This is such an interesting time we live in. We can communicate, by voice or keystroke, with anyone in the world with a like connection. We can retrieve copies of public documents off of computers in the remotest parts of the world in seconds, we can immerse ourselves in any culture we choose with a few mere keystrokes. We can build structures so enormous that they have their own weather systems. We can build cars that get nearly 40 miles per gallon of gasoline and protect their passengers from unheard of levels of impact compared to only a couple of decades ago. If a person wanted to he could dip his toes in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans on the same day. But what lies inside our own bodies is still nearly a complete mystery. A simple overproduction of cells, a system gone haywire that can't be stopped. It kills so many people and we struggle to even fully understand how it works, let alone how to stop it. I'm talking about cancer. The disease that in all likelihood is going to take the life of my closest friend. He'll probably be dead within 4 months. A quarter of a year. A season. He's not even 26 years old yet. His birthday is on December 19. His name is Jeffrey Allen Sample. I love him like a brother and consider him a brother, and he's going to leave me. He's going to leave all of us, and this world will be worse off for it. He's going to leave the girl he met and fell in love with barely a year ago. The girl he was going to marry and spend the rest of his life with. The girl he wanted to have children with in any way they could. Adoption, artificial insemination, whatever it took. You see, the chemotherapy sterilized him. That happened early on. We all felt very badly about it, but it wasn't the end of the world. It's Hodgkin's Lymphoma that he has. What some people ignorantly refer to as the "easy" cancer to overcome. The cancer that pro athletes get, miss a year for treatment, then return to their careers. It's cancer of the lymph nodes. I didn't even know what a lymph node was until Jeff got sick. I won't bore you with the description, but it's important. It helps you breathe. And when they're overcome with cancer, you die. Jeff was diagnosed in early 2001. Back in December, they thought it was a rare form of pneumonia. Then even possibly tuberculosis. It was almost a relief to us when it was diagnosed as Hodgkins, because it had been so long without answers and because Hodgkins was easy to beat. Mario Lemieux got it and was tearing up the ice again a year later, right? As the year progressed, it slowly became apparent that Jeff's bout with Hodgkins wasn't going to be a cakewalk. He had tumors spread to his spine, leading to a cracked vertebra. Jeff spent hours with levels of pain that most of us will never experience in our lives. Morphine wouldn't even completely cut through the pain in his back. They eventually got the tumors under control. Chemo, chemo, chemo. So much chemo I can't even recall. So much vomiting and sickness. But it's all in the name of getting better, right? And for a long time, he was doing better. We felt like things were on the right track. Jeff reached the point of receiving a stem cell transplant, which everybody believed would be the final stroke to his return to health. Problem is, it didn't work. His tumors were returning. And possibly spreading. So Jeff and family took off for two weeks from their home in Key Largo FL to visit MD Anderson medical center in Houston, TX. MDA and Sloan Kettering in NYC comprise two of the finest cancer hospitals in the world. If anybody had answers for Jeff, it was them. Jeff's two week trip was to work on beginning the search for a bone marrow donor. They felt this transplant would give Jeff his next best shot at returning to health. But while he was visiting Houston, Jeff got sick again. His fevers came way up and he was admitted to the hospital. They found more growth. The doctors at MD Anderson admitted him and felt he should stay in Houston in their care.. indefinitely.. until he was ready for his transplant. That was in April of 2002. Between April and November, Jeff was in and out of the hospital more times than I can count. His parents ended up renting an apartment nearby and living in Houston nearly full time. They've never left his side. Once again, Jeff began experiencing levels of pain that I can't relate to you, because neither you nor I have any frame of reference. When the tumors spread to his back again, the pain got to be so bad that Fentanyl, a painkiller so powerful it makes Morphine look weak in comparison, had no effect. He sat there and endured it like a soldier. He never bitched. He never complained. He never threw his fist in the air and cursed God. He accepted it without question. The constant barrage of drugs weakened him further. He took drugs for everything. Drugs to make him go to the bathroom. Drugs to keep him from vomiting. Drugs to reduce his anxiety. The chemotherapy drugs. Painkillers. Drugs to reduce the side effects of the other drugs he was taking. All this pain now, for the purpose of saving