Eight years ago a good friend was diagnosed with a form of incurable cancer.

Our families had sons who were almost the same age, and before his diagnosis, he and his son would often appear on our doorstop after some grand adventure to a museum or to explore some historical site. He was a stay-at-home dad before that even had a name, and when his wife was on travel, he and their son would often go exploring around the state.

We spent quite a few nights at a local restaurant or a hotel swimming pool watching our sons play together while we chatted about everything from history to politics to religion. Those evenings are among my favorite memories.

But then cancer changed everything.

The adventures were curtailed while he and his wife made decisions about medical care. They opted for a fairly new but dangerous procedure which, if it worked, held the promise of a few more years of raising their son as a family.

He almost died in the middle of treatment, but after some very scary days of touch and go, he managed to pull through and get better. The adventures -- although not as many or as often -- began again and life resumed a semblance of normalcy.

In those ensuing years, we received regular updates on his status -- the worrisome news when blood counts weren't quite normal and the good news when something helped to turn things back around or alleviate symptoms. The updates also kept us in the loop with their son's achievements in school, summer adventures with cousins -- small snippets of life going on as normal as could be expected.

And then about a year or so ago, the updates became far more somber. The numbers weren't good or expected to get better. The cancer was back, and the new goals were focused on quality of days and comfort.

Tonight I received a new update from his family that included the very happy news of a son settling into college and the precious memory made of son and father touring the college campus together.

It's been eight years of updates now, and while today's medicine couldn't cure our friend, it gave his family the gift of more time and the gift of more experiences together.

  • 8 more wedding anniversaries
  • 8 more Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays together
  • 1 high school graduation ceremony
  • 1 college acceptance letter
  • 1 father-son college campus tour

We can - and should - talk a lot about the economy of healthcare -- the expense of treatments, the cost of insurance.

We can - and should - advocate from our opposing views about how we structure our healthcare system. And we can discuss at length the challenges we face in balancing the burden of cost for employers, employees, and providers.

But if we fail to talk about value of human within healthcare, we've missed the point.

There is no price tag that can measure the value of time and what it can mean for families who get a little more of it together. But I have to believe that if we can keep the value of our experience as humans at the center of our discussions as we wrestle with such difficult decisions as a nation, the outcome will be better for us all.