the piece he was submitting for the newsletter I write at the shelter where I work.

"I can't stand on my feet all day anymore," he said, patting the crutches that rested on the floor beside his chair. "The cancer took too much muscle and tissue from my calf." A former chef, Rick has been retraining at the shelter. Since coming back to Calgary, Rick has been part of our computer training program. He doesn't live at the shelter, but comes in every day to volunteer and to take training to become a computer technician. In his article he talks about his plans to move back to Banff and set up a computer repair shop.

"Can you add a paragraph about my recovery at the end of the article?" he asked. "Something to the effect that I'm cancer free and looking to move on?"

"Absolutely," I told him.

That was Monday of last week.

On Friday, Rick sought me out. I was busy and didn't have a lot of time to chat when he limped into my office. I wondered if we could meet later.

"This won't take long," he said. "I just wanted to ask you to remove the last paragraph of the article."

I paused, the meaning of what he'd said not quite hitting me. And then it did. I dropped the papers I was holding on my desk and moved quickly to where Rick stood by my office door, leaning on his crutches.

I hugged him. "I'm so sorry to hear that, Rick. What happens now?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I want a second opinion. They're talking about amputating."

What happens now?

For Rick, the road has turned dark. His mother, the only person in his family with whom he has contact, lives in Quebec. "I haven't told her," he said when I asked him if she would be able to come out. "She's got enough problems and issues to deal with. She doesn't need to add me to the list."

He's here alone. He's still fighting Worker's Comp for the accident that took him off his feet. Still fighting to save his life. "I think WCB is trying to wait me out in the anticipation the cancer will get me first," he jokingly told me some months back. "They won't win."

I pray they don't.

"I'm not going to quit fighting," he said. "It's the only thing I can do. But I don't want the drugs and chemo. I had enough of drugs in my past. I don't want that ever again."

The downside of getting sick after getting clean and sober. Long ago, Rick was an addict. He kicked his habit and now drugs are part of the formula that could save his life. In his mind, drugs are the killer. Drugs stole so much from him, back then, he doesn't want to think about them in the here and now.

Rick will keep fighting. I've watched him over the two years I've known him at the shelter. He's a fighter. He will not give up on himself.

He's in the fight of his life. I pray he wins.

*not his real name

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