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Other views: A golden oldie came on and we started to dance

This one will be the most difficult epistle of my life. I'm not certain why I'm writing it -- probably just for myself, although I believe shared experiences can be a form of teaching. We were into our third week of motoring in the south, having ...

This one will be the most difficult epistle of my life.

I'm not certain why I'm writing it -- probably just for myself, although I believe shared experiences can be a form of teaching.

We were into our third week of motoring in the south, having a great time. Elaine was having a little problem breathing when she tried to walk or exert herself. Probably just a cold coming on, we thought.

We were looking forward to arrival at Phoenix where we intended to join Chuck and Bonnie Orvik, then motor to Indio, Calif., to see Don and Ardie Gackle. At one time we three, together with Joe Linnertz of Bismarck, were partners in an advertising shopper. While trying to figure out how not to lose money, we had great times together, building lasting friendships.

When we arrived at Orvik's winter home about noon on Monday of last week, there was a note on the door telling us to walk in; they had just rushed Chuck to the Mayo Hospital emergency room with severe back spasms.

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This may be a good opportunity, we thought, to see if some doctor would take a look at Elaine, just in case she had a blocked artery or something. What a hoot, we thought, to meet our friends at a hospital emergency room, both seeking treatment, when we had intended to meet at a golf course or a nice restaurant.

Monday's chest X-ray revealed fluid in the right lung. They drained more than a half gallon of it Tuesday morning and told us tests on the fluid revealed some cancer cells of unknown origin. Wednesday's news got worse. They still didn't know where it was, but they knew it was a stage four -- incurable, although treatable.

Life's changes often happen swiftly. Never in our dreams could we have guessed there was something bad inside her that could not be removed.

Few families have escaped the scourge of cancer. For our family, I can share with you the discovery of quite a few things I've learned this last week.

Number one, I haven't done enough homework in my faith. Although born, baptized and confirmed a Christian, one who professes his faith every Sunday, right now I'm not ready for the final exam. That's going to take some work.

Number two, no matter what the tests reveal, we are girding ourselves for a fight that can be won, even if odds are long, so that in the least we can say as Paul said to Timothy, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."

Number three, for a couple such as we, the thought of death is not nearly as frightening as the thought of separation. That's why I talk about "our" affliction, not hers.

A moment ago we were picking up the lunch dishes in Orvik's kitchen. The radio, playing golden oldies, broke out with, "When I fall in love, it will be forever ..." Impulsively we reached for one another and started to dance. That's the kind of silly couple we are.

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Number four, we mortals never seem to be able to escape guilt. Much as we treasure the long arms of family, there is a feeling of guilt, knowing that something that has happened to us is responsible for a burden they must also bear.

Number five, thanks for your concern and your prayers, but spare any pity. That's one thing we seem to be able to produce pretty well for ourselves.

Besides, we've had 52 years of marriage and a family that provides strength and inspiration every day of our lives.

Number six, they say a good cry is good for us, something that we shouldn't stifle or for which we shouldn't apologize. Frankly, I think it's a pain in the ass. I'm already tired of dealing with that awful lump in my throat every time I try to talk to someone.

We've made it as far as Fargo, where we begin with a surgical procedure to seal that right lung, keeping it from refilling with fluid. Then the chemicals start going in and the hair starts coming out, all the while as the prayers keep going up.

Andrist, Crosby, N.D., is retired publisher of The Journal weekly newspaper in Crosby, N.D. He is former president of the North Dakota Newspaper Association and the National Newspaper Association. He still writes his weekly column for The Journal. This one was published last week.

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