Caring Bridge Update March 4, 2019
Written by Bill Thompson III
Well everybody, this is the update I never wanted to write.
Wendy and I went into the Strecker Cancer Center last Friday, March 1, to get the results of my CT scan from Dr. Siva. When your doctor starts the visit off by saying “I’m glad you could come in because I wouldn’t want to share this news with you over the phone,” it gives one pause. She then pulled out the two-page print out from the radiology lab and circled the keywords: spreading, liver, spleen, … at which point my only reaction was to say: “Thank you, Dr. Siva. How long do I have?” She wrote and spoke at the same time: without treatment 4-6 months. With more chemo, perhaps 10-12 months.
Stay with me…
Now, I have to tell you, I expected this news. I know my body and—despite feeling better since the chemo ended—it’s been sending me signals that not all was copacetic in my midsection. At the weigh-in, before we saw the doc, I was down to 188.5 pounds—the amount I weighed as a freshman in college! That’s a loss of 66 pounds since November. Most middle-aged people would be thrilled to lose so much weight. Not me. I have no desire to become a stick figure. I’m already so skinny that I have to run around in the shower just to get wet.
Dr. Siva then talked about options going forward, addressing herself to Wen, who was engaged in the conversation. I couldn’t do much else other than stare at the dust bunny on the floor in the corner of the examination room. I was numb and my head was full of all kinds of thoughts, images, and a bit of sorrow. There’s no fear, however. I am not scared of dying, but I am scared of leaving so much undone, of letting down my family, loved ones, and friends. That’s the hardest part for me. After a lifetime of trying to make sure everyone around me is happy and content, that function is being taken away from me. It’s a very hard reality pill to swallow. And trust me, I’m a Hall-of-Fame-level pill swallower these days.
The option of continuing chemo just to hang around for a few more months in a diminished state isn’t very appealing to me. Here’s why. After two months of enduring the strongest chemo treatment permitted for cancer patients, my pancreas tumor decreased by just a few millimeters in size, and cancer still spread all over my abdomen. It’s a checkmate chess move inside my body. Even though I see my cancer as a back-stabbing, death-bringing, soulless ninja, I still gotta give it props for tenacity. We nuked the crap out of my cancer and it still found time to invade my other organs. That’s impressive, if completely evil.
Wen and I left the Strecker Cancer Center after speaking with the hospice social worker, a conversation I recall only dimly. And we ran some errands around town. At the grocery store, where typically I wait in the car to avoid germs (due to my compromised immune system), I made a few calls to my kids and my mom to let them know the results. Those were very hard calls to make. Afterward I went into the store, with my germ mask on. While Wen and I walked down an aisle, a young fellow walked past us, headed the other way, and said: “God bless you, Bill Thompson.” This touched me deeply and I had to take a moment to compose myself.
We got the news on Friday afternoon, March 1. That night some of my dearest musical friends began arriving in Whipple from all over. Sunday, March 3 was my 57th birthday and I was determined, whatever the health news, to have a weekend of music with my favorite music pals. My sweet angels of mercy, Wen and Jules, helped make it happen, in spite of schedule challenges and iffy weather. My buddy John Kogge came out from Bloomington, Indiana with Heather and Jessie. John and I are special birthday twins, both born on 3/3, but he’s 12 years older. We played music together in Oxford, Ohio, starting in 1981, and it was a natural fit from the first note. I’ve leaped at every chance to play with John ever since.
Caroline Quine came from Boulder, CO, bringing her ethereal voice and guitar abilities. Mimi Hart and John Borchard came over from Athens, OH to surprise us. When Mimi sings (and John plays) “Open Arms” by Patty Larkin, I fall apart. My brother, sister, and mom came out on Saturday, too. It was sweet to feel all the Thompsons together again in a music-filled house. Craig Gibbs and Mike Austin from The Rain Crows made the scene later on so we could rock out a bit. Music-loving, dear friends came, too, including Annie Babcock, Tanya Wilder, Shila Wilson, Bob Scott Placier, Jade and Nat Thompson, Dan Harrison and Jessica Lynn, and our newest family member, Curtis Loew, to lend us their ears and energy. The music possessed me completely. Music has been such an important part of my life, a priceless gift from my parents. Nothing could have filled my heart more than the music we played this weekend. It was bliss. Closing my eyes, I drifted out of my present condition, out of my body, to a magical place of peace and soul-restoring love, as the music washed over and through me.
I don’t think for a moment, and I hope you concur, that all the thoughts and prayers and healing energy and meditations and happy thoughts and wishes for my recovery and good health were a waste of time, or that they failed to work. On the contrary, every single word lifted me up, which is why I can face this, frankly, shitty news with courage. I won’t be able to thank you each for your support—the volume is far too huge. But my heart is just the right size to hold it all. And I will remain grateful for the love long after I shuffle off this mortal coil.
We have no way of knowing how fast the cancer is spreading or how long I really have. So I’m making plans for the shortest timeframe.
For those of you from my bird watching life, Bird Watcher’s Digest will continue as it has for the past 41 years. We appreciate our subscribers so much, and the amazing BWD staff is dedicated to keeping the magazine, and all its wonderful extensions, going and growing. I glow with pride that we’ve survived for so long. And I’m proud to have had a role in keeping my parents’ vision alive amid all the changes and challenges of the publishing world. We’re still here because of the personal relationships we’ve enjoyed with our readers, contributors, and partners.
To those of you who have donated to our Go Fund Me efforts, what can I say, but a heartfelt, loving thank you! Our medical bills are significant even with insurance. It’s assuaged one of my main worries that I would leave my family with debt from my care. Hospitals don’t give you your money back when your treatments fail to restore your health. Maybe that’s something for the 2020 presidential candidates to look into, however!
I’m planning to have a green burial—no embalming, casket, or other needless stuff. When the time comes, I’ll be buried in the meadow at Indigo Hill, near a pine tree in the middle that—for some reason—I decided not to bush hog about 15 years ago. Now I know why. Wen and Julie will be in charge of any other festivities, but they know I want any celebrations of my life to be joyous, fun, and full of music and birds. So stay tuned…
If you and I are friends, you know that I love you. If we’re friends who’ve never met, please know that I love you, too. This has been such an amazing life! I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wish I had another 40 years. But I’ll happily take the 56-plus I’ve been given. I haven’t been perfect. I’ve made many mistakes. I’ve hurt people and I’ve been hurt. But all that angst and worry and pain just fades away for me now. What lingers is love and the joy of connection I’ve experienced in this life. Thank you for that gift.
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