NEW YORK, NY – Thirty-seven year old Brad Rheands remembers the fateful phone call like it was yesterday. He was sitting at home, nostalgically sorting through his earthly possessions, when the cellphone’s Tim Mcgraw “Live like you were dying” ringtone snapped him out of his reverie. It was his oncologist.
“Brent, I have some fantastic news for you,” he began. “It looks like the pathology lab made a mistake last week. Your sample was switched with one from someone else and you don’t actually have cancer. The spot on your back is just a mole.”
Rheands says that the rest of the conversation was a complete blur as his world came crashing down around him. His head spun violently, and he felt his mind adrift like a ship unmoored in the fog. He says that he hung up the phone and raced to the bathroom where he threw up most of the dozen donuts that he had eaten for breakfast that morning. He’s not sure how long he stayed in that bathroom, wondering how he could possibly go on living.
As he lay on the tiled floor, struggling to make sense of the terrifyingly vast future ahead of him, he thought back to the events of the past week. His stomach churned as he recalled how he handed in his resignation last Monday; he retched again as he replayed the glorious scene where he wrote out ten years of pent-up workplace grievances in spray paint on the side of his boss’ BMW while co-workers cheered.
A thousand thoughts raced through his mind at once. He wondered whether the apartment’s front desk girl whose last name he could never remember would consider postponing the wedding in Bali that he had planned for them this coming weekend. He wondered if his next cholesterol check at the doctor would reflect his dietary extravagance for the past week and whether the maintenance man would give him back his DVD collection.
“I just never imagined that this would happen to me. I mean, you spend every day taking for granted that you’re going to die of cancer and then this news hits you totally blindsided,” he says as he swipes a pool of tears from his eyes. “All I can do now is try to pick up the pieces.”
He gazes at his empty bank account and wonders whether the Red Cross will be willing to return the half of his savings that he donated last week and reflects with bitter regret on the previous Friday’s $3,000 chartered starlight helicopter flight over the city.
While he says he recognizes that most patients with terminal illness would look at his predicament with envy, he wants people to have an appreciation for the tragically catastrophic situation that has developed. He is considering starting a Brad-Rheands-Doesn’t-Have-Cancer charity fund which will allow others to make donations to help him cope with the battle ahead.
As he tries to make some sense of a life prematurely cut too long, he offered this sage and quotable advice for others:
“Living like there’s no tomorrow is great…if you’re dying of a giant melanoma on your back. If you’re not, it will ruin your finances, get you a criminal record for vandalism, and leave you unemployed with an expensive wedding in Bali to someone whose last name you can’t remember.”
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