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No sympathy zone: Don’t look at The Big C look at the bigger ME

June 8, 2012

I went down to Pleasure Point, took off my shirt and sat on the beach and watched the surfers. I’d see a few people I knew. And it’s funny, there are some people who don’t recognize me because of my hair loss. Still, I just soak up the sun to bleed the cancer out of me. Soul broasting.

A guy I know named Driveway Dave talks to everybody, and talks all the time; in fact he’ll say things like this, “After I tell you this, I’ll shuttup.” And I say, “No you won’t.” He smiles and says you’re right. I say, “You know you introduce me to people who I don’t know and I’m not sure if I will like them yet. They say hello so it gives them access to the surf spot, then they burn you and take the waves. I don’t want to know them. I’ll get to know them by how they are in the water. If they’re bad people I’ll know them, and if they’re good people I’ll get to know them. But I don’t want to get to know them.”

Dave said, “Yeah, people can be that way.A person can say about a bad person, you can say what you want, but he’s always been good to me.”

“Well, if your on land you don’t think piranhas are that bad, and if you’re in the water you don’t think lions are that bad,” I said.

I stared seeing more and more people come down the stairs to the beach, carrying surf tech boards and sponges. They’re pale, overweight, and smiling and like each other. I didn’t want to see them. So on weak legs from chemo I went up the steps and to my car.

I ran into two people I hadn’t seen in a long time. They were laughing and engaged in a lively conversation. When I approached them and said, “Hello.” They looked at me with concern but were quiet. They knew I was going through cancer. And so to break the tension I kept asking about them and trying to get back into a conversation. But everything seemed forced. I appreciated the concern but I was mad inside. They were looking at the Big C and not seeing me. I didn’t want sympathy. I’d rather see smiles and hope people admired and encouraged the spirit of me that was fighting this disease. I wanted to say, “Look into my eyes. Look! Does this look like a man who is dying?” But I didn’t. They depressed me. I felt a hollowness. A leaden feeling drew away my bounce. I left thinking they had goodbye-eyes not hello-look-at-Fred.

Then I went into the Freeline Surf Shop to see my friend Wayne and drop off a copy of “We The Victors” for another friend who is going through cancer treatments. The book came out a long time ago, I read it when I first had testicular cancer. I underlined the parts that moved me.

John Mel, a nice guy who has owned the shop for well over thirty years. He said,”Hey Fred, how are you doing?”

“You know, fighting it and getting my swings in. I think that without my testicles that when I golf I should be able to hit from the woman’s tees.” He laughed. “And they donated my testicle to the women’s studies course at UCSC.” I take off  my beret. “See my hair is coming back. You know who does my hair? The Stanford Cancer Center.”

He smiled and said, “It’s great that you can keep your sense of humor.”

“Hey, I got to0 keep swinging,” I replied. “I certainly can’t keep hanging.”

There are people who don’t know how to react. There are people I had known for over twenty years who could have easily visited me in the hospital when I was going through chemo and they didn’t lift a finger, or even come to see me at my home when I was weak. I was as low as could be in my life and they couldn’t be bothered to see me or help. I have to let those things go. A friend who drove me numerous times to the hospital for my treatments said, “Some people can’t deal with it because it forces them to deal with their own mortality.” I said, “Well, they’re still going to die! But I don’t think that’s it. They don’t go out of their way because they really don’t want to give of themselves. They’ll go out of their way for people they work with because it benefits them. But they won’t give up their time for other people. They have you in a category. It’s like people at the surf spot. They’re like coworkers. They talk to you in that environment but beyond that they never go out of their way. And time is the most valuable thing we have. Think about it, when you were a kid you have fond memories of the adults who took the time with you. I have bigger problems right now than their problems. They ask about me but don’t do anything, so what. I’m not mad at them, but I have to say, I care a little less about them, and put myself towards the people who cared for me. But like I said, I have bigger problems.”

I drove in my car looked at my hair growing back, and for amusement, snapped my head back as if I were trying to flip the hair out of my eyes. I laughed. I remember how my Dad was always amused and surprised when I’d do something funny, like approach the automatic doors of the supermarket and throw my arms out and shout”Open!” as if I was a wizard able to make the doors open. I remember his smile, and the gleam of amusement in his eyes, and I smile back at it in the rear-view mirror. “Yeah, that’s me,” I said. The stagnant coat sympathy gone, and I was seeing me instead of the Big C.

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