A Look Back on 2015

I have a friend. Let’s call him Mr. K. for convenience.

buddhist figure, Kyoto
Life lessons from 2015 (License image)

Mr. K is older than I am, by about 20 years. We first met in early 2002, which means we’ve known each other for almost 15 years. During that time, we’ve worked together on one project, but mostly, we meet up for drinks and chat about life.

He is a man I respect, a role model. He has achieved much, doesn’t mince his words, and doesn’t mind making enemies of the right people.

I met up with Mr. K in May, after I got home from three months of travel. He had lost weight. A lot of weight. Enough to make me stop dead in my tracks when I saw him.

He had apparently contracted pneumonia several weeks earlier, and being a stubborn old goat, had refused to see a doctor until the infection was so advanced that he found it difficult to catch his breath while walking. His wife made him go to the doctor.

He was on a course of antibiotics when we met up, so we skipped the usual beers during dinner. We just caught up, shared some laughs, and schemed about future adventures.

A few days later, I set off for Iceland and Norway, and Mr. K. was diagnosed with cancer.

It would be another five weeks before I returned to Japan. During that time, many things happened to Mr. K.

His doctor told him that it would be necessary to remove most of his gastrointestinal system, and that he would be bedridden and fed through a tube for the rest of his days.

For an active, energetic man with boundless enthusiasm and curiosity like Mr. K., that was tantamount to a death sentence.

I learned of all this through email. Even via that remote, impersonal means of communication, I could sense an absence of will to carry on.

By virtue of his natural charisma and position in life during his career, Mr. K. has many friends. That worked in his favour. One of those friends insisted he get a second opinion. He got Mr. K. in to see an oncologist who specialises in cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.

That doctor gave him an entirely different prognosis than the first. Radiation + chemo, followed by surgery, with possible additional radiation and/ or chemo after surgery = high probability of tumors being eradicated.

All this I heard when I went to see him the moment I got back from the Arctic in July.

We talked. We tried to laugh. We paused. We didn’t cry, though I suspect we probably should have.

As we parted ways that evening, the only thing I could do was to wish him luck with the upcoming treatments, and ask him to keep me informed. I was off to Singapore, South Africa and Tonga. I wouldn’t be back for nearly three months.

What I felt was the very definition of impotence.

Fast-forward to now, year-end 2015. I just saw Mr. K. a few days ago.

We shared a toast with a cool, crisp beer, his first since his original diagnosis. Then we popped open a bottle of red wine and split it.

Not to worry. His doctor OK-ed the drinks. After radiation, chemo, surgery, radiation and chemo, Mr. K. was cancer-free.

He looked strong, vigour in his movements. His eyes and mind were clear. His lust for life restored. We were celebrating. Rejoicing. Marvelling. And revelling too.

I’m sharing this story, because I was sitting at my computer getting ready to write about what a fantastic year I’ve had. You know, one of those “highlights of the year” posts that many people compose during this season.

It has, indeed, been a year chock-full of adventure, memorable experiences and great photographs. I had a long, long list of notes ready, with topics and images to cover in my final blog post for the year.

Then it hit me like a tidal wave.

The most important thing about 2015 wasn’t any photo, article, trip, or anything I saw or experienced.

It was this. That my friend, a man I respect and cherish, is back on his feet and is already out and about, pursuing projects, living and enjoying every single day as if it is his last.

Even through his personal ordeal, Mr. K. taught me many valuable lessons. Some are obvious, others I may come to understand with time.

Thank you 2015, for Mr. K.