This is Mike Sloan’s final resting place near Peterborough. It’s one of the perils of pre-planning – Mike died on Monday, very much in 2020. Mike had one persona before the rest of the country got to know him via his cancer fight. He developed another one, a better, more effective and loving one, afterward.
His death was a punch to the gut, even though we all knew it was coming. On Sunday, he could no longer swallow. It wasn’t a surprise that he decided to put his plans for MAID – Medical Assistance in Dying – into action. His one lingering worry was his beloved cat, Chub. He made plans for Chub to go to a neighbour who will love and take care of him. But Mike worried that the cat would feel abandoned by him. It broke his heart.
There were two Mike Sloans. Pre-cancer Mike could be infuriating and refuse to listen to reason. He took to Twitter to attack people for their ideas, not the ideas. Enemies? He made a few as he aimed to seek out phonies and fashioned himself as a bit of a latter-day, adult Holden Caufield from The Catcher in the Rye. But Mike was smarter and better informed. Suffering from PTSD and forever altered by abuse, he lived below the poverty line and was frustrated by it.
And then Mike was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He had been misdiagnosed as having laryngitis. But he fought for another opinion. He told me, and many others, I’m sure, that he knew all along it was something worse. It was a rare and incurable form of thyroid cancer: anaplastic thyroid cancer. Mike went to one radiation appointment but ended up backing out. He believed he was better off letting nature take its course and arranging MAID for when the time was right. This type of cancer moves quickly and has a 100% mortality rate. Mike chose quality of life over having to spend his final months in and out of a hospital.
As thousands of people now know, Mike shared details of his final months on Twitter. From darkly funny: “The way medical people come in and out of this apartment, I’m glad I gave up masturbating” to frightening: ” Well, they think I have pneumonia. I don’t want to go to the hospital, but I may have to.” You didn’t have to know him personally to be drawn in by his musings. A dying man sharing the moment-by-moment end of his life isn’t something you see every day.
In order to really know the new Mike, you have to understand the old Mike. He used to be a publicly grumpy, one-track button-pushing insult machine. Sometimes it was warranted. Many times it wasn’t. And yet, for some strange reason, I liked the guy even as we had heated exchanges on Twitter DMs. I’d tell him he was wrong about someone and to stop being so mean; it was a waste of time. He’d tell me I didn’t know what it was like to be poor and food insecure. And then we’d eventually patch it up and carry on. My relationship with him wasn’t unusual. He had several tug-of-war friendships. I didn’t know him best and I probably didn’t fight with him worst.
A few years ago, we had Mike on our radio show to talk about poverty. It upset some people because they said we legitimized him and gave him a forum he didn’t deserve. Soon, we realized we couldn’t invite him on anymore.
Mike went on a Twitter rant about the wife of one of our station’s managers. She shares a name with the object of his disdain. He had the wrong woman. It wasn’t pleasant. He apologized. He worried about a lawsuit and asked me to intervene which, of course, I couldn’t. Hiring a lawyer was out of the question. He had nothing and couldn’t afford one. This is just one of a thousand “old Mike” stories. He just couldn’t help himself sometimes.
So, when Mike got sick I wondered if he’d change his ways, mellow out, realize he was yelling at clouds. It took some time, but he finally did. I was among dozens who gathered at his living memorial last year . He finally understood that he was loved and appreciated. Eventually, he reached out to most of the people he had hurt or humiliated and asked for their forgiveness. I always knew he had it in him.
In one of our last exchanges a couple of days before he died via MAID on Monday he told me, “If I have a regret, it’s that I didn’t know I had value until this late in life. I could have been like this my whole life. Amusing I hope. Interesting. I could have built a career. Too bad but life never makes sense.”
Everyone has value. Whether or not you agree with them, they have value. Realizing this, along with a too-early expiration date, made all the difference to Mike. Unfortunately, time was awfully short when that realization came. I’ll miss him.