“I hav Pancreatic Cancer Terminal case”
It was 8:14am last Sunday. I’d received a message a minute earlier:
“Got urgent news”
I’d seen a Facebook call from him at 8:11am but I knew it it wouldn’t be a quick chat so I asked if he could send me a message instead.
I met Tank during my final years of high school. He was the only kid I knew who could make knee-high grey socks look cool. They were always pulled up. He often had his headphones on and I have a distinct memory of him singing along to All-4-One’s (I had to Google this) ‘I Swear’ in his strong Kiwi accent. He always greeted me with warmth and enthusiasm. We often sat next to each other in maths class.
After high school I didn’t have any contact with Tank again until I joined Facebook. We interacted a bit over Facebook and I learned a little bit about his movements since school.
My daughter and his son were similar ages and we tried unsuccessfully to organise a few play dates with the kids. A couple of years ago I moved to the bayside suburb that Tank called home and soon after I bumped into him and his son at the shops. He looked the same despite a few years worth of wear and tear, no longer wearing hearing aids and gaining some tattoos on his arms. He greeted me with the same enthusiasm and warmth and we spoke for nearly an hour as his son ran around energetically. I had to cut the conversation short – we could have talked for hours – because I had something to do, but we promised to stay in touch.
In March last year I saw on Facebook that he had lost his beloved father. I sent him a message and he responded soon after.
“Chur bruv,i am my father’s legacy & we all are our dads.Do me a favour & always tell ur Dad how much u love him.Mum too (she’s equally important) & never stop telling them”
I ran into Tank once more in the same area but he looked quite different. He’d lost a lot of weight. He told me he’d almost died and that he was living with diabetes. Despite this he was still determined to live life to the fullest. His body may he weakened, but his spirit had not.
I didn’t see much of Tank over the next few months.
In May I got an early morning (4am) Facebook call from Tank as I got ready for work. My app tells me we spoke for 15 minutes and 47 seconds. He told me that he had a huge story and he wanted me to have it. Because I was getting ready for an early shift I couldn’t really speak, but he told me he was starting a foundation and he was going to give away wealth to the deserving. He had a lot to say, but once again I had to cut the conversation short. “Let’s meet up and talk properly,” I told him.
I was extremely busy over the next few weeks but I eventually found a window of opportunity on the fourth of June between finishing an early shift and picking up my daughter from school. I asked him if that worked for him and he told me he’d go wherever I was.
“What’s the p/up point & i’ll b there 2 collect u & i’ll even hav enuf 4 2more passengers if any1 needs a lift bro 🤙🤙🤙”
I sent him my work address.
“Ull b treated as royalty once u bounce in my ride bro,I accept ur presence & will rally @ those coordinates 🤙🤙🤙”
Sure enough, Tank rolled up with R&B pumping from his car stereo and his son in the back seat. Tank was wearing an eye patch and he greeted me with his trademark enthusiasm and his son gave me a high-five. “Jump in the back bro. Let’s get a feed,” he told me. He put his foot hard on the accelerator and we were off. Tank had a lot to say. He did the majority of the talking and many topics were covered. He spoke passionately about coming back from “the other side” and about his desire to live. He spoke about his Maori culture and how he was sharing it with his son. The topic of his foundation came up again and it was evident that he’d given this a lot of thought. Soon we were at a restaurant. He insisted on buying me lunch, but not before striking up a conversation with the diners next to us. He began sharing more of his culture and asking them about theirs. “This is my brother Kama,” he told them, reigniting the nickname I was given in the early nineties.
I looked at my watch and realised I’d be late to pick up my daughter if I didn’t leave soon. Tank told me not to worry. “I’ll chauffeur you to the school bro, don’t worry about a thing.” He looked for the wait staff. “Excuse me love, would you mind putting this in a takeaway pack for me?” he said as he passed her his bank card. She soon returned with a hefty paper bag filled with food. “Oh, thank you so much love,” he told her warmly.
We arrived at my daughter’s school with five minutes to spare. “Tank, thank you so much for driving all the way into the city, the delicious lunch and then bringing me to the school gates. It’s been great seeing you,” I told him. “Kama, I’ll take you and your princess home,” he replied. I told him that I appreciated it but she would need to sit in a children’s seat. “I thought this might happen so I brought one along with me. You go and get her and I’ll get it out of the boot and set it up for you.” So I went to pick up my daughter. “Today you’re going to meet one of my friends from high school,” I told her.
