There is no pursuit of happiness in cancer

On the afternoon of Friday, August 26, our family friend from California, Larry Marino, called to tell me goodbye. Thirty one days later on Monday, September 26, I received a text message that Larry had passed. Thanks cancer.

That Monday afternoon, I had been at the top of a ladder prepping one of our second story windows for a repainting. I thought to myself before coming down, I’m going to give Larry a call.

Since August 26, I had not pestered him, I tried to give him space. I sent a couple of text messages, but he did not respond. I know the cancer was wearing him down.

Larry had been married to my wife’s oldest sister, Susan. This was Susan’s third marriage, and Larry’s second.

My wife, Betsy, and I first met Larry in the Philadelphia Airport. Betsy and her siblings and spouses were heading to Bermuda to celebrate their parents fiftieth wedding anniversary.

We learned quickly that Larry had a sense of humor.

When we were introduced to Larry, he had an eye patch over one eye, and tattoos all over his forearms. Not sure if he was trying to convince us that he was a pirate or a biker. Within a few minutes, the eye patch was removed, and he went to the restroom to wash the water based tattoos off his forearms.

While in Bermuda, he kept us laughing.

We had several good visits in California and Utah with Larry and Susan. He owned a beautiful getaway home in Strawberry Point, Utah, and once the same Bermuda crew met in Las Vegas. In those trips, Susan and Larry were delightful hosts.

A couple of times, Larry and Susan came to Duck on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for Thanksgiving. And they also traveled east for the college graduations of our son, Andrew, and youngest daughter, Elizabeth. Susan attended the graduate school ceremony when Lauren, our oldest daughter, finished her masters at DePaul in Chicago.

When Lauren, and her husband, Doug, honeymooned in Italy, Larry had a friend pick them up at the airport and whisk them to their hotel.

A handful of times during a year, we would check in with each other by telephone. He always asked about all of the nieces and nephews in the family. Larry wanted to know what they were up to and how they were doing.

I countered his questions by asking about his 100 year old mother, who lives in Las Vegas, his son, Chris, and Larry’s two grandsons. I also learned a bit about Larry’s success in the swimming pool business. His company did residential and commercial work. They maintained pools all over southern California and did new construction as well.

None of us ever saw this coming, but on May 3, 2011, Susan made the decision to take her own life.

After this tragic loss, it took quite a bit of time, but somehow, Larry found a way to regroup. Larry once shared with me that he did not want to spend the last years of his life alone, nor did he want to die alone.

I don’t recall the timing, but Larry did remarry to a very nice and successful business woman, Lisa. We met Lisa one summer in California at Abby and Art’s home. She was very gracious, and it was clear that Larry and Lisa were a good match. Her Italian heritage had something to do with them being very compatible.

Sadly, that happiness was short-lived. Larry called me on December 22, 2016 to let me know that Lisa had passed away. Thanks cancer. From earlier telephone calls, I knew Lisa was battling cancer, but I don’t think anyone anticipated her life ending so quick.

Lisa’s passing was a tough punch for Larry. He continued to manage and be very hands on with his business. I know he traveled some, and he always had activities planned for his grandsons when they came to visit their father during the summers.

And Larry wasn’t immune from his own health skirmishes. His heart created some intense life threatening intrusions. Somehow, the nurses and doctors continued to pull more life from his damaged heart. It took lots of recuperative time, but Larry recovered from the heart attacks and surgery procedures that kept his heart beating.

Again, I know his heart needed companionship, loneliness in the latter stage of life was not something he wanted. In early April 2021, Larry married Nelva.

I’ve never met Nelva, but I know he was smitten by her. However, I quickly got to know Nelva as Larry had another challenge with his heart. From the end of April into early May, I received daily updates from Nelva about his status including how the doctors were working with him in the hospital.

Despite this heart setback, somehow, Larry found the strength and will to rebound again.

During the late spring or early summer of 2022, Larry let me know that cancer was creating some challenges. I know from talking with him that the doctors were trying to pinpoint the area/areas of the cancer’s intrusion. This was to be followed with recommendations for treatment.

