Last of a three-part series
Editor’s note: Aimee Prasek, a graduate student at the College of St. Catherine, served as an Edge Life intern during fall 2007.
Klink Weisen: I love to walk on the beach. I don’t need to go to a resort and be pampered. Just give me a fishing pole or a kite – the simple things. Life is happening to you every second of every day. Don’t wait ’til tomorrow to do what you want. Do it right now. Tomorrow is promised to nobody and tomorrow never comes.
By this point in our conversation, Klink Weisen and I had touched on just about every topic imaginable and how it relates to his cancer.
KW: I was first diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2002. They put me on a chemo treatment called CHOP and I had a complete response after nine weeks. The cancer was completely gone. And it stayed gone for four years.
We talked about his second diagnosis with the same type of cancer and the business of cancer care.
KW: Because of my diagnosis in 2006, I had a lot of chemo – tons actually. I’ve been doing it for over a year, steady. It’s all poison. Everything they’re givin’ ya is poison. If the cancer won’t kill ya, the chemo will. I don’t mean to sound like doomsday. You’d like to think that your doctor has your best interest at heart, like Marcus Welby or ol’ Doc on Gunsmoke. But when you start looking, you realize most of it’s about money. The cure for cancer is probably sitting on the shelf next to the carburetor that gets 80 miles to the gallon. There’s more money in the treatment for cancer than there is in the cure for cancer.
Klink pulled out a large folder and revealed the contents to me, "They’re bills – all bills. I’m sure over a million dollars if you added them up." Klink flipped through the papers that stacked at least two inches high. I was hypnotized by all the paperwork and could only imagine how daunting it must be to deal with all the insurance issues.
"So, what else can I tell ya?" Klink asked me as he lit a cigarette. Our conversation had been a wild one. We jumped from topic to topic, laughed a lot, had some intense moments, but most notably our conversation was completely honest and genuine. Klink had told me, "I’m a straight shooter. I don’t use fancy language. You just tell me the truth. I’ll tell you the truth."
So, I took him up on his offer, "What’s with the smoking Klink?"
KW: Well, I know it can’t help. It’s a toxin I’m putting in my body.
Klink became quiet for a moment. I saw his eyes look out the window and become engaged in the scenery that has been so therapeutic for him.
KW: When you get diagnosed, a lot of things change. You realize you’re mortal. And that new house, that new car, a promotion, maybe they’re not that important. You forget about that tree over there. You’ve looked at that tree for 20 years and never really knew it was there. Isn’t that a beautiful tree? Look at how it bends in the wind. This is a pretty wonderful world that we’re livin’ in. I just never saw it before.
Klink is a man who truly lives in the moment. He wasn’t a hypochondriac about his every behavior and how it might affect his health. When Klink was encouraged by his doctors to consider a bone marrow transplant procedure, he said no.
KW: I’m not gonna lie alone in a hospital room full of hoses, quarantined, feeling crappy and die anyway. So, I asked my doctor, "Ok, what’s the deal? Your medicine doesn’t work anymore or maybe I decide I don’t want your medicine anymore, how long do I got left?" He gave me some kind of political answer. I said, "No, no don’t lie to me. Tell me the truth. I’m a big boy I can deal with it."
"Well this is hard," he said.
"Well you got a tough job," I told him. So, he told me I’d have six to twelve months. If I’m gonna die in six months, I’m going to live during that time.
It’s obvious that Klink would rather share a story with a friend over a beer and a smoke than hide behind a mask in a sterile room. And no matter who you are, when you sit with Klink, you get the feeling that you’re sharing time with a cherished friend. This was even more apparent when Klink would tell me a story. Before each story, he’d invite me in by saying, "I don’t know if you remember T-Bone, but…." Not all of his friends were named T-Bone, but you get the idea.
Early in our conversation I would think to myself, "How on earth would I know T-Bone?" After about the tenth story that was preempted in this manner, I began to see how symbolic this was: I knew Klink and Klink knew these people, which meant I was also connected to those people. Klink understood this – in a spiritual manner – to his very core.
I followed Klink’s lead.
"Klink I don’t know if you remember Carleton Peterson, but he’s also sharing his story with me about cancer. You two remind me of one another."
"Sounds like a great guy then." Klink responded as he gave a raspy laugh and leaned back in his chair to blow a puff of smoke at the ceiling fan.
On December 10, I trekked across the parking lot of one of the largest churches in Eagan, Minn. When I finally reached the church doors, I could literally see hundreds of people inside. It was a packed house to honor an amazing man. This was the celebration service to honor the life of Carleton Peterson, who on December 6, gave one last peaceful exhale and journeyed into the mysteries that lie beyond this life. The service was aired over the internet so that his friends, from all across the globe, could also share this time together. A defining moment of this service was the discussion of a gift that friends of Carleton had offered to him. This gift was a handmade coffin for Carleton to be buried in. What an amazing gift to give – symbolizing the intense, genuine and passionate connections he had with so many.
Just like Carleton, Klink is a man that exemplifies this ability to connect and bring people together.
KW: I bought this house in 1974. All the remodeling has been done by friends. Nobody charged for anything. We would just help each other out. There’s good energy in here ’cause of that.
These two men have actively lived amidst the realization that their time may be cut short on this earth. Yet, with this intimidating realization, they have lived each day in the present, with courage, compassion, humbleness, love and humor. Klink will continue connecting and influencing people in his wonderful, raucous ways as his journey continues on this earth. And though he has moved on, Carleton’s spirit will continue to weave and connect people together towards a beautiful, healing tapestry.
What do you think is after this life, Klink?
KW: I don’t know. But, when I got diagnosed, I returned back to the real world. The people I love, the birds, the flowers. I look at the world around me, here’s my church. God is love -want proof? Look at my support system. I’m not scared to die – really. I don’t wish for heaven. It’s already here. I’m livin’ it.
Carleton, what do you think is past this life?
CP: I believe that this is the new heaven and earth. But, when we die, we push down into the greater mystery of our connections. There is an enhanced continuity. It will be even more engaging and satisfying, because the connections will be improved. I am enlivened and mystified by the notion that we might know as we are known and I often wonder; what might it be to be love?