Don’t Wait Till It’s Too Late

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Great springtime days are finally here.  Farewell to winter and hello warm weather.  Time to ride and shine from one truck wash to the next.  The salt and rocks have done plenty of damage again this year, and we are ready to do the annual repair to get all the chicken lights working again.  For those of you drivers who do venture out of the sunny south, it’s hard on every ride, every time.  Rocks, stones, and sand tear away the finish of your paint and eat up the wires, not to mention your shiny stuff.

Most of my articles are about truck stuff, but this time I would like to venture into a different direction.  This is more of a personal one for me.  Last year I wrote a bit about what would you do if you had to give up driving or your current job.  Little did I know, I was only a short time from having to make that very decision.  Due to a medical issue, I couldn’t fulfill my driving duties to the level I felt my customers deserved and required.  I never felt sick or hurt, I just couldn’t complete a full day’s work and was always tired.

It wasn’t until I was home for the funeral of a close family friend, one who leaves behind three young boys and a wife, all before the age of 35.  This young man did a lot of growing up at my house and influenced us as much as we did him.  He passed from pancreatic cancer.  Once the cancer was confirmed, he didn’t last long enough to even receive treatments.  What he did do was spend every minute possible with his family and, most importantly, his children.  When he called to tell me he was terminal, he said his only wish was that his children would remember him with fond memories.  I am sure they will, and we will keep his memory alive by telling them his story.

Two weeks later, I finally got an appointment to see a dentist for a tooth that had been bothering me.  I had been having trouble with it for a long time, but we all know how trucking goes – haul the freight and worry about the small stuff later.  No time to go to the doctor, as dispatch and the bank get priority, because we got bills to pay.  It doesn’t matter if it’s for your house or a fancy motorcycle you had to have, they still need to be paid, so off to work we go.

I went in for an abscessed tooth and the dentist sent me directly to an oral surgeon with no explanation and no confirmation.  They told me to report to another office for a second opinion, where I think I’m there to have a tooth cut out or some other procedure.  After the doctor looks in my mouth for just a few seconds, he calls in another person, and they start talking medical stuff (secret code for don’t want to scare the patient).  Then, he looks at me with a very serious look, and they start talking about cancer.  Whoa there, partner!  What you talkin’ bout, Willis?  Maybe we should call my wife in here to join us.

A few minutes later, with emotion showing on my face, they explain I have what looks like a fairly large tumor in my throat.  They can never be sure to the severity of one, but to take a sample or biopsy wasn’t possible in the office, due to the tumor’s location.  They sent me home and said they would contact an associate, a specialist at the university medical school, for a possible exam.  They told me it could be a couple weeks before we hear from them.  The very next morning, at 8:00 AM, the university team is on the phone.  At this point, we are getting concerned.  What prompted them to act so quickly?  In less than one week, I went from having a sore tooth to the “C” word.  That’s how fast your world can change.

All of this happened back in July of 2021.  I call it the summer of change.  Our whole world stopped.  This new normal was anything but normal.  As if the fear of covid wasn’t enough, we had to establish a new line of priorities.  Somehow, we had to cover all my truck responsibilities to the brokers I had committed to.  I continued to try to work as best I could while waiting for test results and doctor appointments, but it doesn’t take long for the bills to pile up.  When you are used to long-haul OTR freight (2,000-mile loads or more), it can really mess up your game plan.

Anytime you’re working with medical appointments and treatments, plans change from day to day, and sometimes hour to hour.  It really brings “roll with the punches” to a whole new level.  Some of us are somewhat prepared for a truck breakdown, but not at all prepared for a driver/family member breakdown.  And when the freight stops, so does the revenue.  I read somewhere that 1/3 of all bankruptcies are due to medical/cancer treatments.  I was forced to stop driving during my treatments because I was concerned about my lack of judgment due to the chemotherapy and my inability to eat normal foods (damage caused by radiation treatments).

I have had throat cancer and, as of now, they believe they have gotten all of it.  The medical staff decided because of my age and physical condition I was a good candidate for a very aggressive treatment plan.  After seven months of tests, treatments, and blood work, I’m now getting back to a semi normal life.  However, there are more tests to come, and they will go on for the rest of my life.  But thanks to the medical staff, I will have a “rest of my life” to live!

