By: CB Duke
Perhaps it was coincidence only or maybe some form of Karma or just destiny that a 5th grader riding his bike with some other buds ran into another group of 5th graders riding bikes. They went to different grade schools but a few knew each other through Little League baseball. That is how I first met another adolescent who would become my best friend.
It was 1963 and the lot of us were imbued with an incomprehensible sense of awe, fabulous freedom to roam our vast neighborhoods, a sense of history from the family dinner table and newsreels showing world wars, the great depression, mushroom clouds, the cold war, the Kennedy assassination and watching Lee Harvey Oswald being shot on network television. Obviously, it was the wonder years and soon we were overcome with the British invasion of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and all manner of social combustion that earmarked the sixties. My friend would also be particularly affected with the Watergate hearings. Maybe that is because his father was a lawyer. Some of us youngsters developed an intense curiosity about culture and the natural world around us.
As for our history we had a particular path to friendship would slowly evolve. The main reason for this was because we went to different junior high schools. My friend grew up in a musical family with an older brother and three older sisters. He also had a younger sister who succumb to cancer, albeit to soon, several years ago. My friend was exposed to music early and took to it like a duck to water. He could play piano and guitar and had a lead vocal voice right from the start. At the junior high school he attended he founded a musical group.
For teenagers they were a truly great band. They got lots of gigs and notoriety in southeast Michigan and I had the pleasure of hearing them play many times at various “teen highs” and the like. They infused rock with rhythm and blues. And since we all hailed from Motown that played an influence. All members of the band were good musicians and they could all sing. As a result, they had lush harmonies. My friend attacked the piano and guitar like a finely conditioned athlete. His voice could be lyrical, whimsical, gravely but always genuine and sincere. I believe (other than girls) that was his first love.
As an interesting side note my friend invented and perfected the comb over. Times being what they were our parents were not quite ready to embrace letting their teen sons wear long hair. An interesting approach for a teenager to perfect this (when he had hair) by growing and combing it from one side of his head to the other and at musical events he would comb it back the other way. It was a sight to behold at the Farfisa organ belting out a cover with a groupie sitting on the stage swooning over him at one of our local schools or other venue. He was way ahead of some of the hairstyles of the day or even in current movies.
We all arrived at the same high school in the fall of 1967 and that is where I met another friend of his who was also in the band. The two of us were in gym class together. From then on, the three of us grew pretty tight. And it was during that school year that the unexpected happened. My friend’s parents decided that after 10th grade he should attend a military school (college preparatory) in upstate New York. We were too young and naïve to truly recognize all of the reasons for the decision. It would be difficult to say goodbye to such a good friend in the fall of 1968 but we looked at it as an adventure and since we could now drive…ROAD TRIP!
I do recall talking with his twin sisters and they made an easy and simple description of their younger brother as being something of a “wild thing”. It was during 10th grade that we had the unfortunate circumstance of being in the wrong place at the right time (you could say we got in trouble). This was something that concerned our parents deeply, but really served to strengthen the bonds between us. How others escaped these experiences can best be explained by the cottage his parents had on Lake Erie. Luckily (for him) he was not there with us.
Some parents feel a natural need for a tad more discipline…
Chance favors the prepared mind, but not in every respect. Chance can be like a torpedo, incredibly lethal unless it misses the mark. The road alone is difficult to navigate, and x-factor intangibles may necessitate deviation and deliberation.
Conditioning has an athletic tone, but revels in the everyday life of mind, spirit as well as body. No one gets to choose their destiny or fate. If we could we’d be bored to death. Brutal experience may come and go, but that means nothing to time. Passions can be fleeting or yield to incomparable significance. Overcoming obstacles forces choices in life. Study is not a qualification for success but merely quantifies it.
My friend simply needed his bona fides.
After military school he went on to Michigan State University for an undergraduate degree in psychology. It was there that he met his future wife. That probably is the single greatest thing that ever happened to him aside from the birth of their daughter.
Back in the day most of us were jealous of the many talents he possessed and his head turning good looks. He was handsome, svelte and capable. And then came the love of his life. She made the “young man” pale by comparison. Not just because she was beautiful with a great figure, but she was kind, interested and willing to give of herself to experience and explore others as well as the world around her. That was 43 years ago. In so many ways she complemented him and helped make him a more complete person. And trust me, he always needed a bit of tempering. Thank goodness the love of his life was the tonic.
After MSU he went on to the University of Michigan for a Masters in Social Work with concentration in psychiatric social work. It was during this time that his thought more fully formed on so many things. There was the prospect of marriage, family and other possibilities to further express himself from a career perspective. After a good deal of soul searching and discussion, he decided to complete the preparatory requirements for medical school, was accepted and returned to Michigan State to complete the medical degree course work and then it was back to southeast Michigan for his residency in psychiatry.
With residency complete he was ready to establish a practice. There are many reasons why they chose Anchorage as the place for him to begin his work. Clearly this was a beautiful place proximate to all that is incredibly remote and wild. Our other longtime friend and best friend was no doubt a factor having arrived first settling in Fairbanks several years earlier to begin his medical practice. In Alaska there was time for erudition and so he began the study of neuropsychiatry in earnest. As he performed his duties with competency and excellence accolades were accorded as well as increased responsibility. Sometimes the pieces fit together…perfectly. And it seems that life can go on forever. But as professional demands on his life increased that meant sacrifice in other areas.
