Into The Valley Of Death
February 8th, 2017

Five days before Christmas, the result of a routine blood test, I was diagnosed with leukemia. The only bright side was the realization that I might not live to see the inauguration of Donald J. Trump. But then almost immediately my outlook slipped from sunny to dark. Why me? How could I have contracted cancer?

One possibility: I came of age at the dawn of the nuclear age, when atom bomb tests were an almost weekly occurrence. Whenever the prevailing winds were blowing in the direction of Utah, mushroom clouds would blossom in Southern Nevada. Hours later, stems and pieces of said mushroom clouds would rain down upon our house, which—mercifully—wore several coats of protective leaded paint. So, no, I was most likely not irradiated.

Another possibility: I might be related to a Ashkenazi Jew, among whom leukemia is an inherited affliction. Fact is, I AM related to one—albeit by marriage—which my doctor assures me isn’t something that would alter my genetic structure.

Additional tests were scheduled for January 10 at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. I spent the intervening two weeks perusing the obituary pages and was shocked to learn that half the people who die around here don’t even live as long as my Volkswagen bus. This is tragic, albeit a tragedy mitigated by the conviction that the deceased has gone on to a better place. In Utah, that means Mormon Heaven. Thus, the obituary takes notice of missions served, church offices held and ecclesiastical callings answered. Often, the obit includes a picture of the Salt Lake LDS Temple, it’s granite spires pointed heavenward. Almost always, the deceased is a graduate of Brigham Young University.

Having spent three long, miserable years at BYU, I have no desire whatsoever to go to Mormon Heaven. Been there, done that. No, thanks! I’d much rather spend eternity doing something fun—like, say, fishing. In this I am not alone. According to what I’ve read in the newspaper, many of our dear departed have indeed “gone fishin’.” Accompanying the obit is a photo of a grinning angler holding up an enormous trout. Yes! That’s what I want!

Alas, I’ve yet to catch a big fish. All too often, I catch nothing. Perhaps my obituary should read: “got skunk’d.”

Then came the day of my appointment at the cancer clinic. I was surprised to see so many patients in the waiting rooms. From the magazine rack I fished out a well-worn copy of Field & Stream and took a seat. Then I heard my name called and my heart sank. I would so much prefer to be fishing!

An hour later I bounded out of the clinic with a spring in my step. Turns out what I have is Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, or CLL—“the best kind of leukemia,” in the words of my oncologist. “Looks like you’ve had it for years. Very slow growing. Most likely you’ll die with it, not from it.”

Which is not to say I’m more deserving than the next guy. I was just lucky this time around. Lucky in life, if not at the lake.

little fish richard copy
-Richard Menzies