The Gift of Living

Not every present comes wrapped in a box.

By G.W. Miller III
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 3 | Posted Dec. 24, 2008

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Health and happiness: Fighting cancer, Rocky Tharpe (left), with daughter Feighanne and dog Bindi, has a new understanding of what matters. (photo by G.W. Miller III)

Not every present comes wrapped in a box.

As Rocky Tharpe sits on the sofa, petting his two-year old dachshund Bindi, he says he's no longer worried about getting a nicer car or bigger television.

"Material stuff?" he says with a pause. "It's just so not important. It's just bullshit. It used to be important to me too. Now I don't give a crap."

Rocky and I are sitting in his ex-wife's living room watching his 16-year-old daughter jam through the Wii version of AFI's "Miss Murder" on Guitar Hero.

The home is ensconced in holiday cheer--wooden Santas sitting on the windowsill, five stockings dangling over the fireplace, green place mats with red trim on the nearby kitchen table, and a giant, perfectly symmetrical Christmas tree twinkling in the corner.

His ex's new husband walks in and out of the room, congenially offering us beer or wine each time he passes by.

"We've taken an unusual situation and made it work," Rocky explains.

He was friends with his ex, Jill Longshaw, before they dated, married and had a daughter together 16 years ago. Now, more than 10 years after they divorced, their friendship has grown even stronger.

Mostly it's because of their daughter, Feighanne Tharpe. But they spend even more time together now because Rocky's been battling lung cancer since September 2007. He refuses to slow down despite the medication, the chemotherapy, the pain, the diminishing alternatives for treatment and the doctor's orders not to drive.

Because he's so determined to spend time with Feighanne, Jill often shuttles Rocky around.

"The way we look at it," Jill says, "he's really been heroic."


Sixteen months ago, Rocky, who happens to be my stepbrother, was having a bad day at his Vortex Fitness Equipment office. The stress of trying to sell expensive, disabled-friendly workout equipment made his back ache. At least, he thought that's what it was.

Rocky, 43, hopped into his Jeep to go home early. As he drove, the pain became increasingly intense. It moved from his back to his abdomen, and to his back again. He doubled over while driving.

He pulled into a local clinic where they diagnosed him with pneumonia. Still ailing two weeks later, he went back to the clinic. This time, they X-rayed his chest.

"They saw a shadow on my lung," Rocky remembers.

A few weeks later, in October 2007, doctors removed one of his lungs. It was riddled with cancer.

Since then, cancer cells have appeared on his brain, spinal cord, liver and, most recently, on his other lung.

"I've got one good lung left and it's got spots on it," he reports, his voice faint from the cocktail of meds.

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1. Mom LynnMom said... on Jul 28, 2010 at 03:32PM

“This brings back so much. I was so impacted by Rocky's short life. Such a brave struggle and such beautiful support from his daughter, mother, sisters and a man named Jim Longshaw. This letter is a tribute to the people who helped Rocky's life have great meaning. We'll all see him later.”

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2. mom mom Lynn said... on Jul 28, 2010 at 03:38PM

“Of course I meant ex-wife Jill, not mother. I know Rocky lost her also. Sisters are Feighanne's sisters and Jim Longshaw (proudly my son) and Feigh's step fathert.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Mar 26, 2011 at 06:03AM

“ROCKY WAS AN INCREDIBLE MAN. I LOVED HIM DEARLY AND I STILL SAY PRAYERS TO HIM, I BELIEVE HE IS STILL WITH US IN SPIRIT. GLASS WAS ALWAYS HALF FULL AND WAS SMILING ALL THE TIME WHEN I WAS WITH HIM. HE LOVED CHILDREN AND THEY LOVED HIM BACK JUST AS MUCH. SO SORRY I WAS NOT AROUND WHEN HE WAS SICK!!! SUCH A SHAME TO LOSE HIM AT SUCH A YOUNG AGE!!!!”

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