We arrived back at the car just as Tank had set up the seat. He greeted my daughter warmly and offered her some fruit he had packed. She munched on an apple as we took off. “You want to see how fast this thing can go?” he asked her. “No mate. She doesn’t,” I answered, breaking my own rule about not answering questions directed at my daughter. “I thought you were an adrenaline junkie, Kama,” he said.
He dropped us off and I thanked him again.
Late on the following Saturday night I had a missed call from him. Early the next morning – at 4:06am to be precise – it was the same story.
“Sorry mate. Getting ready for work. Got a 5am start,” I typed.
I didn’t pick up again when he called four hours later.
“Sorry mate. At work still,” I typed.
He told me he had “urgent news”.
I told him I couldn’t talk but I could read his messages.
“Yea,no wicks,I hav Pancreatic Cancer Terminal case”
Wham! That hit hard.
He told me he’d just found out two days earlier.
“Cant do chemo cause will kill me”
It must have been related to his previous health issues.
“Only telln ppl I care about & u r 1”
I knew he valued my friendship, but I wasn’t ready for this.
“So am gonna live on my terms”
Of course he is. Classic Tank!
I called him the moment I finished work. He didn’t pick up so I got on the train. Twenty minutes later he called back. He apologised for missing my call. “I was seeing my Chinese doctor about some special medicine for the cancer,” he told me. “I’m not far from you.” I told him that I’d be home soon and he should drop by.
“Outside urs bro”
I offered him a drink. He told me water would do. We stood in my tiny courtyard by the gigantic trampoline and we spoke, or more accurately, he spoke and I listened. He told me how he was determined to beat this cancer and how he was confident that the herbs he’d just picked up would help him beat it. He spoke about his foundation again and how he was going to share with those struggling the most. “I want you to be my media manager, Kama. You can work from home – that’ll mean more time with your precious family and I’ll pay you more than you’re currently getting. I’ve been watching your videos and you get it.” I told him I was blown away and humbled by such an offer but I deeply loved my current job. He jumped from one topic to another and I started to worry about him. Something seemed wrong. I chose not to ask probing journalistic questions, but instead to listen and be there as a friend even if I had some doubts about the things he was saying.
My wife and kids arrived home. I looked at my watch. I didn’t realise we’d been talking so long. I introduced Tank to my wife and son and apologised that we’d already made an arrangement to take my daughter to the park to see her friends. I promised to catch up again soon and he gave me a big hug. He hugged and kissed my wife – who’s Japanese and not used to kissing people on the first meeting – goodbye.
In the car I looked over at my wife. I wondered what she made of Tank – it was no so much his eye patch or anything related to his appearance, but more the machine-gun conversation style that covered such topics as his personal connection to a major branch of the yakuza. I told my wife about his news from the doctor and I saw her facial expression change. She’s extremely compassionate and she went to get out of the car to speak to him but I stopped her. “Best not to talk to him about it, he wants to keep it quiet for now,” I told her.
The next few days were a bit of a whirlwind for me. I started a new project at work that was quite demanding. There was no real chance to catch up with Tank.
On Friday afternoon I was looking through the notifications on my phone as I rode the train home from work. I clicked on the Facebook app. Another friend’s post caught my eye.
“Rest in Peace my brotha Tank Bevan heaven has gained anotha angel 2 watch ova this family.”
Whack! Something hit me. It wasn’t a sharp pain, but the phone book doesn’t stop the punches from hurting.
Over the weekend I’ve been replaying all the conversations we had. I’ve been think about Tank’s son. How he was laughing at his dad’s jokes. How proudly he wore the silver necklace that Tank has given him. Friends from high school had initially assumed Tank had taken his own life but then learned he had succumbed to illness. Why did he share this secret with me? I felt pangs of guilt. There had been moments when I doubted parts of his story including his terminal cancer.
I’m still processing all of this. I’ve had great support from great people since I learned this news. There are so many aspects of Tank’s life that I am determined to channel through my own life. He lived with passion and spoke from the heart. He made sure to connect with those around him. He lived in his own style. I’m not sure how I’ll honour his life, but the first step was to let the words flow and share them with you all. This is one way I’ll pay tribute to the life and times of Thomas ‘Tank’ Bevan.