A Tale of Strength & Courage: My Brother’s Colon Cancer Diagnosis

For Dave DiPofi

In June of 2011, I went to see a heart doctor who told me I needed open heart surgery. I was born with a bad valve and it had caused an aneurysm that needed surgery within several months. I was only 50 years old and was shocked at this diagnosis. This was just starting to settle in when about two weeks later I received a phone call from my brother, Dave. I was in a meeting at work, but the call was from his home phone. That might not seem strange on its own, but we worked in the same office, so it got my attention. I knew something had to be wrong.

A chill goes through my entire body now, as it did then, as I recall the conversation. My brother, only 49 years old at the time, had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. I couldn’t move from my desk for ten minutes. I was in shock. No longer did open heart surgery seem so bad. While I had a problem with a solution, Dave had a problem with no end date, no definitive answers and no prognosis.

I left work, went to his house and we hugged. We had been close as brothers our whole life. Born only 16 months apart, we shared common friends, went to the same college and earned engineering degrees (as did my other brother, Matt). We were Best Man in each other’s weddings and Godfather to each other’s children. The parallels and comparisons were always there.

I’ll never forget what my sister Kathy said, a breast cancer survivor herself, “You two are always competing. One has open heart surgery and the other has to outdo him with cancer.” You have to understand my family’s sense of humor! It’s how we deal with stressful situations.

I proceeded to watch Dave battle cancer for over two years. He never complained. People would always comment at work that he never acted or looked like he even had cancer. They would say things like, “Same old Dave.” “Nice.” “Hard working.” “Never a complaint.” He never let it affect his day to day living.

About a year into his battle he had a perforated bowel. Incredibly, he was in the hospital with a doctor at the time it occurred. Quick action saved his life as he was immediately rushed into surgery. The first time I saw him after the incident, I got sick. There’s no way to describe the amount of tubes, nurses, doctors, and equipment that was in his room. It was a miracle he was alive. He was in intensive care for weeks.

Amazingly, he was back to work within a few months. We couldn’t believe it, not because he was a workaholic, but because he wanted to carry on his life as ordinarily as possible. He faced every battle along the way with courage and dignity and strength. When he lost the battle, he lost it quickly. He was working only three weeks before he passed. I won’t recount the final days. Many have experienced this and frankly, it’s too painful to go back there.

When Dave did pass, a friend told me that the pain of his suffering would one day be replaced by the joy of his living. That time has come. I now think less and less about how he died and more and more about how he lived. He inspires me daily. He left behind great gifts. His courage will never be forgotten by those who knew him and loved him. His children, Eileen and Dominic, live the essence of his example; the greatest gift any father can give. His wife, Karen, embodies the strength he portrayed as she moves the family forward. Always forward.

Gone from earth, never gone from our hearts and memories. I was honored to give Dave a eulogy at his funeral and I leave you with a quote from Winston Churchill that I used. It was appropriate for him and aspirational for anyone who wants to be remembered for how they lived their life.

“You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.”

 

Vince Didipofi portraitPofi is a native Toledoan, a graduate of St. Francis HS and The University of Toledo College of engineering. He has a wife and two children in college and lives in Monclova Township.

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