Noel Meeks – Not many people have heard about Noel Meeks, my cowboy angel and how he was an impact in my life while I battled stage 3 breast cancer and some other hardships such as a boyfriend cheating on me and a knee replacement put in crooked. I had a lot of pain in my heart and my body. I miss Noel. He was a cowboy, a cancer warrior, and friend.
It was Spring 2007, Noel was at the end of his battle with cancer while I was heading towards victory in mine with stage 3 breast cancer, I just didn’t realize it. My body hurt everywhere from all the previous surgeries and especially the most recent one which was a corrective knee replacement surgery. I still had 25 stitches in my knee when I took that trip to Arizona. Getting there was hell because the flight was delayed! I sat in the Seattle airport for several hours because of bad weather. I was only days following my knee surgery, and my pain meds were packed away in my luggage already checked in for my flight. I cried from the excruciating pain. What was I thinking! I was a go getter and I wanted to live, so I did not let that surgery stop me from traveling to a little clinic that would boost my immune system after battling cancer, staph infection and just a compromised immune system. I wanted to live.
When I finally arrived at the Arizona clinic, my pain was not manageable yet, and I did not want to talk to any of the other patients. I was timid anyway when it came to meeting strangers. It took me a while to trust and open up.
Noel was one of the five patients there receiving treatment. He was a rugged cowboy with a horse ranch in Wyoming. Noel had been through hell and back with chemotherapy and suffered from neuropathy from the side effects of chemotherapy. He had numbness in his feet and hands and walked off balance because of it. I learned from the staff that Noel did not talk much to anyone. I just laid down, hurting with stitches in my leg, a broken heart from my boyfriend cheating and the fear of having stage 3 cancer. I was a physical and emotional wreck. I was also mourning the loss of my aunt who had lost her battle to cancer the day before I set out to AZ. I was just sad and broken inside and out.
About one week into treatment at this clinic which no longer exists, Noel and I sat outside on a patio in the sun several feet apart from each other soaking up the rays. I would write in my journal and keep to myself. One day he asked me “So what do you write in that little book of yours” I was writing everything I was feeling and my experience there. That is how our friendship started. So after about an hour of yelling back and forth to one another attempting to start a conversation with the great distance of our chairs being so far we both laughed, and he finally moved his chair closer.
We talked real with each other. Noel trusted me slowly. I remember a winding staircase outside in the back of the building that went up to the rooftop. I stood there one day looking up, and I remember hanging on to the railing, just daydreaming about the future and my past. I was suddenly snapped out of my thoughts when I heard Noel yell out, “Damn, woman are you crazy; you want to go up those stairs with your leg like that, don’t even think about doing that alone!”
I said, “Well, I do but I won’t!” I then told him the truth of what I wanted. I said, ” I want to see the desert from up high on that roof, and for me, it felt like getting higher up allowed me to free of cancer. I knew it would feel liberating and I wanted just a moment to feel like I was climbing a mountain.
He hobbled up from his chair. He was always wobbly on his feet because of the numbness of his feet. He said he had chemo brain and chemo feet! Regardless, he was eager to help me. Together, we slowly did the climb up those stairs, it hurt, but we did it. The view was worth it! The desert was so vast and beautiful in its unique way. The Sonora cactus and prickly bushes all across the desert. Seeing the orange wildflowers that managed to blossom in such rugged terrain gave me hope. If a delicate flower can bloom under the harshest of conditions, maybe I could too!
I had traveled far, leaving the green lushness of Seattle. It’s little moments like that which can transcend you and restore a somewhat diminished spirit. I felt taller, freer and more capable just by breathing in the view of a new kind of beauty.
I thought about Noel a lot during those days. A real cowboy with a ranch in Wyoming. He said he had 120 horses and that one day when I got well I could come out and learn to ride. He was stoic and old enough to be my father. I guess you could say he was the strong silent type.
I could make this man laugh, though, and that was some feat considering his condition. He was very sick.
I was going to fly home see my daughter in Las Vegas. I missed her, and he knew it. He felt his time was running out and wanted to have one last visit with some friends of his in Las Vegas. The visual of us together was comical. I had been dependent on a walker from the knee surgery and could not put weight on my leg because of the three pins in my knees. He insisted on walking without the can he usually used and stumbled a lot. He came up with a brilliant plan to push me in a wheelchair through the casinos, and I think he used the wheelchair to stable himself a bit. I worried about him, but he said, you can’t walk, and I want you with me because you make me laugh. I spent a day with him like that, and we all had a fantastic dinner that night with his friends. It was the best time I had not experienced in quite some time.
