We share with all humans two absolutes: we’re born, and we die. In between, our stories differ, but they all begin and end the same.
Some stories, such as Steve Janzen’s, include a chapter titled “Cancer.” It’s a chapter no one wants to find in his or her story, a chapter riddled with words such as “battle” and “fight” as individuals struggle along with loved ones in the hope there’s another chapter yet to write and live. But when it’s the final chapter, it’s common for people to remark that the battle was lost.
Steve Janzen died from pancreatic cancer Thanksgiving Day, but there’s no doubt among those that knew him that he left this life a winner. He did so because he wrote his own chapter title: “Living in Spite of Cancer.” And live he did, right until his final moments. Cancer changed the details and length of his life, but it didn’t change him.
Like most people, Steve wanted to live longer — those beloved grandchildren, along with his wife and children, were powerful incentives. They may well be the reasons Steve lived for about 11 months after his diagnosis, while half of those with the same diagnosis survive only six months or less.
As the disease and treatments took their toll, as his fatigue and pain increased, Steve sought to remain focused on the joys of his life. He reveled in family time. He enjoyed re-connecting with students and athletes he hadn’t heard from in years. Trips to Dallas for clinical trials were opportunities to take in sights with his wife, Phoebe, even if it meant sitting on a bench while Phoebe explored for both of them. He was humbled and grateful for the outpouring of community support. The challenges of cancer made good moments harder to come by, but Steve embraced them all, lived them all.
Some of the richest moments of my own life came during the final months of my grandfather LaVern Hadsell’s life, as he and my grandmother Lorraine lived with his demise from esophageal cancer. It is a strange and wonderful thing to wish he had been here longer and yet rejoice for every memory I have of how they were together, and how they were with me during that time. I’m certain Steve’s family over time will have that same experience.
Steve’s life ended, just as ours will. Hope, faith, joy, and love are the overriding themes of the final chapter he wrote so very well. An alternative title would be “Take Nothing for Granted.”
Come to think of it, that’s a winning title for an entire story, written one day at a time. Feel free to make it yours. I’m sure Steve would be glad if you did.
— david colburn
Last modified Dec. 4, 2014