Persistent Friendship

My best friend, Jim, was the most predictable person I had ever known. I called him “The Man With a Plan” because he approached every day and every situation as though he knew what to expect. I marveled at his ability to stay calm and deal with whatever came along.

So, when he did something totally out of character, when he strayed from the plan, I challenged him: “Who are you and what have you done with Jim? You must have a brain tumor.” That was in March of 2002, and from that day on, he began to be less “The Man With a Plan and more of some man I did not know.

He became unpredictable, doing things he had never done before, things he once disparaged. Instead of going on an annual retreat, he began going on annual golf outings. Instead of going to plays at the community theater, he went to wine tastings in Napa Valley. Where once he had belonged to a faith sharing group, he joined the country club.

Over and over I would ask, “Who are you and what have you done with Jim?” Within five years, I barely recognized this person I had once known so well. He had distanced himself from all his old friends (except me) and connected with new friends, people who were wealthy and liked to flaunt their wealth.

I was his only connection to his old life.

I would make lists of “old Jim” and “new Jim” to show him how he had changed. He agreed with the facts on the list but seemed incapable of understanding the impact of these changes.

Finally, after nine years of being in a relationship with this man who had become a stranger, I gave him an ultimatum: either he saw a doctor about his personality change, or I was out. I no longer wanted to be in a relationship with him. I didn’t like the person he had become, had little in common with him, and felt stupid that I had stuck around for so long. “I didn’t sign up for this,” I told him.

One week after that ultimatum, Jim had a seizure in his office, hit his head on his desk as he fell, and was unconscious when we found him. A CT scan in the ER to determine if he had a concussion revealed brain cancer in three lobes of his brain.

Could this be why his personality had changed over the years? The neurosurgeon said the cancer had only been growing for three or four weeks, so it could not have caused the personality change, but that there was something else in Jim’s right front lobe that could be a slow-growing, benign tumor that would account for a personality change.

I was so angry. After nine years of putting up with Jim’s erratic behavior, now he had brain cancer. How could I walk away? So, I stayed. Or rather, he came to stay with me.

I was Jim’s patient advocate, and I opted for surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation because I felt he needed a chance to know he was going to die soon and a chance to get right with himself and with God.

When I called his old friends to tell them Jim had brain cancer, each told me how sad they had been that Jim had distanced himself from them over the years. Each wondered if he or she had done something to alienate him.

The surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation did nothing to stop the brain cancer, but it did destroy the tumor in Jim’s right front lobe. I remember clearly the morning Jim said to me, “Do you want to pray morning prayer?” I knew then that the benign tumor was gone and “old Jim” was back.

Jim died nine months after his cancer diagnosis, but he was restored to his old self, reconciled with God, and completely at peace.

Caring for him was one of the most difficult things I have done, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

In the end, I was happy I had stayed in this relationship because I learned so much about myself. I learned that I am someone who will step up and make the sacrifices necessary to help a friend in need. I had always wondered if I would be that person, and now I know.

TLH photoMadeline Bialecki grew up in Detroit and recently returned after living in Philadelphia for twenty-eight years. She began writing about her spiritual journey and faith life after the death of her best friend in 2012. She likes to read, knit, bake, and garden. She shares her spiritual journey here.