There was a piece floating around the internet a few weeks ago about the absence of contemporary cultural, intellectual and ethical heroes, an insightful lament that got me thinking and asking family and friends who they thought were candidates for latter day hero status.
Today, I offer you one of my leading candidates: my friend Jack Jackson.
Jack, as many of you know, lost his battle to metastatic pancreatic cancer on Saturday, succumbing to the disease at the age of 61 just a day after he and his wife Cindy marked 33 years of marriage.
Jack was a great guy, and he bravely and relentlessly fought a three-year battle with his nasty, persistent disease, doggedly pursuing new treatments and therapies to outsmart and, well, out will a disease that simply does not give up. But why tag him with the status of hero, which would make him grimace, shake his head, and insist that such a lofty moniker ought to be reserved for grander people who have crested higher peaks?
Since being diagnosed more than three years ago Jack wrote a wonderfully informative, insightful and humorous blog about his journey. A former medical reporter and PR executive, Jack was a gifted writer whose wry wit soaked into everything he penned. Here’s a sample, from his Dec. 23, 2012 post, “’Twas the Night Before Chemo.”
# # #
On my calendar, this week’s main event isn’t Christmas, it’s the day after — when I start my latest round of chemo. With a tip of the cap to Clement Clarke Moore, Henry Livingston (look it up) and Dr. Seuss, here’s my holiday-themed tribute to the people and the process.
‘Twas the night before chemo when all through the ward
not a staffer was stirring (in fact they’re quite bored).
The IVs were hung on infusion pump poles
Preparing to play their neoplastic-fight roles.
The patients were elsewhere, all due to arrive
some time in the morning, at six or at five,
to open their bloods vessels up for a bit
as part of their regular stay at “Club Drip.”
# # #
There is much more, of course, all of it readable, educational and laced with Jack’s special brand of humor. He taught us something, shared details of a deeply personal experience that unwittingly placed him in the public spotlight as he eclipsed one “expiration date,” as he put it, and then another.
“I’m 33 months post diagnosis and 37 months past expiration date,” he proudly proclaimed over one of the lunches we shared on a trip back to the US. He faced up to his disease and acknowledged its severity and chances over his will and the talents of greater Boston’s medical community. Yet he stubbornly refused to cancer to deny him the right to savor whatever time he had, and to do something useful while he was still around.
During another of our lunch meetings, Jack calculated the number of carbs in a Singha beer as we ordered at a Thai restaurant, jabbed himself with an extra load of insulin to pre-empt the effects of the brew, then smacked his lips as he took a deep draft. I’ve seen a lot of guys drink a lot of beer in my time, but never have I witnessed a pal so thoroughly enjoy the first sip.
Still, though, why the hero claim for Jack?
Because he left something worthwhile behind. More, even, than his unflappable, determined and loving wife, Cindy, and his three wonderful children, extended family and a world of adoring friends.
He left a legacy of grace, determination, intelligence and acceptance that those of us left behind would do well to study and adopt. A PR exec by profession but teacher by predisposition, he taught us all countless valuable lessons on how to life a good, honorable and quality life.
The meaning of dignity – To face a life threatening illness is one thing. To do so with relentless intelligence, acceptance and humor is quite another. It’s why Jack’s stories and musings will leave residual positive effect long after we’re all gone. His posts are a primer of the pursuit of dignity. Do yourself a big favor: read ‘em.
The value of humor – Among its many benefits, laughter creates an emotional outlet when humans confront difficult subjects or uncomfortable situations that make us question our own feelings. Jack’s writing educated, informed and amused – all at once – creating something rare and wonderful for those of us on the outside of his illness and fight. We also learned a ton and became more committed to eradicating the horrible disease that somehow found its way to him.
Face time with him always left me a little smarter, a little more entertained and, I think, a bit more human. He was a guy who has always widened my spirit a bit with every engagement. I trusted him, respected him and valued him greatly.
What a marriage ought to look like –Commitment, togetherness and partnership. There it is, and when I think of the rock-solid underpinnings that make a marriage I will always think of Jack and Cindy. She may have been Mama Bear to Jack, but she is Crazy Glue to me, and I will remain in awe of the strength and determination she ceaselessly displayed since his diagnosis, holding it together against all odds.
What a friendship feels like – I’ve loved and appreciated Jack’s brand of honesty and have benefitted from his insight, wisdom and intelligence more times than I can count. I’ve grown from his “have you considered???” suggestions and have known his vast storehouse of experience was always there for me when necessary. Media contacts for Gabi’s business launch, teaching tools for the graduate-level PR course in Cambodia and draft proposal ideas for a media training engagement with the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority – Jack always ponied up, offered what he had, and helped me in countless ways. A true friend is there in need, keeps in touch and is always honest. I can only hope I was half the friend to Jack that he was to me.
As his disease progressed, Jack turned his enormous talent to the bigger fight. He became a top fundraiser in the quest to find a cure for his disease, fully knowing he wouldn’t be around to enjoy its benefits. He lobbied for research funding in Congress. He joked, wrote, spoke and engaged fellow survivors, urging them on as a mountaineer challenging Everest would spur another climber to the top.
If we leave anything behind, it ought to be a legacy worth emulating; a sense of defined purpose, a benevolent state of being that gives more than we take and offers something of value to make life a little better for others even without us around. A legacy deeply imbued with ethics, sensitivity and genuine interest in what would be best for others; altruism in its purest sense.
To me, someone who lives like that is a hero. And that’s Jack.