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My friend Cees passed away

Cees is a strapping fellow, people used to say. When we were in military service in the early 60s, his immense strength became apparent. With great ease he could lift heavy components of jeeps, one-tonne trucks and tents. And many years later, when we enjoyed our yearly autumn vacations at the island of Terschelling, his strength amazed us every time. Cees carried heavy suitcases in and out of our car, he dragged the bikes from the shed and put them away again at night. I offered to help, but he always said: “Leave it Jacques. I prefer to do it by myself; that way I know where everything is and it will leave us more space for other stuff to put in the shed.” This year things were different. 

During our first cycling tour through the local hilly scenery, all three of us could see it. In all these years when we were on the island together, it had always been Cees who led the way. His wife used to kindly scold him, saying: “Cees, can you please slow down a bit. It’s not much fun when you are so far ahead of us all the time.” It was no use, Cees just couldn’t go any slower, he was simply too energetic. Occasionally, he did linger a bit when one of us kept him occupied in conversation. Still, when you’re cycling it’s not like you want to talk all the time. That’s what we would do in the evenings when we got home, after a nap. Then we had a drink, some cheese and perhaps peanuts. All prepared and served by Cees. He cut the cheese into these small cubes and not once did I catch him sneaking a bite while doing that. 

Then suddenly, one day, melanoma were found in his body. Melanoma, skin cancer, black moles…. groupings of pigment cells which develop into cancer cells. Cees was fair-skinned and although I think he had been careful during his life, his skin had in fact been exposed to the sun. He never experienced any serious consequences though. Not until that moment that his skin did show signs of damage. And there’s no turning back after that. The process can’t be stopped. Some melanoma are slow-growing, some are fast-growing. My friend’s health did not slowly deteriorate, no, the disease struck him in an instant. Weeks after his first appointment at the medical practice, important organs like his liver and lungs were affected. And that usually implies that even the smartest doctors won’t be able to find a solution. They too give up and send the patient home, telling him his condition is ‘untreatable’. A devastating verdict, which no-one ever wants to hear..

They were very lucky with their family doctor though. He often visited them at their house and gave them the moral support they needed. Cees could talk with him about anything. And that meant a lot to Cees, and to his wife Thea as well. As a result he was very well informed which enabled him to make his own decisions regarding every aspect of his disease. This gave him confidence and it made him resilient until the very end.

It’s no surprise that this rapid process my friend Cees went through made me think about my own situation as an Alzheimer’s patient. Even though it’s never wise to compare, because what’s the point, I do it anyway for some obscure reason. A slowly or a rapidly progressing disease: what is more bearable? Well, that obviously depends on the severity of the process, the pain involved and possible side effects. With Alzheimer’s, death might be in a distant future. Especially when you don’t contract other illnesses propelling you to your grave. Many Alzheimer patients don’t die of Alzheimer’s, they succumb to another disease, for instance to a pulmonary affection of some sort.  I won’t  be making a list of all pros and cons now. But in my mind there’s no doubt that if Cees had been me, a man suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s, he definitely would have wanted to live a little bit longer…    

Jacques Boersma.