dember camera 067Chapter One


For me, growing up, among the deeply frightening list of things that could possibly ever really befall me, in my semi-precious state of seemingly infinite invulnerability, with dire and certain-death circumstances, getting Cancer was very, very, very close to the top of the list. I felt so deeply sorry for people with cancer and also profoundly fascinated with how they actually did it. That is, live that way. Knowing- in the way only people who have Cancer must know- that they are going to die one day. For sure. For me, growing up, this just seemed to me like the absolute worst thing that could ever happen to a person. People with cancer died. Quickly and sadly.

In the 7th grade Beep Thurick’s mom died. I never knew her but I knew which house in Mountain Park they lived in, Desiree lived a few houses away. She had the same crush on Beep that Lucia, Molly, Eve, Heather and I had. Something about that guy. He was Junior High Hot. The day after his mom died, Beep came to school. Just like any other day. Nobody knew what to say. It was so fucking sad. I think I cried for him, and her and his beautiful sister Lynae who had long, straight blond hair and dated and the best looking defensive end and was still the kind of girl everyone liked.

Cancer did not have any other name. It didn’t have a breast or a kidney or a lymph gland of any sort. Cancer was just that. A sad end to life. A certain and very sad end.

This was sometime between 1969 the year of my birth and 2003 the year I put down the telephone having ended the conversation I just had with the very nice Surgeon telling me about some sort of Leukemia or something.

Nicole’s sister Jackie died of Leukemia my freshman year of high school. She was two years ahead of us, 16 years old. The three of us drove to California in their families gracefully-aging Volvo. We went to Oakland. We rode the Bart. Jackie had gigantic black eyes and a huge, neon smile and she could laugh her ass off. Nicole and I were 14 that summer. I traveled to Seattle to visit when Nicole donated her bone marrow in a very experimental procedure where the marrow was transferred from the donor into the patient. She had little dotted scars shattered across her lower back where they took tissue. I never knew how much it must have hurt her. All over.

I think it was Ron who told me on the steps at school. Or maybe someone called the night before. Jackie really died. It was awful. It was tragic. It was cancer.

I do remember crying on my bed after her funeral. I do remember a distinct moment when I felt as though she were very close there with me in my room and it was not a sad feeling. At least not for her.

Amid the constant low current of deaths told in passing…”his mother died”…”oh, so sorry to hear that”…”well, yeah, sad…”….”what, happened?”…”oh, some sort of cancer”, loved ones fell.

I was honored, surprised and even shocked to be asked to sing at Uncle Charles’s funeral. Everyone in the family assured me that if I couldn’t make it through, that would be totally understandable. And I didn’t make it through. Got all choked up. But that was the way Uncle Charles always sang too. With big red tears in his eyes. The stories of him singing Oh, Danny Boy are legendary and told with wide eyes. To this day, and certainly not back then- I’m not sure what he died of. Just that it was some sort of cancer, speedy and greedy and strong that took him down. Grandma said, after it was all over, that he hadn’t wanted anyone to see him at the end….”he looked so bad” she said.

Now Uncle Charles was not an Olympic Athlete, let’s be clear about that. He wasn’t going out of his way to take care of his temple- Lord knows. But when all you know about a certain word is that it causes all life as we know it to end for people you know, people just like you, living, breathing, smiling, laughing people you enjoy spending time with- a sort of conditioning starts to take place.

A potentially unconscious pattern of thought develops and the bottom line, for me- growing up, was that if you got cancer- your ass was grass.

I have found however- that there is an up side to it all.

For instance, your pants really do fit better once that “last –however many- pounds” is off. Even if it came off during some mild chemotherapy appointments.


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