Now we get to the real meat and potatoes of why I’m writing this.  Most of us spend the largest portion of our life accumulating stuff.  We work too many hours and, drivers like me, we are gone from home too long, often weeks and even months at a time, just to earn a paycheck.  Why?  To buy a nice house, a fancy car or pickup, or maybe a boat or motorcycle, just so we can measure up.  But measure up to what?  Some unofficial standard set by people you don’t even know.  It’s not until you think you are going to lose it all that most people start to re-evaluate what is really important and/or beneficial to them.

Many folks have been through a divorce and said, “I don’t need all this, you can have half.”  Well, that doesn’t count, because they were going to get half anyway.  What I’m talking about is when you have to make that appointment with your lawyer to update or design your will.  That’s when you realize there may not be a next Christmas, and you wonder if every sunrise and sunset will be the last you see.  Talk about a come to Jesus moment.  Reality really sets in.

Everyone deals with it differently.  I’m a person who has a lot of stuff/junk, depending on your point of view.  I’ve spent a lifetime saving stuff in case I needed it later.  Waste not, want not, or so the saying goes – until you run out of storage space.  Who doesn’t have a spare Cat motor, a couple sleepers, and maybe two or three cabs out behind the barn?  What do you do when you have to come to terms with the fact you will not really need all this stuff because you may not be building these “so called” projects, because later isn’t coming?

Most of these parts have value to the right people, so why not give them away?  At least make it possible for them to be purchased at a reasonable price.  It clears space for things you can do, and if you have that much time to tinker, then spend your time making someone else’s life a little brighter.  Take up a charitable cause, call an old friend and take them to lunch, and renew your friendship.  Both of you will benefit.  Now, trust me on this one, the cost of lunch is much cheaper than a welding rod and a cutting torch.

Quality time can only be measured by the person doing it or taking it.  First, ask yourself, “What is quality time?”  I asked my smart and charming wife (Aunt Barb from the new Cafe West) for her interpretation.  She answered, “When you take time to do something because you want to, not because you have to.”  If you are wondering what the Cafe West is, let me explain.  I lost my older brother, Uncle Bob to all our truck friends, this summer to a terminal ailment.  This has not been our year at all, as too many friends and family have passed.  His last request was for me to take his custom motorcycle to my son, The Steve @ Pickett Customs in Arizona, and to help him finish it.  It is to be kept in the family for as long as someone wants it.

Normally, I would box it up and pack it in the nose of my trailer and send it with a load.  Not this time – we boxed it and took it to Arizona ourselves on a vacation of sorts.  While there, we took in the sights and enjoyed setting in the sun (defrost cycle for us northerners).  Barb and I have traveled just about every corner of this great country, but never without a timetable and dispatch calls twice a day.  Since I am on a very strict diet, she still cooked for me there at our son’s home – the new Aunt Barb’s Cafe West.  Our hope is to spend much of next winter there again and have more quality time with our son.

I don’t want to get morbid here, but when you get older or face medical issues, life and death become very real.  I asked my brother-in-law once about the afterlife, and what he envisioned it would be like.  Now, bear in mind, we were both quite young at the time and not religious scholars, but what he said made an impression on me.  His thoughts were that the only money you could spend was what you gave away in this life, and the only activities you could perform would be the charitable acts you did for others here in this world.  If this turns out to be true, I know where I stand – how about you?  There is a biblical quote about giving a man a fish and you can feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish, he won’t need to buy a motorcycle and his wife will never be able to find him.  Well, maybe that’s not a direct quote, but it sounds like a good plan all the same.

I will officially be “an old guy” in a couple months, the age where everyone thinks they will be retired and living on Easy Street.  I plan to be semi-retired, but still living on 379 Peterbilt Lane.  My vision is to keep driving for a few more years, maybe even into my rust years after the golden ones, until my accessory pieces start to fall off (first it’s your hair, then it’s your teeth, followed by your memory).  In my opinion, if you can’t remember the good times, what’s the point in looking back.  Life isn’t all about work.  Miles equals money, money buys stuff to impress others, but that’s a poor substitute for happiness and doesn’t comfort a lonely rich person!

Today is a brand-new day, and the first day of the rest of your life, so live it like you matter!  Make a memory, leave a positive impression on someone else, extend your hand to a friend you never met, and leave them as old friends for a lifetime.  Any time a person improves the life of another, their life will be elevated, as well.  I have said in the past, “In the game of life, it’s what you do with your life that matters, not what you have.”  So don’t wait till it’s too late!

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