his life later. That's the story, that's how they give it to you. And we all understood, it was the end result that mattered. I could go on at length about the physical changes he experienced. His hair was straight before he got sick. After it grew back from chemo, it was curly. He lost an inordinate amount of weight, at one point he was around 140lbs. Jeff was 6 feet 2 inches tall in November of 2000. Now he's 5 feet 10 inches tall. There's so much more, but it doesn't matter. It's that precious end result, stopping that bodily function gone out of control that it all boils down to, right? Sterility, pain, suffering, physical and mental changes.. that's just collateral damage. The problem is, no it's not collateral damage. That stuff has its own trap: it weakens you. It weakens your immune system. Chemo is an indiscriminate animal. There are many different drugs given in many different combinations that operate under the banner of "chemotherapy." Some of these drugs are unpleasant but tolerable. Some of them are derived from chemicals used to make things like mustard gas. Some of them are so sensitive to light and temperature that aluminum foil has to be wrapped around the IV lines as it's pumped into the recipient's body. The chemo wore his immune system down. His white blood cell count had been falling since the beginning, but now it was staying dangerously low. Jeff entered a period where his health was walking a tightrope. If he fell on one side, insufficient medication, his tumors awaited him. If he fell to the other side, all sorts of infections, many of them life-threatening, awaited him. And it's not a tightrope walk that a sick person can maintain for long. In September, Jeff got sick. A very simple and rudimentary viral infection. One that went unnoticed. One that, in fact, he probably picked up during one of his inumerable stays in the hospital. The virus hit so hard and so fast that there was no warning. Within hours both of his lungs had nearly completely filled with fluid. His parents rushed him back to the hospital and the doctors worked overtime to save his life. They worked feverishly to drain Jeff's lungs and restore his breathing. It nearly came to the point of having to intubate him and put him on a respirator. And due to his cancer that was a dangerous proposition. When talking to Jeff's father a few days after the most critical moments, he confided in me that Jeff had nearly died. I was shocked. Jeff's dad is a very terse, stoic, no nonsense man. If he said something like that, he meant it. I asked him how close it came. "VERY close" was his response. I felt a cold chill run up my spine. I'd already been having dreams. I try not to put too much significance into my dreams, but sometimes they're vivid and explicit in ways that stay with me for a long time. I'd dreamed about Jeff, and it was a dream that saddened me so greatly I cried for hours after I woke up. It was after this talk with Jeff's dad that I had my first moment of doubt about the outcome of all of this. After September, things were quieter. Jeff was back in and out of the hospital a few times. No emergencies, just chemo and maintenance. The fear I had felt began to abate some, and the hope that the doctors would be able to get the tumors suppressed and do the marrow transplant had begun to grow. They had found a match for a marrow donor a long time ago, so that hurdle was already crossed. Jeff had fallen in love with the sister of the wife of a friend of ours from high school. They had met back in January of 2001, during our friend's wedding. That's when Jeff was first seriously ill. Back then, we thought it was a bad case of the flu. Since they met they grew closer and talked on the phone, email, and instant messaging nonstop. She was attending college at Iowa State. She had begun to regularly visit Jeff and it lifted his spirits beyond what any medicine could do. When he was in the hospital with his second round of agonizing back pain, she stood by him day and night. She did bedpan duty. She helped him put on his clothes. She had no obligation to be there and do those things, she loved him and he loved her. And I felt truly happy for him. And within weeks, he confided in me that he was sure that she was "The One." I could certainly see why. From September until now, I felt like things were on the mend. That Jeff's tumors were going to be beaten down long enough to allow the doctors perform their enchanted magic, the ever-distant Marrow Transplant that promised a panacean resolution to all his woes. I asked Jeff if he and his family would like some company for this Thanksgiving, to which he accepted. That made me glad; I hadn't seen him since that January, during the wedding. I talked to him on instant messenger practically every day of his illness, but I was never physically there. We had our silent understanding: he didn't want people needlessly hovering and I didn't want to be in the way. But we could still communicate at length, and that made it pretty easy to handle. Now we skip ahead from early this month to yesterday. I hadn't