Jack Whelan stopped by WEGO Health’s Boston headquarters this summer, on August 15th to be exact. We’d been meaning to spend some real one-on-one time for years; it seemed we were always in a group, changing the world with fellow advocates.
Uncharacteristically, Jack was persistent – he wanted to set a date, he made sure it worked around my travel schedule despite the demands of his own busy world.
I understood after we met that he was saying goodbye.
He never said those words in the 90 minutes we talked, and drank coffee, and laughed, and scribbled on whiteboards. He did what Jack Whelan always did: he tried to find a way to help me, to help WEGO Health. “Tell me about the company, how is it going? Would it help if I reviewed the rollout plans for WEGO Health Experts?”
But we did talk about him, and his advocacy, and his family, because he was looking back at what he’d done with his remarkable, meaningful life. He wasn’t satisfied, of course, but he was proud and passionate. He was especially passionate about the choices he, and every other cancer patient, must make.
“I look at my illness as a business problem,” he said, “it’s the hardest one I’ve ever faced, but I keep looking for answers.” Such a man thing to say, but with Jack it wasn’t a denial of emotion – it was his way to be damn sure cancer knew who was boss. Jack was CEO of Jack Whelan, and the crushing financial burdens and the relentless progression of his cancer were no match for him.
Until yesterday. Damn it.
Jack wanted to make every part of his cancer journey useful to the rest of us, to his devoted family and to the cancer patient advocate community. His decisions to seek cutting edge therapies in hopes they would give us all some new options, his relentless push for more clinical trials, his embrace of his fellow advocates, his deconstruction of the US healthcare system – I look at it all as coaching for us mere mortals who will continue his work.
On that day in August, he gave me a Red Sox baseball cap. A red one, with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute logo stitched on the side. I put it on a lot, to remind me to keep looking for answers, even in the death of a great man.
Jack Whelan’s picture has smiled at many thousands from the WEGO Health .com home page – and it will stay there for the rest of 2017, in his honor.