Peter Rey sounds as calm as the water in the Gorge Inlet this Sunday morning.
“I’m ready,” he says. “If I die tonight, I’m fine. I can die in three hours, three days, three years.”
He speaks these words as he sits on a bench that looks towards the Gorge Road Bridge. Birds chirp in the background, and the sun is slowly drying off the dew-covered trees that surround the bench, on which Rey sips his morning coffee. The apartment that he shares with his wife Pamela is just around the corner.
He speaks of his wife, and her reaction after finding out that Rey’s brain cancer turned out to be incurable stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme, the same disease that killed Canadian musician Gord Downie.
“What hurt me most was seeing her face,” he says. “She took it a lot worse than I did.”
That was in the summer of 2016. Rey received word that he had a 50 per cent chance of not making it past the fall of 2017, with the morality rate reaching 97 per cent within three years.
Well, it is fall of 2017, and Rey is ready to push on after he crossed the stage this spring to receive his school diploma 45 years after leaving high school prematurely. “Right now, I’m on schedule for 2020 and beyond, because good things have happened,” he says.
Tests have shown that Rey’s “rock” as he calls it has shrunk in size, and changed shape. “It’s not happy,” said Rey, who credits chemotherapy and his ketogenic diet for the change.
Acceptance of what awaits has given Rey a measure of certainty, but also a taste for experiences out of the ordinary.
He recently went skydiving in crossing off one of the items on his bucket list. “That is something I wanted to do since the [1980s],” he says. “It was fantastic. As soon as I landed, my first impulse was ‘that was great, let’s do it again!’”
Rey says his wife was weary. “A lot of people are weary skydiving,” he says. “They are scared of it. I facetiously commented, ‘Yeah, people are dropping likes flies everywhere.’ I loved it so much, but my wife didn’t. She dropped me off, left and came back two hours later to pick me up.”
Rey also wants to visit Jerusalem as part of a tour that would also take him to the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, the ancient fortress of Masada and the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. While he is not sure yet how he will get there, it would fulfill a lifelong dream. He also wants to see the Northern Lights up close, visit his sister in Montreal, and travel to Switzerland, where he has lived and relatives remain. He also wants to skydive again, and Christmas will deliver that wish.
“And at the bottom of the list, you will probably find this astonishing, I have never in my life touched a firearm,” he says. “I would like to shoot some firearms at targets. It sounds like a really fun thing to do. As a teenager, I shot cross-bows.”
In fact, Rey says he feels a bit like a teenager now that he has picked up driving again. While Rey says he is stickler for the rules of road, his social behaviour has undergone a transformation since his diagnosis. Rey says he used to be a shy person. Not anymore. “I have lost my inhibitions,” he says. “If I’m in a queue in Starbucks or something, and something piques my interest, I will start talking to that person about it. No shyness whatsoever.”
Smokers especially – and not in a good way – are liable to get an earful from Rey, who used to smoke four packs day, before quitting smoking along with drinking 25 years ago. “If somebody were to light up, I would say something,” he says. “I can get loud, and then they will yell back at me. As far as I am concerned, the smokers who are left are bullies.”
When Rey is not cruising on the road, chatting up strangers or jumping out of planes, he spends a good deal of his time sleeping. In fact, he says he will do so more and more as the end approaches, leading into a coma from which he will never awake.
“For me, it’s not going to be any pain,” he says. “I’m just going to go to sleep one day and never wake up. There is no better way to die. That’s a blessing, as far as I’m concerned. Go to sleep, and then I will be with Jesus.”