The first thing anyone will tell you about me is this: “That Jack – he’s a lot of fun. Always ready with a joke. Always laughing.” And I guess it’s true. I’ve always felt that given a choice between complaining and laughing, humor wins every time. So, you’ve got to understand that after my surgery, I was prepared to use humor to my advantage. But there I was, day five, back in the peace and comfort of my own home… and stuck in the bathtub. Too weak to lift myself out, and too embarrassed to call my wife for help. Suddenly, my cancer wasn’t so funny anymore. I’d expected to feel sick. I could tolerate the hair loss and the weight loss, but the loss of dignity? That was hard to handle. Even worse was the look on my Mary’s face. She tried to cover up, but after fifty years of marriage, her face is pretty easy to read: she was worried, scared and bone-tired. How would we manage if things got worse? Like I said: not so funny.

Thank goodness our neighbor recommended Home Health. We called our doctor and within an hour, the nurse came right to our door. That was the first good thing. She set us up with a plan that included regular nursing care, some physical therapy to strengthen my muscles, and home health aides to help with what she called “ADLs” or, “activities of daily living.” (For you rookies, that means help with things like getting in and out of the bath, shaving, and keeping bed linens fresh.) That was the second good thing. But the third, best thing? They sent Sandy.

How to describe the most unlikely angel I’ve ever met? Tall, big-boned, raspy outdoor voice, and the kind of well-worn hands that told me she had that strong, U.P. work ethic. To be honest, I was a little intimidated at first, but I’ll tell you, Sandy’s encouraging attitude erased any embarrassment I might have felt as she helped me with my bath. On that very first day, her true kindness shone through. But the day I actually knew she was my angel? That was the day she walked in and said, “So Jack… did you hear the one about Eino and Toivo? See, they’re out on a sheet of ice, fishing poles ready and they hear this loud voice…”

From that day on, every visit started with a little friendly competition, each of us trying to out-joke the other. I hardly noticed she was actually doing her job! It might seem like small stuff to you, but to me Sandy’s humor pointed out an important discovery: When I first got diagnosed with cancer, people changed. I’d be my usual joking self, but they’d have a kind of funny half-grin and sometimes, a quick excuse to wrap the visit up. It was like somehow I wasn’t Jack anymore. Instead, I was “Jack-who-has-cancer-poor guy.” But Sandy, and all the others we met, never forgot that underneath the illness there’s a real person, with a real life that’s still being lived, despite its new limitations. And that’s the fourth good thing: Underneath the cancer, there’s still Jack.

Now, let me tell you the one about the moose, the porcupine, and the Yooper….”