Mark was a handsome, deeply thoughtful, well spoken, gracious, generous, loving and all-around-incredible man.
Up until May, 2001, Mark had never called in sick to work a day in his life; he was the “picture of health”. However in May, 2001, Mark experienced a seizure that left him disoriented and bleeding with a dislocated shoulder. During Mark’s assessment at the hospital he was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme, the most common and most malignant form of all brain tumors; he was 33 years old. The average life expectancy with this type of cancer is 16 months; the doctors gave Mark 1 to 2 years. Mark’s tumor wasn’t just the most aggressive, but it was also located in the worst part of his brain, leaving it inoperable. Mark endured a battery of treatments including multiple rounds of radiation, chemotherapy and steroids. In addition, Mark allowed himself to be a guinea pig to new treatments and research presented by his team of doctors at the UW Madison Cancer Center. The first few years were very rough; there were many stints in and out of the hospital. But in the end Mark beat the odds; he waged his own battle against the cancer and survived for ten and a half years after diagnosis. Mark inspired countless friends and family doing this and his life has left an impact on all who were blessed to know him. Mark chronicled his story with humor and grace through daily writings. At some point before Mark passed away on December 7, 2011, he wrote the following note summing up his thoughts on this ordeal.
Missive by Mark LaFond
I’m not exactly sure what I hope to accomplish with this missive, other than to express some final thoughts to family and friends. It is not my intention to make anyone uncomfortable, but rather, to leave the best memory that I can.
My life has been a series of big ups and downs since May 28, 2001. I have been shown the ugliness of cancer and the beauty of grace. People have provided me with countless examples of the beauty of the human spirit, simply by their encouragement and support. I have gained a hundred pounds and lost my hair. I have rediscovered friends that I had lost. In short, I have been given the opportunity to live.
I’ve said it several hundred times since this part of my life began, but in many ways, I feel as though I’ve been blessed. It sounds crazy, I know, and I would have preferred that things would have gone differently. But the fact is, as I’ve learned, every life occurrence is an opportunity – an opportunity to learn and grow. You just have to recognize them as they come your way.
Perhaps the biggest blessing came through the time that I have to ponder life in general, and mine in particular. I have spent many hours reflecting on the things that I have done, the people that I have known, and the places that I have been. The overwhelming conclusion that I have come to is this: I don’t understand life any more now than I did when this started. I wish that I had some deep, spiritual dénouement, but I’m no further ahead than anyone else.
There are a few things that I do know for certain. First, if this had to happen, I’m glad that it was me and not someone else close to me. The physical aspect of this disease is obvious, but the mental and emotional parts have actually been the most challenging for me. I have learned what it means to be humbled, to have pride redefined. There have been times when I couldn’t zip my own pants, walk up the stairs or mow the lawn. Each of those episodes provided me the opportunity to understand that I am but a tiny part of a larger puzzle.
Second, I do think that this has all happened for a reason. I know that I have grown and become a much more rounded human being as a result of this. I know that I have gotten to know my wife and children to an extent that most men never will. I know that my eyes have truly been open since this began, and that is a blessing that is beyond value.
Last, I believe that this experience and my sharing of it with you, my family and friends has provided all of us the opportunity to reevaluate what is truly important. I never got to play center field for the Brewers, never got to play rock and roll to a sold out crowd, never got to be president. BUT, I was allowed to share years with the most beautiful woman I have ever known and have two wonderful children. I was blessed with a mother, father and sister that got me this far, frequently in spite of myself. I had the incredible fortune of having grandparents that were true role models. In-laws, cousins, friends, and everyone else that have left their mark on me have all been gifts from God. If only one person remembers the value of perspective as a result of all of this, then it will not have been in vain.
In closing, please remember this: God never gives you anything more than you’re able to handle, even when it looks like He has. There are more people and more love out there than any of us realize, you just have to know where to look for them.
“Don’t you know it’s never too late? Lord, we’ve got to keep the faith.”