|Jason Roach, KF4VDX, and his wife Kris|
This is a post I've been dreading to publish for awhile now. One of my best friends ever, Jason Roach, KF4VDX, became a "silent key" this past Thursday after an 18-month battle with prostate cancer.
I don't know why he was called to Heaven so soon (he's my age) but there must've been a good reason. He was never one to turn his back on a friend in need and up until a few weeks ago was still making trips to the mountain top to work on his repeaters as well as that of a friend's. Any time I needed someone to help me with an issue he was ready and willing to offer his support.
It's been almost 2 years since another friend of ours, Tom Ogle, passed away (also from prostate cancer) and while we were attending the burial, Jason commented how he was having stomach cramps and pain. None of us put much thought into it at the time, but over the next few weeks he seemed to continue having issues. Whenever we talked on the radio, he kept complaining of "problems", but never elaborated, other than heartburn and cramps in his stomach.
He finally went to see a doctor and he received the news that he had prostate cancer, stage 4. But, unlike Tom, there was a sense of hope. His doctors seemed more optimistic and proceeded to work on getting his tumor removed. However, setbacks seemed to always occur. He was set to have surgery to remove the tumor, but during surgery, the doctor couldn't because it was too big to extract. Then, a "spot" was found on his liver. Then the chemo didn't affect the tumor. The list goes on.
I tried to be there for him, but at the same time let him fight his battle without getting in the way. Every time I talked with him, on the phone or on ham radio, it always seemed to be something causing a setback or delay in getting treatment. He was in and out of the hospital several times, but never gave up hope, even as the weight came off and his strength waned. He fought until his last breath.
I never gave up hope, either, but at the same time I saw the toll it was taking physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, and socially. In the back of my mind, I could tell over the last few months there wouldn't be much time left unless a miracle happened. Sadly, that miracle never came.
I've known him for about as long as I've been married. He really enjoyed weather, the same as I do. As East Tennessee SKYWARN grew into a well-respected community, Jason, Tom, our friend Chuck, and many others including myself comprised a team of people who helped relay severe weather reports to the National Weather Service in Morristown. We all became a well-oiled machine and provided reliable information to the NWS when called upon.
During a "dark period", which I will not discuss, there were a lot of people who turned their back on me, believing that I was the bad guy. But a few hams showed me who my true friends really were, and both Jason and Tom were right there by my side. There were others, absolutely, but Jason was more than vocal about letting people know why he was my friend. There were times I felt completely isolated and alone, and Jason was always there to talk to me on the radio and the phone when he was able to do so.
When people began to "see the light", and I got back in to SKYWARN, Jason helped me pick up where we left off, getting (most of) the so-called "band" back together. I never forgot that act of kindness, and I always worked to show him my eternal gratitude.
His knowledge of electronics, radio, and music was incredible. Like me, he was an 80s kinda guy, although he preferred hair bands, where as I've always enjoyed new wave and synth pop more, but we both did crank up AC/DC without hesitation.
We enjoyed Field Day, SKYWARN, and just talking on the radio in general, whether it was on one of his repeaters or on simplex, or even 10 meters. He'd message me whenever there was a band opening, and I would join him if I had the time.
The night before I left for vacation last month, I ran by the hospital to see him. He was noticeably weak, his voice was gone to barely above a whisper, and he was frail. That's probably the first time I truly saw the seriousness of his illness. I stayed for just a few minutes, as his son was there, and I felt like he needed that time together. I told him I needed him to get out of the hospital to help me set up my tower and get my hamshack remodeled, and he'd have to climb the damned tower. He just rolled his eyes at me. I did say I planned to take him to Dayton someday for Hamvention, because I wanted to go back (I've not been up there since 1999). He'd never been and seemed to like the thought of going up there. Whatever I thought would raise his spirits, I did my best to say.
However, that would be, in effect, the last time we had a conversation where he was coherent and alert. I'd gone to see him several more times in the last few weeks, but he was always in and out, heavily medicated, and it pained me when he would talk and I couldn't understand him.
Thursday night, I saw a message on Facebook and had an awful feeling. I told my wife and we rushed to the hospital. He was not conscious, shallow breathing, and his heart rate was in decline. We said our goodbyes, shed our tears, and as I took Jes home, I called our friend Chuck, who wanted to see him, and so I rushed him back to the hospital. As another friend (Josh) arrived, his heart rate dropped sharply, and when Chuck and I got to the room, he was gone.
It tore me up to see him wear away to practically nothing because of cancer. He was 44. Medical experts say that men shouldn't have to worry about having a prostate exam or colonoscopy until they hit 50. I would STRONGLY encourage all men to have an exam if they hit 50, but be aware of any issues with your digestive system no matter what age you are. I had my gallbladder taken out at 40 and just a few months ago had a colonoscopy after a test came back recommending one, even though I am "too young". Fortunately my colonoscopy came back negative, but it was a nervous time for me. It certainly made Jason feel at ease when I told him I had a clean bill of health.
I'd like to conclude with a story about how much of a sense of humor Jason had. He could be a prankster, both on the air and in person. One night on the radio I was testing out a new MFJ desk mic and trying to calibrate it so that my audio wasn't too "hot". Jason and another friend of ours, Eddie, kept having me do 10-counts, adjustments to the mic, etc. At one point Jason asked me where the radio was in relation to the room, saying he thought he heard an echo, and wasn't sure the source, and I told him I was in the far corner, across from where the closet was. Jason asked me what was in the closet, and I told him in contained the boxes my radios and microphone came in. He then instructed me to press the "lock" on the mic, and go back to the closet and get the box, and talk while I did so, in order to test the microphone's sensitivity. I did as instructed, telling them in elaborate detail where I was in the room and talking loudly, then quietly, and trying to give them a good idea how sensitive the microphone was. When I un-keyed the microphone, Jason replied (with a great sense of pride I might add), "Congratulations, Greg, on coming out of the closet!". This became one of his favorite inside jokes I'd occasionally get reminded of, whether I wanted to be reminded of it, or not...
Thanks, Jason, for being my friend. Now and always, you will be missed.