What Are The Chances?

Late for the first day of class, I took the only seat available next to a mysterious young man wearing a dark trench coat and classic fedora hat. He glanced up to acknowledge my presence as the instructor introduced us to the schedule for writing our memoirs. It was then I realized my seat partner was probably very ill. Cancer perhaps. He was not just slender or thin. His appearance was emaciated  His skin more than pale. It was almost see-through. What little hair he had was sticking out beneath the hat was like peach fuzz. Like me, he had come to class to write his life story.

That first day we had a writing exercise and read to each other. My guess about Greg was correct. He was recovering from Leukemia. His story had begun several years before when he was still in high school. He'd been through his treatments, and was in remission when we met. I told him about my having had a rare bone cancer forty years before when I was about his age. There was an easy acceptance between us that I can only describe as a knowing sigh or shared exhalation that no one else in the room could discern. We were both survivors!

Twice a week for that first three weeks we shared our writings with each other, and sometimes with other members of the class. That fourth week I went to class with a heavy heart. My doctor had sent me to an oncologist. I had been diagnosed with Leukemia. It's a fairly rare cancer. According to government statistics for that year, in the US there were approximately 271,880 people alive who had a history of leukemia. In the county where I live there were only 32 Leukemia patients. It seemed so odd to realize that the two of us attended the same college, the same class and sat beside each other. What are the chances of that happening?

Though mine was a different type of Leukemia than Greg's, we had one thing in common called the Philadelphia Chromosome. I had no idea what that was, but Greg explained. A couple times after class we would stop and chat. He was always willing to help me understand. What was incomprehensibly new to me was old stuff to him. He asked me questions, good questions that made me think, that made me take to my doctor to get answered. We shared symptoms and how we handled them. We shared the emotional impact. He told me funny stories too, told me about Jacob's Heart, and Team in Training and Robin Williams coming to visit him in the hospital who had him laughing. His eyes lighted up when he spoke of these things. A fire burned there shining from his soul.

One day on campus, I saw him climbing a steep flight of stairs. That was something I couldn't do, and it surprised me. He seemed so frail beneath that trench coat, but there was a superman inside. He had been fighting his Leukemia for a number of years. He had suffered the ravages of chemotherapy. He'd had a bone marrow transplant. He'd been bedridden and close to death. He had recovered, recuperated and healed. Why would climbing stairs be a daunting thing for him when he already had the strength to beat cancer? I was encouraged for my own future. I was uplifted by his spirit of not giving into weakness. I was inspired to let my leukemia journey to just become another of life's challenges and not let it become something to destroy who I really am.

Today, another student from that class asked me if I remembered Greg. Of course I did. I was numb when she told me he had died just a few weeks ago. She had seen his obituary in the local paper.

I went on the internet tonight looking for his obituary. I found one for a Gregory Melendy. But, I couldn't make myself believe it was him. Some other young man with the same name had passed away. I studied the picture. Long hair, healthy sensitive face. Nope. Not my Greg. My friend must be mistaken. I looked harder at the picture. Read the obituary again.

There... a link.... saying to make donations to a music scholarship. I clicked on that page. Another young man, no hair this time. But full of face, smiling. I stared at it. The eyes. Maybe the eyes are familiar, I thought. No... it must be someone else with the same name. Just a coincidence that he attended the same college where I had met my Greg. Just a coincidence.

I stuck to my denial as I searched and read all the pages Google took me to see. I studied each picture. Finally it sank in. It was my Greg Melendy.

I am very sad.


  1. What a fine and handsome young man. He may not have lived a long life span but he certainly made an impact with the time he had. So sorry he has gone ~ I know this will have hit you hard. RIP Greg.

    1. Thank you Milo and Alfie. He was a very special young man and deeply touched my life right at the moment I really needed it!

  2. Vic Mastrogiovanni3/21/2013

    He left a great friend behind.

    1. Thank you Vic. I wish I had known him better.

  3. This is a beautiful tribute to my brother, thanks. That bit about him climbing the stairs is so true. When he could get out and exersize, he wouldn't just walk up the street, he'd walk 6 miles to downtown. Go big or go home (or not home), he always said. Such a good soul. I'm glad he was there for you, and I hope you're doing well yourself!

  4. Thank you Lisa. Greg had such a great impact on my life right when I needed it most. Having survived bone cancer when I was young, I thought I was done with all that, except for the left over side effects that haunted me all these years. Thank Heavens he was there in my life when I got my leukemia diagnosis. I probably would have lost it! He was so helpful to me during those first days and weeks. As you say, He was such a good soul. I continue to have my diagnosis of leukemia now almost five years, but it is in remission of a sort. As long as I kept taking my chemo pill every day, it is controlled and not escalating. Side effects from the pill, I have accepted and continue to live each day to the fullest as much as I can. I hope this will continue until it's really time for me to go.


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