When do I fight? When do I surrender?

We all know we’re going to die but as long as it’s an abstraction, something out there in the distant future, we can manage it. This is how it should be. That first weekend I wasn’t, what you call, brave. Fear ran over me and through me. I retreated to my bedroom. Catatonic. Just to make things worse I found out that I had a pulmonary embolism and blood clots in both legs so I needed blood thinners right away. I was convinced I wouldn’t make it through the weekend. Thank God for Dee who calmed me down. All I could think about were my kids who all moved away. Niamh in NYC, Sarah in SF, Angela in SLO , and Conor in Chile. It was Sunday morning. How would I tell them? I did know what type of cancer I had, some are nastier than others so I decided not to disclose to anyone until I knew more. Then I got hungry. I put on some coffee and had breakfast. This has been my walk with cancer, low moments followed by Is there anything good to eat? Who does UCLA play this weekend? Any EPL Matches on? The weekend passed and I was able to slow down my crazy thinking. Surrender is a word we hate to use, but many years ago surrendering led me to sobriety so I knew it had its purpose. The point is after that weekend I said to myself, “okay I have lung cancer,” even though I never smoked cigarettes ( I have smoked cigars the last few years for full discloser sake). I don’t know how I got it, or why. Does it matter? If you get a flat tire are you going to search endlessly for the nail or glass that was the reason for the flat, or change the tire?

I have adenocarcinoma which is non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). This type strikes non-smokers primarily. It is slow growing and has been with me a while I think, so much so, that it has moved to my spine, hips, femurs and left clavicle. My radiology oncologist told me that some people can’t walk with the amount of disease in my back which made me feel good for some reason. I’ve had bone scans, a brain MRI and a PET scan. I’m happy to report that I don’t have any cancer in my organs or brain. I’m not going to report on my “stage”. I resisted and fought the notion that I could be classified in this way. I refused to be defined as a number (1 to 4). I refused to accept talk of longevity and mortality in terms of what stage I am. What’s healing about that? The only question is what is the next right action?

Each passing day led to more acceptance and peace of mind. Most of my fear over death has vanished and has been replaced by “seeing” the world as it is (and it’s good!). I hang out on my deck looking at the light stream through the trees. It sounds quite geriatric but this is what I do. I used to surf frequently and hike in Los Padres but I’ve had to give that up for now, and in an odd way, I get just as much out of staring at those trees and listening to the Red Tail Hawks than from anything adventurous. (I must be geriatric.)

Breaking the news to the girls sorted itself out. They hacked into Dee’s email when they suspected something was up. They called us on a four way call and confronted Dee and I. The tables had been turned and I felt like the kid. I talked about procrastination. I talked about my logic. My girl’s love and compassion lifted me. Then Dee flew to Santiago Chile to tell Conor so he would not find out while being alone.

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27 thoughts on “When do I fight? When do I surrender?

  1. Sean, thank you for putting your feelings down on paper and sharing with all of us, who love you tremendously. Not only is it healing for you, but for us as well. We are going through the same emotions you are, but way different, because your the one facing C head on, while we sit on the sidelines cheering and praying for you. You are so loved and admired. Stay strong and positive Sean. You got this!

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  2. Sean:

    Beautifully written. You have always been a great writer. You touched upon the thoughts and emotions we all feel when confronting fear. There is no bigger fear the staring at our own mortality. Death. It reminded me of the passing of Bill Fritzche, who was also my Godfather. Bill was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Bill and I would meet for breakfast quite often. He and I had breakfast shortly after his diagnosis. He did not tell me; my parents did. I had so many things I wanted to say to him over breakfast. However, when the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t find the courage. He was very upbeat, extremely happy and he wanted to talk about me and my work, my social life and some philosophy. To the casual observer, you would never know he had cancer. His cancer went into remission briefly – almost two years, before returning with a vengeance. It was just before my trip to Europe. While in Paris, I visited Notre Same Cathedral and said many prayers for Bill. I also purchased a penant of the Saint for Cancer. A few days after I returned home, my parents informed me that Bill was dying. And so I went to visit him for the last time. His caretakers had moved his bed down stairs. His movement largely restrained. As I stood by his bed, holding his hand, I was amazed at his spirit and inner peace. He smiled at me and I began to cry. I couldn’t prevent the tears. I presented him with the penant I purchased at Notre Dame. I then asked; “Are you afraid?”. ” No”, he said as if it was such a silly question, “I am looking forward to meeting the Good Lord. I have had a wonderful life”. He then squeezed my hand and concluded: ” But I sure will miss our breakfasts.” I tried to say something but I couldn’t get any words out. My stomach was in knots. So I leaned in to give him a kiss on the forehead and with every ounce of determination, I was able to whisper: ” I love you. And I will miss you.” His mind and spirit was in a very happy, very peaceful place. He died two days later.

    What so impressed me about Bill Fritzche was the way he embraced his own mortality. He never lost his love and passion for life. Yet, he looked forward to meeting his Lord. I know I do not have that kind of courage. I know that. For some reason, since Nathan was born, I have had deep thoughts about Death. What should happen to Nathan when I am gone. It scares me. Recently, I have come to the conclusion that I am not nearly as strong in my faith as I need to be in order to accept the natural things in life, including Death. So as I read your blog, the notion of surrender, the heart of Faith, is a journey for me and one that I embrace. Thank you, Sean. I love you!

