A story of friendship, brotherhood, and courage in the face of the unthinkable.
It was early spring of 2015, a day like any other. Immersed in my daily routine of work, home, and family, I got thrown off by a Facebook message from my longtime friend Nino. He lived in the south of France, in the beautiful city of Montpellier, with his son and wife. Nino and I attended college together in Morocco in the late 1990s to early 2000s. In one sentence, I would describe him as the only one out of our group of friends who truly embodied the meaning of living life to the fullest.
During the four years we spent together living in the dorms, I never saw him get upset. He always had a smile on his face. In our first year of an engineering program designed to weed out a certain percentage of the oncoming freshmen, we were constantly under the pressure of keep our grades up. It was very common for us to spend sleepless nights studying for upcoming exams. And while most of us were lit up under the effect of cheap coffee disguised by a ton of sugar, he would show up in the dorm all relaxed, smiling as if he already had a guaranteed spot in second year engineering program.
He would start telling stories and broke our focus. Out of politeness, we would force a smile but behind the smile was a strong desire for him to get out our bedroom and leave us in peace. He was different. He was the friend that was annoying but whose company I somehow always enjoyed.
Living life as if he knew his days were numbered
He was my first real example of what it means to live life to the fullest. I didn’t have a concept of it, but I witnessed him purchase a bicycle in our early years of college (this is big deal in the context of an undeveloped country) so he could explore the city of Rabat in Morocco where we were all students. At the same time, the rest of us were primarily concerned about our grades.
In our third and fourth year of engineering program, I was ultra-focused on obtaining my admission into a U.S. university. If my memory doesn’t fail me, I recall having submitted applications to more than 100 colleges and universities. As I needed a Post Office Box to receive all the documents that were being mailed to me from the USA, he was the only one I knew who had a mailbox I could use. He showed up in my dorm room several times a week to drop my packages off, always with a smile on his face. Our paths separated after I moved to the United States and he relocated to France in the early 2000s.
We reconnected about 10 years later though the magic of Facebook. In the midst of our frequent interactions, he confided to me he was diagnosed with lung cancer and was undergoing treatment.
To say that I was dumbfounded and shocked would be an understatement. How can someone who never smoked not only get lung cancer but get it at the peak of his youth in his early 30s? Nino sounded resolute and ready to fight for his health. He called it “little cancer” and assured me he will get through it.
The clock is now ticking
Two years later, he reached out because he wanted to check the USA off his bucket list and needed me to help him organize the trip and host him. At first, I was reluctant because it required a significant financial and time commitment from me. A year went by and he brought up the subject again, but this time I felt a sense of urgency in his voice. He let me know he may not have a lot of time left. He was still undergoing chemo and radiation treatment, but never in the whole process did he seek pity for his disease.
This time around, despite the fact I was starting a new position and relocating to a new state, I took it upon myself to do my best to help fulfill his wish. I asked him to pick a few cities that are at the top of his must-see list within the US. He chose Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York. I lived in the Midwest, closer to Las Vegas, and therefore I agreed to take care of the travel and lodging in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. I spent countless hours searching for airline tickets, lodging, transportation, and sightseeing activities. If this was the only time he could visit America, then I wanted to make sure he created memories of a lifetime. We only had a weekend to spend together, and we were going to make to best out of it. Due to financial constraints, he could not travel with his family.
Arrival in Los Angeles
As the day arrived, I was excited to see him because it had been 15 years. I flew to Las Vegas on Friday night after work, picked up a rental car, and drove to Los Angeles where I spent the night. He flew from New York to Los Angeles the next morning. When I saw him walking out of the lobby at Los Angeles Airport, I couldn’t help but come to the realization of how devastating the chemo and radiation treatment have been to this vibrant body.
Seeing my 35-year-old friend that I knew as healthy and strong now reduced to a shell of his former self and needing a cane to walk was a shock to me. At no point during the previous four years we were communicating did he mention the state of his health. He was always upbeat over the phone, vowing to defeat his disease.
Despite his health challenge, he was smiling, laughing, and raving about the quality of Virgin airlines. We hugged each other, spoke for a minute on the curbside, and I loaded his luggage into the trunk of the rental car. We only had a day and a half to visit Los Angeles and Las Vegas so we had to be strategic. Being a big fan American movies, he wanted to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I drove toward Hollywood, as we reminisced about our college years in Morocco, and our cohort of friends that we bonded with. When we arrived at the Walk of Fame, it was raining, but he was not going be turned away. We walked the whole 1.3 miles, albeit very slowly because of his physical limitations. He was radiating joy. We then embarked on the four hour road trip to Las Vegas. And boy, it was a trip that I will not forget soon. I witnessed the face of resilience and courage.
