It’s often said when people die after a cancer diagnosis that they lost their fight or battle.
I remember many years ago writing something to that effect while memorializing on these pages an influential local resident who had just passed. I received a nice card from a family member who explained why that’s the wrong word choice to describe her parent’s death. I decided to never use that expression again after that point because her comments hit home. “To say she lost her battle to cancer undermines her will and gives a negative connotation to the end of her life,” she wrote in the card I still have 12 years later.
Without question, in local Realtor PJ Aldridge’s case, he did not lose his battle with lung cancer when he died on Tuesday. He fought it and battled it through his daily life. Immediately after being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2010, he was told he had about three months to live, at least partially because one of his lungs had collapsed.
Turning a negative into a positive, Aldridge and a friend created a foundation in his name and raised money for lung cancer research. About a year after his diagnosis, the foundation donated $150,000 to the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Solid Tumor Oncology Greenebaum Cancer Center.
Aldridge’s efforts eventually landed him on Oprah Winfrey’s “Oprah’s Favorite Things” show where he was given a variety of prizes, including a 2012 Volkswagen Beetle, which he raffled off to raise money for his foundation.
Indeed, Aldridge was a busy guy after his diagnosis. Armed by the support of his family and legion of friends, he made a difference through his charity work as well as robust fight against his horrifying diagnosis and life expectancy. There was no losing when it came to Aldridge’s battle against cancer.
During his outstanding acceptance speech at the 2014 ESPYs, the late ESPN broadcaster Stuart Scott, who had a rare appendicular cancer, addressed this notion head on. He said, “When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”
Without question, Aldridge was brave in his fight and gained the admiration of many who never knew him. Even his closest friends have marveled over the years at his passion and dedication to fighting his diagnosis. It’s astounding that the affable 51-year-old man beat cancer for eight years and overcame the odds over those years through an unmistakable warrior will and tremendous grace.
It’s amazing what death does to people. For some reason, as I observed so many touching tributes to PJ on this newspaper’s Facebook page after his death was announced Tuesday, I got to thinking about something my stepfather (founding Publisher Dick Lohmeyer) once told me. I had just received word that one of my best friend’s fathers (former West Ocean City resident Tom Tawney) had passed away. He was ill but his death was still a shock. I was tearing up at my desk in the newsroom. When he surprised me by coming around the corner, I was embarrassed and immediately turned away. He grabbed me on the shoulder and said, “There’s no greater compliment than to cry over someone’s death.” I have thought about that comment often as the impactful deaths have piled up over time.
Rightfully so, many tears were shed this week after PJ’s passing. In fact, there were many tears while he was alive from his closest friends who observed his health concerns escalate over time. There really is no greater show of respect for an individual than to be moved to extreme emotions.
A celebration of PJ’s life is planned for Saturday, Jan. 20, at 11 a.m.at the Ocean City Marlin Club.