November 13, 1973 — September 10, 2006
There are deaths that are more tragic, and other diseases that cause pain and suffering to so many people. But what matters to me right now as I write this is that I just lost my little brother to melanoma.
Sam was diagnosed with melanoma in late July 2006. We found out later that his friends had started noticing the black spots on his scalp two years earlier, and they had encouraged him several times to see a doctor. No one in his family knew about it until after he decided to see a doctor. Since he stood 6 feet 8 inches tall, few people ever saw the top of this head. If we had known about it earlier, we would have forcibly dragged him to the doctor if we had to. He had a terrible lesion on top of this head – we’ll never know why he waited for it to get that bad.
A series of doctor’s visits produced the news that he had melanoma that had spread to his lymph nodes, liver, and probably other organs. Sam started to feel sick, most likely not because of the cancer, but because of his mental state after getting the diagnosis. His doctors scheduled a very aggressive chemotherapy treatment. He almost completed his first round of chemotherapy before his health deteriorated to the point he couldn’t continue it. He ended up in the hospital because of a rare complication from his treatment. His condition worsened as his body struggled to recover from the chemotherapy. Finally we realized there was no hope of recovery, and we removed him from life support. Sam died six weeks after his diagnosis. He was 32 years old.
The hardest part of writing his obituary was listing his grandfather as a survivor, along with so many other family members he left behind. We barely had time to learn how to pronounce melanoma before the fight was lost.
The family learned about how many lives Sam had touched in the final week of his struggle. Besides close and extended family, we saw a large contingent of friends and coworkers visit the hospital. Each of them had a story to tell about how Sam had affected them, and why they were motivated to be there. The hospital chaplain said we had assembled the largest group he had ever seen in the waiting room at the hospital.
Sam was a gentle giant, and a friend of everyone he met. I am joined by a host of others in mourning his loss.