He talked about death and life and I was quiet, and a little closed about contributing to the topic. He was coming to terms with his end of life, and I wanted nothing to do with the subject! He talked about his sister and his hometown. I couldn’t see how many times he stumbled while pushing me around in the wheelchair, but I know he did. He laughed and said to me, “Now see, isn’t this better than going back to Washington and dealing with a bad break-up!” You need to laugh girl. I did laugh, and he was right. I worried about him overexerting himself, but there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I was out of my element, and it was good for me because there were only two other people that knew how to do that with me. My best friend Heather Rayburn and my daughter Jessica. I was terrified of dying myself, yet we were laughing, and for that time we were quite alive!
I just have so many stories I could tell about friends who became family, and in this picture, by the time it was taken, Noel Meeks was my family. Time is irrelevant when it comes to bonding. It is the impact and what is happening between two individuals that matter. It is trust built because of empathizing with each other and having compassion. I trusted Noel and I know it was mutual. There is more about this man, so much more. When I think about it I get tears just knowing that I was spending time with a man that accepted death with a smile. He was amazing.
Noel lost his battle, and I remember I was just about to mail him my victory photo but needed to get his address. He had a landline at the ranch and his cell phone. In a flash, I remembered something that loomed over me. When we parted ways, he said,” If he were ever unreachable by both phones if I were to call him, that meant he had finally gone to meet his maker. I dialed his cell phone number first. The line was disconnected, my hands were shaking as I dialed the second number of his ranch phone. I just heard a disconnect recording.
Noel had said the last time we spoke about me coming out to visit and see his horses that he changed his mind and he did not want me to see him again because he wanted me just to remember him the pleasant way it was in Arizona and Las Vegas. I was beginning to realize that it was about the time he was nearing his last days. I didn’t want to believe he was gone, so I called around, and I confirmed it later that he was gone. The short time and memories together flooded me. I may not have known about Noel’s whole life, but I know he “loved” I experienced his courage, I experienced him defending me at one point and saw that he was not a quitter. He accepted “what was.” like a gentleman, and he just amazed me!
I experienced him at the end of his life. He knew it was ending, and this man had dignity. He never criticized me, and he always lifted me up. He always talked to me as if his messages were something he never wanted me to forget. It meant everything to him that I understand my value and remember his words. He said it was my determination and strength that would save my life, and he said, “your strength and forthrightness will threaten men.” He said, for me not to take that the wrong way and that it was better to be wise and strong instead of stupid and broken.
He said,” You are going to live a healthy happy life and love again. So promise me you won’t settle for bullsh**t from guys! He said, “Promise me, Shannon!” “These men know what they are doing and pretend that they don’t. He told me to take care of myself.
So now I understand what he was trying to say. I believe we meet people for a reason. Noel knew I had a boyfriend that was not faithful to me during my battle as we kept talking day after day. When I finally told him my boyfriend’s name and that he was from Wyoming he mentioned he was also from Wyoming. The craziest thing was that Noel knew him! He knew my boyfriend’s family. He had gone to school with my boyfriend’s mother. We both just about fell out of our seats when we discovered this. I was from Seattle he was from Wyoming, we both traveled far to Arizona to fight and try to save our lives. There was only five patients total.
“Noel Meeks, I still hear your solid cowboy advice! I will never give up that softer side of me, but I have wizened up, it does take a while. I will stay the way I am for the most part, but I have learned to keep my eyes wide open. Your picture with me in the desert on our last day there is a reminder to stay true to me. We covered some new ground in our conversations, and we had a change of perspective on many issues concerning life and death. By the time this photo of us was taken we had a bond I never thought I’d have with anyone.
Since our last days together I have arrived to many crossroads in my life where things like this happened to me. I think of the coincidence of meeting and how God brings us together for our journey lessons. I am an optimist, and we can learn or complain. Noel, you were a change angel for me. The memories are what kept me going on the right path all my life. I am ready for life’s next lesson, and I know it does not have to mean a break-up or be at the expense of me having a broken heart. I want to keep growing in love and compassion. I never question why my life was hard because we can always be in 100% more difficult circumstances if we dare to think about it. I say, let’s count our blessings and just work through it, hang on to my integrity and try to get a new perspective. After all, it’s the only thing any of us have real control over.
Noel, you were right, I’m different, quirky as you put it, some people don’t get me, and I don’t mind it anymore because my path is much clearer and it takes a unique person to lead. I don’t want to be like everyone else. I want to be different, authentic and embrace all of who I am.
RIP my dear friend; I will see you later, much later Noel Meeks.