This is a guest post written by my Community Manager Kat. Derek was a friend of mine for about six years, and his loss leaves a large hole in my heart and within the Gnomedex community.
On the morning of May 4th, 2011, I read fourteen words that stopped me in my tracks. Though I had been expecting them for weeks, I still felt this huge surge of denial. My friend of more than four years, Derek Miller, is now gone from this world. He wrote what was to be his final blog post not long before he died, and a family friend published it the morning after he left us. It was several hours before I could bring myself to read beyond those fourteen words.
“Here it is. I’m dead, and this is my last post to my blog.”
It’s not as though I’m new to this whole dying thing. Being forty years old, I have dealt with a lot of death in my lifetime: grandparents, two best friends, various relatives – and my hero… my big brother Jimmy. Though we shared a love of music, blogging and all things geeky, it was the story of my brother’s cancer – and death at the age of 36 – which brought Derek and I closer together as friends. When Derek announced late last fall that he had decided to give up treatment and live out the rest of his life HIS way, the connection began. I sent an email to him, telling him how my brother made the same decision… how strong he was, how he fought hard for so many years. Derek’s reply – he titled it “The End Game” – was one I will treasure forever. He later gave me permission to share this with all of you when the time came. Sadly, the time is now.
We always use the words fight and battle in conjunction with cancer. That’s what it seems like, you know? It’s not something we chose, and it’s so difficult to go through. It takes a horrible toll on the patient and their families – both mental and physical. It’s as though you’re fighting in a war… one you pray to win. In this reply, though, Derek taught me that having cancer isn’t a battle at all.
“I would change one word now, after four years: “fight.” I’ve used that word a lot too, but I’ve recently begun to change my tune. Why must it be a fight, a war or a battle? Those are stressful, soul-draining things, with images of violence and winners and losers.
I think less personally about my cancer than I used to. I fought it hard, I used to tell it to fuck off, I used to imagine the chemo snuffing it out like carpet bombing over Cambodia. More recently I’ve thought, no, cancer has no mind, no evil intent, no demon driving it.
I hate that it will kill me, and what that will do to my family. It’s sad and unfair. But there’s no one and nothing to blame. It’s a pure example of “shit happens.” Like your brother, my time has come to win the battle by not fighting anymore, by pushing back against the desire to treat the end of my life as a war and myself as a soldier. The human mind and heart deserve better than war, whether in Afghanistan or in the brain of a cancer patient.”
During the four years he had cancer, Derek blogged every step of his journey. His honesty and bluntness about what he was going through won the hearts of thousands from all over the world. Even a week later, people are mourning his loss on their social networks and blog pages. His story – and that of his final blog post – has been featured on websites such as CNN. Derek touched so many with his strength, his humor and his love of life.
Derek Miller touched me with his simple acceptance of what was to be. He helped me finally let go of the anger I still harbored towards my brother for giving up his treatments and leaving us… ten years ago. I hadn’t even realized it was still buried inside of me until Derek and I began talking. Of course it hurts to not have my big brother here, but it’s much easier to deal with now. I understand exactly where Jimmy was coming from… why he made the choices he did. I owe that understanding to Derek.
The penmachine was so full of life… passion… intelligence… love of friends and family… humor… wisdom. I have shed more than a few tears since learning of his passing. But I am doing my best not to break the promise I made to him a few months ago. It is a one that I hope each of you will vow to keep, as well.
Derek asked me not to mourn his death, but to use it as an example to others. He hoped that I could take what I learned from our friendship and use it to help people in similar situations. Cancer is evil, of that there is no doubt. It rips apart our lives and the world as we know it. But it doesn’t have to be a “fight.” It’s not a war. It’s an illness that we do our best to overcome. When there is no hope of surviving it, the way we choose to deal with the emotions, decisions and the end of our life is what people will remember.
Derek Miller will forever be remembered for the courage, strength, humor and dignity he carried with him until after he was gone. I only hope my loved ones can say the same about me one day, no matter what takes me from this Earth.
Goodbye, my friend. Thank you – for everything. To Airdrie, Marina and Lauren: please know that you have the love, prayers and thoughts of thousands of people with you. I hope that the strength we share with you will somehow be able to make its way into your hearts, bringing some measure of comfort and peace.