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  3. Sean,
    Thank you for sharing your journey so beautifully with us. Your candid thoughts,as you face this, are so valuable for us to read. Both for us to travel with you in love and support, but also to remind us of the things that are truly important in this life. Blessings all over you!!!!

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  4. I love you brother. I love your writing. I can hear your calm tone in my head as if you were reading it out loud in front of me. You are a great man.

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  5. Sean Daly, Kevin and I are blown away by you. You got the strong fighting Irish in you. Your words are a testament to the person you are- may you continue to stay strong –
    Palms together-
    Jody and Kevin

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  6. Dearest Sean– you are the ‘young’ one among us, at your recent 50th, I remember laughing and thinking how I’d guess you to be 38 if I did not see ’50’ plastered all over the house-signs and artwork made by all the family there to celebrate you. SO, when I first heard- well, I honestly don’t remember ever feeling so angry. I’m over that now–and truly feeling optimistic about celebrating your birthdays for decades to come- new treatments being discovered everyday. Love you–always have and always will-you are strong. As you said a couple weeks ago: “I’m totally healthy except for the cancer–I’m ready to take this on–I am an Irish Warrior..”. We thank you sincerely for the gift of your writing. You are healing yourself as well as all of us who love you. – m

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  7. Hi Sean,
    From Barcelona I send you warm greetings and reiki healing.
    You are so clear in your expression of your journey. Clarity and groundedness will get you through a lot. I know that you are frightened, I was when I got my diagnosis,but with time all of the chaos does settle.
    My kids are a little older but I know yours are deeply kind and have been loved so well. You and D are the best. You will be surprised at the maturity they will show in caring for you two. Now you must let them.
    Thank you for sharing with us.
    Love,
    Kathy

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  8. Each passing day led to more acceptance and peace of mind. Most of my fear over death has vanished and has been replaced by “seeing” the world as it is (and it’s good!). I hang out on my deck looking at the light stream through the trees. It sounds quite geriatric but this is what I do. I used to surf frequently and hike in Los Padres but I’ve had to give that up for now, and in an odd way, I get just as much out of staring at those trees and listening to the Red Tail Hawks than from anything adventurous. (I must be geriatric.)

    S e a n…I would like to hang out with you on your deck looking at the light stream through the trees.

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  9. Dear Sean!
    again……Thanks for sharing! It means the world……to the World!
    I love hearing about you and your trees! It reminds me of a conversation with my dear cousin who is going through something very similar, and he said to me “Lise, my favorite thing is sitting on the porch looking at and through the trees, and as I do, the leaves seem to be greener, they seem to be brighter. Life and Love is more clear”
    Lucky are you who is graced with seeing this:-) Loved seeing you yesterday……hope to see you again soon! God Bless and some Love and some Hugs!

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  10. “in an odd way, I get just as much out of staring at those trees and listening to the Red Tail Hawks than from anything adventurous. (I must be geriatric.)” No..not geriatric..self-actualized. It’s all your spiritual work paying off.
    You are amazing, Sean, as are Dee and your kids. I’m sending love and prayers and hoping to see you guys in person soon. Liz

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  11. Dang that was a beautiful piece. I loved it. Pretty speechless. I always kind of thought of you as my little brother. Now I think you’re my big brother, showing me the way through the woods. Love you both. Therese

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  12. Thank you Sean for sharing. You are an inspiration to me. God is with you on your journey – the road may be bumpy along the way,but God will help you get pass the rough road. May you feel His presence, peace and comfort. God bless you,Sean. Love, Nancy Morrensen

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  13. Sean, It has been a long time since we have seen each other… Those days- and all you Pali boys- that still bring a smile to my face. I am touched by your words here… I will keep you close in my thoughts moving forward… Sending love Kelly Breen

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  14. Dear Sean
    You are such a great writer and so very brave to share your thoughts, I so look forward to reading a lot more from you. Xx Marion

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  15. Thinking of you and your loved ones, Sean. I look forward to seeing you again in class. In the meantime, please take the best of care and continue to enjoy the simple things as you release this cancer from your body. Big Healing Hugs, V

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  16. Well done Sean amazing words of wisdom. I am so lucky to have you as a cousin and a great friend. Think pray and talk about you Deirdre and the kids everyday. I will be out to see you very soon. Keep up the positive thoughts and mindfulness. I know you will win this battle. Love and hugs . A x

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  17. I’m very moved by your inner workings and also by the love that moves among you, your wife and your kids. And you know I’ve always admired your writing. : ) Heading to read installment #3, which I just noticed is a bit of good news. Heart in my throat. Thanks for being you. Praying for you.

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  18. Sean

    You are an inspiration to Marilynn and myself….You will beat this I am sure..God bless
    from a fellow fighting Irishman..

    Jeff Dillon
    Sutter Creek, Ca. (ex-Ojai resident)

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  19. Hi Sean..it is never easy to say the right words. My words to you is that right now you are here and where there is life there is hope. You have Deirdre and your girls and son and the Kidds and it seems an amazing bunch of friends. You are in my thoughts. Ann-Marie Durkin

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