When we are young, we believed we were invincible. There is a necessity to humility and the search for perfection. Time seems too slow and while it can be a friendly companion it steadily marches forward. Soon he was caught up in a race spreading himself too thin ogling at perfection and not realizing it was already perfect. His was a race that could not be won…only understood…and navigated. I recall many, many detailed discussions with him as we seriously questioned the value of his 80+ hour work weeks and the impact that had on family and lifestyle. It was during one of these marathon discussions that he revealed to me that the real reason he did not pursue music was because he could not accept the fact that his orchestrations, melody lines, choruses, refrains and lyrics might not be perfect. How fortunate (I reminded him) he was that he was an accomplished master at a trade where he always got to practice. It was some time after that he and the family came to settle in Homer, Alaska.
This represented a quiet time in his life where his mind, heart and soul could be as one. Thank goodness we were able to visit there and in my mind’s eye I see the incomparable experiences they had and what life afforded them. They had a nifty ocean boat and could fish halibut and salmon among other things. They were able to make an investment of an off the grid “cottage”. It was not exactly that with a hand pump for water but it was on an island (only accessible by boat) where kayaking and just being in a place where majestic mountains poured into the sea and whales breached brought forth many memories of wild and wonderful things. Homer also gave him more time to deliberate and experience areas of interest outside medicine.
But then came July of 2009. When he called me I remember exactly where I was. He was in good spirits and remarked how ironic it was that a psychiatrist should have one of the worst forms of brain cancer (glioblastoma). It was later that summer he decided to donate his body to science. I shall always cherish the pain and the joy of being there with his family involved in the decision. It could not have happened nor have been as complete without the presence and sacrifice of our other best friend as well as our families. My friend was brave and courageous and with great support from family made the decision to be the first human accepted into a new trial at the University of Washington.
And then the fun began…
Autologous (harvest and replant of stem cells) sounded very exciting and promising. Bone marrow derived tumor- tropic MSCs. Very cool to postulate delivery vehicles for molecules with antitumoral effects to gliomas. Transfection of MSCs with adenoviral vector seemed to be the first order of business.
He helped science understand the mechanisms that underlie tumor tracking migratory activity of stem cells. Fascinating that stems cells are migratory and that they track a chemotactic gradient established by secretion of some sort of inflammatory mediator (imagine tumor cells with an exhaust system) that ebbs and flows based on activity. Inducers, mediators, signals and tropism, not as exact as the researchers would like but if the thing has a tail pipe they should be able to track the exhaust…press on regardless.
Tumor-tropic neural progenitor cells with plenty of cargo space to deliver therapeutic proteins to disseminated intracranial tumor (aka glioblastoma). Pluripotent progenitors of various tissue lineages, including neural precursors only please.
In vivo forever. Private phone number.
While the tumors can be removed (and he had multiple brain surgeries) critical simultaneous focus had to be given on the potential for continued tumor cell dilution across glial type cells. Glial cells are all over the brain. Eradication while the goal was not available then. And there are other types of brain cells which exhibited different geometric shapes that could become virulent. There were a lot of moving parts to solve this puzzle.
But the day came, no more time for conjecture, the mission would be a difficult one, no fantasy, just fitment. My friend took this on as he did so many other things in life with desire, curiosity, comprehension and compassion. He signed the papers (a contract) and would be the first human to help write the fitment guide and further the research. He did this knowing full well that the probability for cure was not good and that the treatment might cause other problems that could take his life.
He was fully cognizant of these circumstances determined to face the long road ahead aware of the potential for many headwinds. It also became clear that time would no longer be divisible. A nearness beckoned. With his typical good humor, he knew that adventure awaited and that the die was not necessarily cast.
How remote the die, and the circumstances until they are brought home. Perverse cosmic engineering where the mold breaks. A new beginning.
But a beginning is a delicate time, love, devotion, angst, rejection with no time for mood swings or panic attacks. The ether shall be resolved. The scientific method postulates from aggregation. We would remark on the potential for his tipping point and reflect that it would be more of a yielding. “Sometimes the little critters win”, he would say.
He recognized too that there were so many around him that he had touched and so many that loved him. He left himself exposed and fully vulnerable, aware of the potential of having to let go of those he loved. It gave all of us that loved him a chance to be there when he needed it most.
There is no burden great enough that can eradicate the bonds of friendship.
Six years and nearly four months later the evidence already speaks volumes and by all accounts there is no necessity to posthumously report greatness. My friend was a great man and he lived a great life. To the end he still had time for economics, politics, culture, philosophy and music. A bee’s sting makes you aware of the ephemeral, but not the eternal. Nothing is meant to last. Entropy is all around and in all of us.
“I have never seen a wild thing feel sorry for itself.” A lot of fluid has transformed since D.H. Lawrence wrote that. There is no greater exhilaration than an experience with a wild thing, especially a large wild thing.
It is unfortunate that too many humans have lost their connection with wild things. If there is wisdom in crowds that is because the wild things have diminished. The intensely crowded living space we call great cities are part of human civilization but it is not where the wild things are. Evidence and experience are but a click, keypunch or swipe away. Dominance is illusory as genetic material does not discriminate intentionally. It only combines in ways that reveal.
My friend appreciated technology but not at the expense of reality. No matter what the depth of intellect or the faith of a believer he felt that spirituality after death is simple nothingness or, manifest ability to travel at a speed that spans all that is with never a want or need. Time is conquered transforming space into rivers and paths that come and go, ebb and flow as they burble their way to a wonderful place filled with wild things. And my friend took his rightful place among them.
He was my brother he is soulfully and sorely missed. Words cannot express and are best revealed in the bonds of love.