Surviving on painkillers
Whenever the pain from cancer became unbearable, he would pop out his bottles of painkillers, swallow his pills, and chase them down with a sip of juice. Soon after he would fall asleep, because that was ‘what the medicine did to him.” This was a repeating theme during our drive from Los Angles to Las Vegas. We discussed the disease and possible alternative treatments. He was very reluctant to entertain any alternative treatment because after all, chemo and radiation were “gold standard based on science.” He was very left-brain, logical, and scientific.
His first and last adventure in Las Vegas
When we arrived in Las Vegas in the late afternoon, he couldn’t contain his excitement. After all, he finally set foot in the city that was showcased in so many American movies he had seen, the Mecca for shows, gambling, and flamboyantly lit hotel casinos. Las Vegas was his to experience. All he wanted to do is walk the strip. Therefore, that is what we did in addition to the Fremont Street experience.
Every time we took a picture, he made sure his cane was nowhere to be seen in the picture. Why? I don’t know. I didn’t ask him. More exactly, I didn’t have the courage to ask him. He would lean on me as support. It was clear to me he didn’t want to reflect the image of the disease-weakened person he had become. We walked the strip back and forth from early evening until 5 am the next morning. He seemed to have been infused with some sort of energy boost that night. He was not fazed by the distance despite his physical limitations. He even managed to climb some of the statues along the strip to immortalize the moment and snap pictures.
By the time checked in to the hotel at 6 am, his pain level was at its peak. He was not talking much. He paused for a moment, as if reflecting on his life and the experience we just had. He then reached for his bottle of medicine in his suitcase and grabbed a few pills. He lifted his chin, opened his mouth, dropped the pills, and chased them with a sip of juice. We hugged each other and went to sleep for a few hours before checking out of the hotel to go catch our respective flights.
The last goodbye
I flew back home while he travelled to New York for a few days before heading back to France. We made plans for him to come back the following year with his family and spend a whole week with me. In the meantime, I was doing my best to convince him to at least try alternative cancer treatments. I dove into the research around off-mainstream treatment modalities. We stayed in touch over the following few months and I started to plan his next trip to the USA to undergo an alternate treatment.
The final moments
I had a strong belief that he would get through it. Eight months after our trip to Las Vegas, I received a frantic call from one of our common friends asking me what had happened to Nino. I was at work. I had not heard anything. I had exchanged some text messages with him the night before about the other treatment options I was considering for him. So, I was dumbfounded to learn that he had passed away that same night we exchanged texts. He must have been in his hospital bed while he was texting me. There was no way I could have known I was talking to him for the last time.
That day was very difficult to me as one can expect. But the sadness was quickly replaced by a sense of deep gratitude for having been able to help make his dream of visiting the USA come true. Up to this day, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to make that happens. All the expenses I incurred and the time away from my family felt so worth the sacrifice. I often wonder what I would be feeling if I had allowed the apparent obstacles to prevent me from helping him check off his bucket list. The answer is clear. Absolute regret for the rest of my life.
What I learned from that experience is the fundamental truth about being human: Care about and love one another.
Despite our individuality, we all belong to and are connected within the universal field of consciousness. Relationships are what make us who we are.
Here’s the fundamental truth about being human: Care about and love one another. Relationships are what make us who we are. @komsterInc (Click to Tweet!)
At any point along our existential path, each one of us is in relationship with someone else, something, or ourselves.
No matter the outcome of the relationship, there is something to be gained. How would one know what is there to be gained? What good is here that I can take with me onto my next journey?
If one remains patient, stays with the question, and listens to the inner voice, the answer never fails to be given.
Komi Agbodzie, CRNA, Mindset & Body Coach, was born and raised in Togo (West Africa), earned a Bachelor degree in agricultural engineering in Morocco before moving to the United States. His focus then shifted to the health and he went on to earn another Bachelor in Nursing followed by a Masters Degree in Anesthesia. He is currently in clinical practice in Oklahoma. Komi is passionate about mindset, health and resilience. In his spare time he helps people in high stress careers craft a body and mind that remain resilient and healthy.
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