From the Publisher: Thank You All

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Arnold G. York

Karen and I are deeply grateful for your cards, emails, calls and prayers. It truly helps to have friends, colleagues and community at moments like this.

As many of you may already know, Karen and I lost our 45-year-old son, Clay, after his two-year battle with lung cancer. He left behind his wonderful wife, our daughter Kitty, and his two-year-old daughter Ahnika. Kitty was delivering Ahnika and Clay was diagnosed in the same hospital almost at the same time. Within the space of a couple of days, life gave us something wonderful (our granddaughter) and took away someone equally wonderful (our son, who at 43, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, which had already spread to his spine and other bones).

During the course of the last two years, through chemotherapy and then some new, recently developed genetic medications that arrested the spread of the disease for a while, we all went through an almost unbearable period; first, when we believed he was actually going to make it and began to hope … only to see our hopes dashed as the disease returned and spread. Cancer is almost like a living intelligence. It’s sly and opportunistic; it hides or pretends to be something else. It disguises itself and you get reports from tests that say “no evidence of disease” and then, suddenly, it’s back. Hopefully, in our lifetime, we will see new medications and new diagnostic tests so we can catch it early, before it spreads.

One of the things that happens when you see death approaching is you really begin to experience the value of life, family, children and love. You also begin to see your child, not just through your own eyes, but through the eyes of his wife and daughter and their many, many friends, here in Malibu where they lived for many years and in Prescott, Ariz. where they settled seven years ago. I thought I knew my son, but I came to realize that I only knew part of him -— the little boy, the kid in school, the young kid growing up, the teenager trying to figure who he was and where he belonged.

What I didn’t see was the totally generous friend, open and ready to help anyone who needed it, even if they didn’t ask. A man who had an enormous number of friends — Asians, Hispanics, Anglos, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, car guys, gun guys, survivalists, explorers, cops and crooks, and artists — all of whom he had helped, befriended and whose work he collected. When it became clear that he was going, that his body was losing the battle, friends came from all over the globe. L.A. friends drove seven hours to Prescott to be with him and stayed for days. Others flew in from Asia and from all over the world.  

When it all began, Clay knew very little about cancer or anatomy or physiology. After two years, he had become a very knowledgeable patient. He knew the terms and what they meant and what they portended. He knew his body and knew when something was failing before it showed in blood work or scans. He also became a very sophisticated patient and understood the limitations of the practice of medicine. When death gets close, doctors have a great deal of difficulty saying you’re at the end. Death is a failure. They failed to keep you alive, and they struggle with it. It was Clay who decided that it was time and that further efforts were futile. They would just put him and his family through false hopes and additional pain. He was correct, of course, and shortly after going into hospice, he passed.

One night, I was sitting at his bedside. It was late and the ward was quiet. Clay asked me, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this? I never smoked. I barely drink. I live a mile up in a healthy place, yet I’ve only lived half a life. I want to be with my wife and see my daughter grow up, graduate school. Why me?”

I had no answer.