This is not an easy one to write.

Tonight, Patti and I are spending our New Year’s Eve with her brother, Bill, in a Dallas hospital.

He is nearing the end of a 15-year struggle with melanoma. His fight has been valiant. When Bill first discovered he had melanoma, he followed professional counsel and earnestly began treatment. Along the way over the past 15 years, he has had surgeries to remove malignant tumors. He recovered well from these surgeries, certainly enough to resume steady work, steady play, and enjoy his other roles of committed husband, father, son, brother and friend. Bill understood that melanoma is hellishly aggressive and damnably uncompromising. So far, he has fought this onslaught with fierce determination, tenacious courage and an unwavering commitment to beat this beast.

In late summer, at a routine regular visit with MDAnderson, doctors noticed a nine centimeter tumor — one they should have seen during his previous checkup in October 2010, when it was five centimeters. Somehow this bugger escaped detection at that visit and grew. By the time the doctors saw it this past summer, it had grown and become affixed to his spine and a kidney. This time, because of metastasis, doctors could not operate.

The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

While balancing his responsibilities, he began increasing his homeopathic regimen. This served him well during the years when the melanoma was somewhat inactive. He also sought out experts across the country to help.  At one point this past September, he told me he was seeing seven doctors to try to fight the disease. He had heard about an experimental stem cell treatment program in South Korea that was experiencing good results.

It was a two-month commitment. After undergoing a couple of radiation treatments here, Bill and wife, Lisa, flew to Seoul for the experimental treatment. Unfortunately, after the 22-hour flight to Korea, Bill caught a bug, which led to pneumonia. So, he began a grueling treatment for both pneumonia and the melanoma. All this, and the two of them were in a foreign country, hearing a foreign language, and nothing was familiar to them. Bill gained strength and began the stem cell treatments, which included a cyber knife radiation treatment and chemotherapy.

Bill and Lisa returned in late November and he was admitted to the hospital here in Dallas, fighting severe lung and chest infections, or sepsis. The doctors monitored the cancer, but the sepsis was of a very immediate concern. In the ICU, Bill was heavily sedated, on a ventilator, and underwent strong antibiotic treatment to quell the sepsis as quickly as possible. He was in ICU from November 23rd through December 26th. During this period family members gathered to support Bill and Lisa in any way possible. His friends from childhood, Steve and Paul, were in constant contact with Lisa while they were in Korea and since.

Currently, Bill is on morphine to minimize the pain. The cancer has spread to other organs.

I share this with you not to add Bill’s struggle to the countless others who have fought so tirelessly to beat cancer, but to paint a picture of pure raw courage.

Bill is the most courageous man I know.

As I sit here in the hospital room with Bill lying quietly in bed behind me, he reminds me of an 1818 painting by the German Romanticist, Caspar David Friedrich.  The painting is The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog. For me, this painting represents the summation of 27 years of knowing and enjoying the friendship of this energetic figure.

A writer describing this masterpiece of German Romanticism said “it demonstrates mastery over a landscape and the insignificance of the individual within it. We see no face, so it’s impossible to know whether the prospect facing the young man is exhilarating, or terrifying, or both. Friedrich was a 19th-century painter, generally considered the most important German artist of his generation. His primary interest as an artist was the contemplation of nature, and his often symbolic and anti-classical work seeks to convey a subjective, emotional response to the natural world.”

The connection between Bill and Friedrich was nature. Bill loved hiking in Telluride, as well as the Andes. I camped with him once in the Adirondacks on a snowy Thanksgiving when the temps at the summit of the peak we climbed were calculated to be -21 degrees. Paul and Bill’s brother, Jim, can relate many, many more stories than I about Bill’s love of nature.

When I look at this painting, I always think of Bill. The defiant stance of the figure, standing solidly on the precipitous jagged rock balanced nimbly by a slim cane, looking outward as the sea and fog combine seamlessly to present an undefined horizon that appears to encroach upon the figure from all sides. There is something purely enigmatic that we don’t manage to see the face of the defiant figure. I imagine it is Bill’s face and he is smiling; smiling as if he is determined to find the perfect way to move from his perch toward the far mountain and not suffer the perils presented by the fog (no clear path) and the sea (swirling eddies that engulfed many a less-experienced adventurer).

Yep, that’s Bill.

Bro, shortly it will be a new year. If I could ask you, I’m sure you would tell me with that welcoming smile that the fog is clearing, the sea is calming, and that far mountain is not nearly the challenge I think it is.

Go with God, Bill, and smile to be in His company.