I walked down the wide hospital corridor with Wini Jones to visit a friend of hers who had just undergone yet another, five-day blast of chemotherapy. From what Wini had told me, doctors considered this type of cancer temporarily treatable, but terminal.
Andrew Epstein had skied for 22 of his 26 years. He clearly understood when I talked to him about skiing and its relationship to man’s instinctive search for freedom, something very important to me to share.
After talking and laughing with him for about an hour, I went out to my car and grabbed a couple of my short books and four VHS tapes of some of my feature length ski films for him to look at.
I told Andrew that we could go skiing together if he got out of bed. He could join me the next winter in Montana at the Yellowstone Club. Andrew was going to be a third-year medical student who had recently undergone a 14-hour surgery to remove several tumors. I worried that he was never going to get to ski again.
I had shows in a different city every night for the next month. I waited for the bad news from Wini about cancer claiming one more wonderful young person.
When my month-long tour of shows was finished in mid-December, I moved to the Yellowstone Club. I was completely occupied with my job of skiing with prospective members when in late January my phone rang, and it was Andrew. He asked, “When are we going to ski together?” After doctors told him his cancer was in remission, he drove nonstop the 800 miles to Big Sky, Montana. He had checked into a motel down near the Gallatin River.
We spent the next day skiing on groomed corduroy snow and laughing together until tears came to our eyes.
That night at dinner it was snowing hard, when Andrew said, “I have to leave tomorrow for some more tests in the hospital.”
I said, “Look out the window at how hard it is snowing. Anyone who would leave a ski resort and powder snow like this is stupid and you don’t look stupid to me!”
He stayed and we spent the next day carving untracked powder. I was really tired when the lift finally closed and at dinner I told him, “I have lined up one of the best ski patrolmen to ski with you tomorrow. He is a lot younger skier than I am so you can dive down all of the chutes with him and jump off of the cornices. I know you have to get back to Seattle, but what is one more day late going to mean?”
It was then that he told me, “Just before I left the hospital they found another small tumor and I have to go back and have the doctors cut it out, but I will stay and jump off of every cornice and go down every chute on this mountain before then.”
Andrew didn’t even show up for lunch with me the next day.
After the lifts closed we met and I talked him into at least getting a good night’s sleep in his nearby motel before the 800 mile solo drive back to Seattle and more doctor stuff.
At dinner we talked about how laughter had been regarded as a great medicine for better health for several thousand years. Laughter secretes some chemical that doesn’t like germs of any kind.
I felt very comfortable with Andrew because he is one of the few people I have ever spent time with who had less hair than I do. Chemotherapy does that, you know.
I continued to ski in powder snow for the rest of the winter.
When Andrew got back to Seattle and hung his skis up in the garage and put his ski boots away and his dirty clothes in the laundry, it was time for his visit to the hospital. But laughter gave him those three days of powder snow skiing to take with him wherever he went on his next and final trip.
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