Have you ever found yourself in one of those situations when you know you shouldn’t be laughing – but you just can’t stop yourself. I mean, the story is so awful, yet you’re sitting there, busting a gut laughing. It might be the absurdity, it could be some bizarre coincidence, or in this particular case, it was all about the delivery.
I met PJ Shea for a coffee in St. John’s last week. Mr. Dick Hancock asked me to take a meeting with the guy and write something that would garner a bit of attention to his plight. And boys, I’ve got to tell you – despite the young fellow’s mad delivery and crazy life story, it’s no laughing matter.
As many are aware, the Hancock family has been battling with Cystic Fibrosis for the past 40 years. Their daughter Robyn was born with the same affliction as PJ, succumbing to the illness a long time ago, at the tender age of 19.
Needless to say, I was really surprised when I discovered the family’s relationship with PJ. I figured he was a kid that Dick had unofficially adopted, and when I talked with PJ this became more than plausible because he’s the kind of character Dick loves. Impish and fun, but just like Robin, saucy as a crackie when pushed. Talking to him, you know full well he had the devil on his side no matter what he faced.
“… family’s relationship with PJ.”
His youthfulness also added to the shock value. More so when I discovered he was 41, the same age Robin would be. They had attended CF camp together, becoming lifelong friends, and maintaining the relationship with the Hancock family long after Robyn passed. How was this possible?
Sometimes I marvel at how little we know about medicine, disease, treatment and diagnosis. Until our good friend Kevin English went through several months of dialysis this past winter, I thought the complaints on ‘VOCM Open Line’ pertained mostly to the inconvenience caused by the distance citizens in remote communities must travel for dialysis treatment. I had no idea the procedure was so miserable, nor could I possibly imagine the discomfort these people endure. I really thought you simply checked in to the hospital, hooked yourself up to the dialysis machine, the kidneys got a rinse, and in no time you were good to go. Eh boy? Its not like that.
Please excuse my ignorance, but I obviously wasn’t that attune to Cystic Fibrosis either; despite my friendship with Stefan and the many celebrations we’ve shared in his sister’s memory.
Now don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t anywhere near as ignorant as PJ is defiant.
The sad reality is, kids who suffer from CF aren’t supposed to live very long. And they’re certainly not expected to last anywhere near as long as PJ. Realizing of course that his recoveries would shame Lazarus himself – “back from the dead” takes on a whole new meaning with this guy. Make no wonder there’s a “Two Shea Limit” when it comes to partying in Stephenville Crossing.
When PJ was born the doctors didn’t expect him to last 18 months. When he was 2 years of age they said he wouldn’t make it to Kindergarten. He defied them all when he reached grade 7. Today, thanks to the miracles of modern science and guys with the willingness to fight, suffer, get back up, and survive, the median age for a CF patient is now 48.
And boys, I’m telling you – if there’s ever a man that’s made a living out of living, its PJ Shea. This guy is after taking every treatment imaginable, including two, double lung transplants. A lifetime recovering you might say. Yet PJ never made sickness his life. Quite the opposite in fact, for he has somehow managed to wring more life out of his short time than half the ablest bodies on this planet.
Sickness was never going to be a crutch in PJ’s life. The man has two university degrees, including a master’s in environmental science. He last worked as a senior environmental planner with the provincial government. He married and has been raising two beautiful young boys for the past seven years. He’s been one of the most avid hockey fans in the province, and though he hasn’t taken a drink in years, he’s still the life of a party.
He’s no slouch, and the truth is, PJ doesn’t want your help. Never asked for help in his life. But he doesn’t have a lot of choice at this point.
Last February, PJ was headed to Toronto for a routine check up and ended up contracting some kind of fungus that infected his lungs and knocked him back from 148 pounds to less than 95 in three months – and that’s soaking wet! Though he’s managed a decent recovery, the doctors have advised he not return to work and his 16 year career has left him with little more than a small fixed income pension. Hardly enough to maintain an existence, let alone keep up with the many ridiculous expenses he faces daily.
It’s a rough situation, but a brilliant story. One that deserves a great deal of support and attention. So please allow me an opportunity to invite you to celebrate PJ’s life and future on June 10th at Green Sleeves pub. Mr. Hancock and the whole staff have gathered 13 different bands to play throughout the entire day. There’s going to be piles of grub and a never-ending supply of laughs. Its going to be a great event and we’d love for you to come help us celebrate a life worth living.