seen Jeff online in a week or so. This wasn't too unusual: He would spend time in the hospital for chemo and usually not feel conversive afterward. Also, he had mentioned he was having more of a problem with a lack of sleep and anxiety lately, so he didn't feel like being on the computer as much. Still, I was about to call and check up on him, as well as confirm with his dad that he would be able to pick me up on the airport. I was due to fly in on Tuesday, November 26. Which happens to be my birthday. While sitting at my desk, my cellphone rang. I answered it and it was Jeff. I didn't realize what phone call this was until Jeff was pretty far into his news. This phone call was the one I've been afraid of, the one I've lived through in the back corner of my mind every day for two years. His voice sounded a little weaker than normal. The drugs were having their effect. Jeff started off telling me he had been in the hospital, but nothing serious had happened. However, the doctors had made the discovery that his right lung was no longer working. His left lung was working normally, and he reassured me a person can live a normal life with one functional lung. The next news was what I was waiting for. I felt it coming, like a deer staring into the headlights of a truck on a lonely stretch of road. The lymphoma group at MD Anderson was out of tricks. He was not responding to any of the chemotherapy regimens and they had no more to offer. They were officially cutting Jeff loose. Their recommendation was that he return home, stay comfortable, and be with his family. The doctor concluded that without further treatment, Jeff could expect to live only another two to four months. Fastball to the head. I knew it was coming, I felt it was coming, but I couldn't move. I stood there and took it. I stayed composed. I didn't cry out, I didn't say anything for a minute. Then I remember asking if Jeff and his family were going to seek alternatives. He said yes, absolutely. I then remember asking if they still wanted me to come visit. The answer was an emphatic yes. All my happiness at visiting my friend for Thanksgiving had transformed into pain. Everything, the entire world, changed its hue in a split second. The color dropped out of everything, the sound faded to a dull buzz. I told Jeff I needed some time to digest the news. He understood. I hung up the phone and left work. I drove home, walked into my bedroom, closed my door, sat down on my bed, and began to think. It was a bit past 4PM when I got home. When I lifted my head and looked around, it was dark outside. I looked at my clock: it read 1:39AM. I had never been fully asleep, I had never been fully awake. I sat there the entire time, running through my life for the past 10 years. The length of my friendship with this person who was going to die. The person who was as close to me as my own parents, the one person who when I said something, no matter how off or obscure or off the cuff, instantly knew exactly what I was thinking. A person who regularly finished my sentences for me and vice versa, much to the humor and annoyance of other people. My brother. He's going to die before the snow's gone. He's going to leave without ever having lived his dreams. He never even got a chance to try. And I'm so hurt, and I'm so angry inside that I don't know how I'll ever let go of what it is I feel. He's going to be gone. And I'm going to spend the rest of my life lying to myself, lying to my friends, lying to my family, and lying to all of those people at that funeral that I understand that these things happen. That nothing is for chance, and that we can't rail ourselves against something we have no grasp or control over. And part of me is going to die with him, a part of me I cherish and will never be able to find again. And there's nothing I can do about it. And that's how it is. If you have a best friend, you need to tell that person right now that they matter to you and that you love them, because before you might even realize it's happened, they might be gone. I'm getting ready to leave to visit my friend and I'm going to tell him those things. He knows, though. And I am happy that we'll have our time together. And hopefully again in December, the other friends from our whole crew in high school and college will gather again one last time like we used to every week, our ritual. Watch movies at Dan's house. Play volleyball at Holiday Isle during the summer. Go up to see a movie in Miami plus gorge ourselves at Outback while we flirt with the waitress. Leave ridiculous tips so we can get seated faster next time, that way we'll be sure to make it in time for the movie. Cutting each other down mercilessly and laughing at all of it. Going out and getting drunk in Tallahassee. Where does it end? It's not supposed to end at 26 years of your life. I don't know what else to say so I'll just shut up now and enjoy the time I have. If you know Jeffrey Allen Sample, you are almost certainly his friend. If you don't know Jeff, you've missed out. I love you, Jeff. You are and will always be my best friend.