I remember the first time I met Caleb Mock in college, long before he was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma.
I was blindfolded in the dark on a crisp autumn evening in Statesboro, Georgia, standing on the side of a ditch as we began our journey together as pledge brothers in the 2006 fall recruitment class of Delta Tau Delta’s Epsilon Omega chapter at Georgia Southern.
Though I do not remember much else about that night, it was the beginning of a friendship that extended through most of our college career. We went to fraternity events together, had the same group of friends, and lived in the same area. For a time in our lives, our activities were very much intertwined.
But as time marched on, as many relationships do, slowly, the interconnectedness became broken into isolated strands, and our paths begin to divide separately, clinging to the memories of moments that once connected us.
I hadn’t heard from Caleb in five years when he announced on Facebook that he was battling stage four Burkitt’s lymphoma.
He had just gotten married a few months before.
Stage four cancer at twenty-five years old.
There is no stage five.
As I called out to my roommates at the time, now old friends that had come up together since our freshman year of college, we sat around the computer screen and listened to Caleb’s eight-minute video blog about his situation.
We called people. We talked about it. We cried.
I was sick about it, though the idea of his potential death didn’t scare me.
I’ve dealt with unexpected loss in my life.
When I was thirteen, my Dad died of what the Centers for Disease Control posited was one of the first American cases of SARS (Severe Autoimmune Respiratory Syndrome), before they even had a name for what it was. He went from perfect health to dying at age 49, flatlining at 2:30 in the morning, exactly one week to the minute from when he was admitted to the hospital.
It bothered me that I had let our friendship go and potentially wouldn’t have the chance to reclaim it.
I sent Caleb this Facebook message:
“Hey bro, been thinking a lot about you this weekend. Your video is If there's anything I can do for you or your family, I'm just down the road in downtown Savannah.”James Kicklighter, Facebook message
After five years of silence, in less than five minutes, we were connected again. He responded promptly:
“Actually I have something that I need your help with. I want to spread my story to everyone.”Caleb Mock, Facebook message
Shortly after, I went to his hospital room and we talked about what could be done. He wanted to take his friends and family through the process so they would know how he was doing.
I volunteered to manage a social media account and help him create video blogs, proposing to do something bigger, making a film about the experience, no matter what the outcome, to help people outside of his friends and family as they cope with the implications of cancer.
Yet again, we were blindfolded in the ditch, unsure of the path ahead. That’s the thing about life. It’s never one straight line, as people, places and experiences weave back and forth.
Though I remember the first time we met, we were about to meet again.
- James Kicklighter, Director