Thursday, December 4, 2008

My definition of a hero

Those of you faithful readers of my blog know about Zach DeRidder.
One year ago I met Zach and his best friend Michael in a hospital waiting area "by the candy machines" as Zach likes to say...and well, my life has never been the same since.

Zach's struggle with liver cancer since diagnosis in January 2006 has been three years of uncertainty. His survival is a testament to his absolute determination to never give up.
Unforunately, Zach's journey has taken yet another frightening turn. Very late this past Sunday night Zach was rushed to the hospital with a very low body temperature and blood pressure. He was admitted to ICU at once. Just hours later I received the call from his mom and that night I went to the hospital to see him. Michael and his wife Alice sped two hours from their home in Corning to come be with Zach.

I walked cautiously and nervously into the room. I was really afraid of what I might see.
Zach, a devout Mormon who truly is led by his faith, was surrounded bedside by members of his church. Zach was ready with a bright smile and he gave me a joyous greeting immediately flooding me with relief. With this guy's air of positvity it's absolutely impossible to feel doom and gloom.

Zach's pastor blessed him before he was wheeled off for a procedure. While we waited for Zach to get out of surgery Michael, Alice and I shared dinner in the hospital cafeteria and reminisced about all that had happened since Zach, Michael and I were first introduced that October afternoon last year by the candy machines. We were in awe of how good it was and how reassuring it felt to see Zach smiling and his bubbly self in spite of all that he is enduring.

I wanted to share with you what I have learned from my courageous friend... the young man that by all accounts before his illness was an athlete, a hard worker and a generous and unfailingly giving human being. Except for his health, none of that has changed.

When he got out of surgery I watched Zach ask his doctor matter of factly and simply "what do I have to do to get home for Christmas?" He reminded him several times that his sister was performing in the Nutcracker this weekend...and he wanted to see her dance. There were no promises of his release and Zach nodded with reluctant acknowledgement. This is serious. Serious enough to come between Zach and his plans.

The picture above shows Zach proudly holding a signed copy of Keep Climbing, a book that was overnighted to me by Sean Swarner, who Zach befriended when Sean was here in October. Zach has this book and Lance Armstrong's book "It's not About the Bike" by his bedside. These books and Scripture are his textbooks, which he highlights and pours over like textbooks. He is treating this like any challenge he's faced before, soaking up inspiration and learning all he can about how to give it everything he's got.

Zach's method is really quite inspiring. He is very conciously lining up those heroes in his life, those who have done it before, beat the odds and shared with others. This is what Zach hopes he can do as well. But he has already touched so many. He is only accutely aware of the impact he has had on people around the country and around the world. When his story was broadcast over the internet for all to see and he won the LiveSTRONG contest...he had not even seen the video. You can not get more humble or pure than that. His friends Tim and Michael had rushed to create not one, but two videos, one of which garnered him entrance as a finalist to the contest.

Since winning that contest and that signed bike from Lance so many hearts have been lifted by the Z-Man. I think when we look at what we have facing us, the frustrations or the challenges in our own lives, we have to just for a moment think of Zach. It's hard to argue our excuses for bad attitudes when we take on his example. Through the hardships and obstacles he looks at life like a great party. Even the hospital is a joyous and happy place because Zach is in Room 6. You see it in the smiles of all who enter his room. This guy doesn't back down and he doesn't give in. Attitude is everything...and he has it. No matter what the future holds for him he's told me himself that he is going to enjoy what he has.

I keep thinking of that moment more than a month ago when I realized fully how this guy really lives. He was not supposed to actively participate in indoor rock climbing with us. Can you imagine that being in the doctor's orders for someone in his condition? He'd made me think he'd hang below with me ( because I'm really chicken about heights) while rooting others on. That gave me my excuse to cherish the role of cheerleader...hold someone's clipboard and watch from the safety of the floor below.

I have to forgive Zach now for his dishonesty...but I think he knew all along he couldn't resist. Before I knew it he was signing the consent form and was my absolute panic. Perhaps somewhere deep inside he was thinking he had to grab this chance. I urged him not to and expressed my fears for his well-being. In his condition the concern was more than justified it was absolutely warranted.
But he turned to me and looked me straight in the eye and said "Leah, you've gotta live like you're dying". It scared the crap out of me...I wanted to stop his crazy talk...and turn around but he did it. He climbed to the very top of the wall and came down skillfully. He proved me so very wrong and brought everyone there in Rock Ventures who witnessed it to tears. And yes, my excuse was gone...I climbed too.

He scaled to the top...and he didn't look back at the decision with any regret. He was triumphant in utter exhaustion. He smiled as wide as I'd ever seen. Really this was just another day in the life of Zach DeRidder. But a day in my life that I will never, ever forget.

Is it possible that an amazing attitude toward life like this can help us face anything?
If you're betting against haven't met Zach.

1 comment:

Ben said...

My name is Ben Metzker and I am the Director of CancerClimber and Sean Swarner's business manager. I got a google alert for this blog and just wanted to tell Zach that he is our hero. We will continue to keep him in our thoughts. Please tell Zach that we are amazed by his strength and determination. He is the reason we do what we do. And as always, to "Keep Climbing".