When Larry called me on August 26 to say goodbye, it was because the doctors had run out of options, the current treatments were not fighting the cancer. I could hear his wife, Nelva, crying in the background.

I never talked with Larry about the cause for his first marriage ending. When a man loses his second wife to suicide, and his third wife to cancer, it seems unkind to me that more misfortune should enter his life.

Surviving multiple heart challenges is one thing, but dying from cancer after all that Larry has endured is life malpractice to me.

Cancer, cancer, cancer, you are spineless and worthless.

Cancer, you are unfit to be on this planet, and yet, you continue to rob lives, and leave loved ones with empty, broken hearts.

Lots of money is raised each year for cancer research, but on September 26, $325 million was spent crashing a NASA spacecraft into the asteroid, Dimorphos. The goal was to see if this impactful crash might push the asteroid off course. Pushing an asteroid off course might save a collision with earth in the future.

My question is why can’t we use that $325 million to push cancer off course permanently?

Currently, I’m reading The Sun Does Shine, a book about the life of Alabama death row inmate, Anthony Ray Hinton.

When Mr. Hinton first arrived in his cell on death row, he sat on the edge of his bed and had the following internal conversation with himself: “There was no God for me anymore. My God had forsaken me. My God was a punishing God. My God had failed and left me to die. I had no use for God. Forgive me, Mama. I thought to myself as I threw the Bible under the bed. I had no use for it. All of it was a lie.” (Hinton, page 105)

I’m sorry God, but that is the way I feel toward you when it comes to cancer.

I feel forsaken.

Good people are punished.

You failed them, and they die.

I imagine families who lose loved ones to cancer have a similar internal conversation.

They want to know why.

If Jesus healed people with a simple touch, and raised people from the dead with his words, where are Jesus and God when it comes to cancer?

As frustrating as that may be, I also realize that something kept Larry’s faltering heart alive after hours spent in an operating room followed by days in intensive care.

Why was that?

Was it my prayers, and prayers of others that allowed him to dodge death?

I’m not sure, but I hope Nelva and Larry’s family will somehow find a bit of comfort in knowing that cancer is no longer beating him up. And maybe just like me they will hold out hope that at some point in the future, cancer will have the life beaten out of it.

In moving forward, I will cherish Larry’s love of life.

I will never forget his ability to make me laugh whether by phone or in person.

And even though, his heart caused him trouble, deep inside Larry’s heart was a kind, considerate man who touched a lot of lives along the way.

He also was good at keeping in touch by phone with my mother-in-law, Liz, in Connecticut. Football, especially the Miami Dolphins was a favorite topic.

And, I don’t think I will ever have another meal of pasta without thinking of his love of his favorite food. I believe Larry could have eaten pasta at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Yes, God, like Anthony Ray Hinton, I am frustrated.

Frustrated that cancer took a friend away too early.

But, God, I think you know that, and somehow, I will hold on to these words from John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Cancer can’t snuff out the light that Larry brought into this world.

And that’s because the Italian philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, captured that light in a different way with these words: “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”

Larry, thanks for being my true friend.

Rest in peace.

My friend, Larry Marino, making me laugh at Rachel and Garth’s wedding Agua Dulce, California Photo courtesy of Lauren Reinking

2 thoughts on “There is no pursuit of happiness in cancer”

  1. Bill, my heart hurts for you. What a wonderful tribute to your dear friend. I know his death shattered your world. I wonder at times, why do the good ones have to die? Cancer sucks. I’ve lost four family members to it. And now, my best friend has breast cancer and is having a double mastectomy next week. Cancer sucks. I’m praying for my best friend even though I don’t know what prayer really is or does. It may make me feel like I’m doing something for those I pray for, but I’m not sure what else it accomplishes.
    You write beautifully and I look forward to you blog entries. (Blog is a funny word. Wonder what a synonym for it would be…)


    1. Martha, thanks for reading the post, and for your kind comments. Your assessment about cancer is correct, and prayer can be a challenge. Again, I am honored that you read the piece. Take care, be safe, Bill


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