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StoryCorps
1:20 am
Fri May 31, 2013

Cherishing The Gift Of Friendship Through A Cancer Bout

Originally published on Fri May 31, 2013 7:34 am

In 2004, Peter Obetz was in the middle of a divorce when he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

"Food would get stuck down my throat, and it got worse and worse, so I met with my doctor. I had a tumor on my esophagus wall," says Peter, 48, during a visit to StoryCorps in Kansas City, Mo.

His doctor told him surgery carried a 10 percent risk of death. "I remember telling the doc, 'You mean to tell me like one guy on my softball team isn't going to make it?' There's 10 guys on the team. He said, 'Yeah, that's pretty much it. We can either do the surgery tomorrow or we can wait till Tuesday.' "

That's when he called his best friend, Jeff Jarrett, 52, who told him he needed to get the surgery as soon as possible. "I spent the day with your parents. And the surgeon met with us just after the surgery was completed and drew a graph," Jeff says. The graph showed Peter's percentages of survival over time.

"It started out at 90 percent on the day of the surgery and fell to 15 percent after five years," Jeff says. "That was my scariest moment — that there was only a 15 percent chance that I was going to have my best friend with me five years from now. The next day, you'd caught your mother with that little graph that the doctor had drawn and she wouldn't show it to you. And so I'd come in, and you said, 'I want you to sit down and tell me everything. So I did.' "

"I remember saying, 'I'm toast,' " Peter says.

"Your mom had said that to the surgeon. The surgeon said, 'No, he's lightly brown. He's not toast,' " Jeff says.

Cancer was a wake-up call Peter says he may have needed. "I was in a job where I was miserable, and it gave me the permission to leave," he says. "I went from making a lot of money to making very little and being happier."

He sold his big house and moved to an apartment. Not long after he moved, a unit downstairs opened up and Jeff moved in. "The only time usually that you live right next door to your best friend is when you're a kid because often your next-door neighbor is by default your best friend," Peter says.

"Exactly. Second-graders aren't that picky," Jeff says.

"When I think of every aspect of my life: My marriage has changed, my job has changed, where I live has changed. Our friendship is really the only thing that's constant," Peter says. "That's probably the greatest gift that you could've given me."

"When you were sick, everybody wanted to say, 'Peter, I love you so much, I'm so grateful for our friendship,' " Jeff says. "But I feel so lucky that if anything would have happened to you, there was never any ambiguity about how you feel about me or I feel about you. I love you very, very much."

"I love you too, man."

Peter's been cancer-free since 2009.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Friday mornings, we hear from StoryCorps, where people across the country sit down with the most important people in their lives and share their stories. Today, a conversation between best friends. In 2004, Peter Obetz was in the middle of a divorce when he was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer. That's when he called on Jeff Jarrett for help.

PETER OBETZ: Food would get stuck down my throat, and it got worse and worse, so I met with my doctor. I had a tumor on my esophagus wall. And he said, well, surgery has about a 10 percent death risk. And I remember telling the doc, you mean to tell me, like, one guy on my softball team isn't going to make it? You know, there's 10 guys on a team. He said, yeah, that's pretty much it. And he said, we can either do the surgery tomorrow, or we can wait till Tuesday.

JEFF JARRETT: Do you remember you called me?

OBETZ: Yeah.

JARRETT: I said you need to do it as soon as you can. I spent the day with your parents. And the surgeon met with us just after the surgery was completed and drew a graph. He said, well, this is the percentages of survival over time. It started out at 90 percent on the day of the surgery, and fell to 15 percent after five years.

That was my scariest moment, that there was only a 15 percent chance that I was going to have my best friend with me five years from now. The next day, you'd caught your mother with that little graph that the doctor had drawn, and she wouldn't show it to you. And so I'd come in, and you said, I want you to sit down and tell me everything. So I did.

OBETZ: I remember saying, I'm toast.

JARRETT: Your mom had said that to the surgeon. The surgeon said, no. He's lightly brown. He's not toast.

OBETZ: You know, to have gotten cancer, it was a wake-up call maybe that I needed. I was in a job where I was miserable, and it gave me the permission to leave. I went from making a lot of money to making very little and being happier. And I sold my big house, moved to an apartment. And then a week later, the unit downstairs opened up, and you moved in. And the only time usually that you live right next door to your best friend is when you're a kid, because often, your next-door neighbor is, by default, your best friend.

JARRETT: Exactly. Second-graders aren't that picky.

OBETZ: And when I think of every aspect of my life: My marriage has changed. My job has changed. Where I live has changed. Our friendship is really the only thing that's constant. That's probably the greatest gift that you could've given me.

JARRETT: You know, when you were sick, everybody wanted to say, Peter, I love you so much. I'm so grateful for our friendship. But I feel so lucky that if anything would have happened to you, there was never any ambiguity about how you feel about me or I feel about you. I love you very, very much.

OBETZ: I love you too, man.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Best friends Peter Obetz and Jeff Jarrett in Kansas City, Missouri. Peter Obetz has been cancer-free since 2009. Their conversation will be archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. The StoryCorps podcast is at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.