Rapid City, South Dakota
Eric Smith is a Marine from Richlands, NC. When we met Eric, he was in the middle of a 30-day cross-country RV trip with his family. Last year, he lost his brother Randy Smith to cancer. According to Eric, Randy was an incredible person with a great sense of humor who was honorably discharged from the Air Force and owned his own gas company. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer and was given six months to live.
When Randy had surgery on his colon, the doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to his lung. He went into remission for a while, but then they found another spot on his lung. Eventually, he lost all of one lung and a portion of the other. Randy continued to fight his illness with chemotherapy, but the cancer came back with a vengeance and spread to his bones, spine, and brain. He passed away while lying in a hammock outside—his favorite place.
Despite the initial negative prognosis, Randy lived five more years—a fact Eric believes was made possible through great medical attention and a positive outlook.
Today, Eric keeps his brother’s memory alive every day and serves as a father figure for his niece and nephew.
In the Marine Corps, we’re taught this. When the enemy attacks, you don’t let the enemy attack. You assault the enemy. You press into them. So we got as much information as we could. He started eating right, started getting himself squared away and everything like that. He went through a nasty bout of chemo, lost a lot of weight. My brother…God bless him. My brother was a very vain man. He had long hair and he lost all of it. Well, he went into remission for a little while, got through the chemo. He just kept fighting.
I never talked to him about death. We never talked about him dying. Not once. It was always, ‘When we beat this, we’re gonna do this. When you beat it, we’re gonna go ride the Harleys together and we’re going to Sturgis.’ That was always the thing.
You have to maintain a positive outlook. If Randy didn’t have a positive outlook, it would have been months. Stage 4 colon cancer. It’s a death sentence. People don’t live six months. He lived five years. He had a good run. He was getting a little down on himself one time. I told him, ‘Hey, pal. Look at the bottom of your feet.’ He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘The Lord didn’t put an expiration date on the bottoms of any one of our feet. We got no idea when it’s coming or when it’s gonna happen.’
Find out everything that you can, study on it, attack on it, continue to attack cancer. Cancer is something you can beat. There is no expiration date. Nobody’s gonna know when you’re gonna go…So you attack it. You get the best medical advice you can get.
And if somebody tells you that there’s a time, that you’ve got six months, you’ve got three months… Prepare yourself, but don’t believe that time. Nobody knows when we’re gonna be gone. Spend as much time as you can with one another. All cancer is, is a wakeup for you to do what you should have been doing all along. That’s what I’m doing. Spend time with loved ones, that’s it. Don’t give up, because the time you have is precious and it’s finite.
His memory’s not gonna go anywhere. He’s everywhere. He’s a part of me. His children are my kids. He’s in my heart. Every day. That won’t ever go away. He called and left me a voicemail on my phone. The smartest thing I ever did was that I called a company and recorded his voice. I have that on my computer, so I can still hear his voice. That’s pretty big.
He had the best sense of humor. It was dry—you had to be very smart around him. He was so fun to be with. I loved him. I love him. He’s alive every day. I can just see the twinkle in his eye.
He was cremated. We spread his ashes in the lake. I held my mother’s hand until all the ashes rinsed away. My nephew, God bless him, gave me a small vial of my brother’s ashes. So on my Harley today, my brother rides with me everywhere I go.
When I retire, he and I are gonna start in Key West, Florida and we’re gonna end in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska on the same motorcycle. That’s my goal. People say it can’t be done. People said my brother couldn’t live five years. I think we can do it. Might rattle a few pieces off. Little worse for wear. But I think we’ll get there.
And that’s my brother, Randy Smith. He was a good man. He was a great brother. I love him very much and I miss him. Sorry about that, Marines aren’t supposed to cry, right? They do occasionally.
Kenneth Hoener Murrysville, Pennsylvania
Ann Thoburn Wheeling, West Virginia