Of Suicide and Heroism

Last Wednesday, I saw a former coworker for perhaps the last time. We used to program together until she moved to a sister unit about a mile away. But we were still under the same agency so we'd talk on the phone occasionally about fixing bugs or extracting data. Then after a reorganization, we were commingled into the same computer programming group and expected to work more closely together and share resources. So she ended up in our building last week using the computer lab to train some data entry folks on a new system.

As I walked down the hall to get some water, I saw her hobbling to the elevator. We rode down to the lunchroom together. Her bout with breast cancer had started several years ago while we still worked in the same building. Now it is just "cancer" and had spread to her liver. "You never think it's going to happen to you," she said. The doctors told her she has maybe three to twelve months left. Of course, she'd always hated statistics so she doesn't accept their diagnosis and is trying a new treatment similar to one used on victims of leukemia where leukocytes from a donor are injected in the hopes of providing some new disease-fighting capabilities.

She's optimistic. She's proud to be the first person in the nation to try the cure. And she's quitting her job. She and her husband are going to travel. They're planning short trips around Colorado once the daily doctor visits stretch into weekly ones, and eventually she plans to go to Italy. They'd had a couple free tickets off frequent flier miles that had expired while she was in the hospital.

She said their usual travel plan was to fly someplace and rent a car and choose destinations day by day. But a friend of hers went with a tour group to Italy and paid special attention to exactly how much effort and exertion went into the sightseeing and simply living on the road. They'll probably take a tour because she walks with a cane. She said she'd heard her neighbor running up and down the steps to get the paper and wondered if she'd ever be able to do that again.

As we sat in the lunchroom catching up on kids (one of mine just lost her first baby tooth, one of hers got married and can return to Indonesia now that the riots have stopped), someone else stopped by and asked about the man who'd been holed up in the Pulse club the day before. Her immediate coworkers had been cordoned off from their offices as police dealt with his suicide. She'd missed the turmoil because she doesn't even set her alarm clock anymore. After waking up, it takes two hours just to shower, clean "the site," rinse out her catheter, and stuff like that. Then she has to rest before tackling the drive to work. But she did wonder about what it takes to make someone kill themselves. "Here I am fighting for every minute."

I don't know what would drive me to kill myself, but I suspect seeing my life eaten away bit by bit would be high on the list. Heroes are often pictured diving into a river or running into a burning building to save someone else. But the less dramatic every day heroism of living your own life and dealing with severe problems, when just getting out of bed requires a supreme effort of will, is performed far too often by too many unsung friends, neighbors, and coworkers.