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The Radiation Judge and my Cancer Jury

June 15, 2012

He was sitting across from me. He was wearing a hospital robe. He was thin. He was bald. He was younger than me. He was weak. His limbs seemed arms seemed like the collapsed on his upper legs. And his knees were together. His mother, a nurse, was sitting next to him looking drawn and strained and concerned.

“What kind of cancer do you have?:” he asked me.

“Testicular cancer,” I said.

He smiled, rested his head on his mother’s shoulder and said with an amused but hardened edge to her, “Mine is worse than that.” His eyes flared at me with a glare but didn’t offend me.

His mother turned her head away and scrunched her face to block the tears.

This was thirty years ago. It was when I was first diagnosed with testicular cancer. I was getting radiation therapy and in the waiting room with other cancer patients.I was twenty-seven, he was maybe eighteen. He had brain cancer. He was usually nodding off when I was in the waiting room I was a journalist for the Danbury News-Times, and decided to writer about my treatment to possibly save a life. One day, a photographer from the paper came to take my picture. The kid perked up and asked about the camera. He wanted to be a photographer. He talked about the new top-of-the-line camera his mother purchased for him. And when he did, I realized he was going to die. People who want to give you the most expensive gift you’ve ever wanted usually do that when they think you’re not going to be around long.

After I finished my treatments, I returned to the Norwalk Hospital with flowers for the radiology nurses who took care of me. I asked the nurse, “How did that one kid do?” “Oh, Tommy,” she said, walking with me. Then added, “He’s in a happier place now.”

Yeah, that was her way of saying he was dead and in heaven.

Then she said, “His mother didn’t handle his treatment well, and she was a nurse.”

I said nothing but noticed the nurse had a gold necklace with a crucifix. Another true Christian. I thought do you think that kid was happy to be dead? Do you think his mother wanted to watch him suffer? He didn’t want to be happy, he wanted to be a photographer.

I never knew his full name. But he never had a chance to pursue his dreams. And the way his eyes enviously and harshly flared at me meant he wasn’t going to have a chance to fulfill his dreams, but I did. I was leaving. I was going to be alive. His look was an accusation that haunted me. It said, “You better live up to what you want to be. If you live and settle for less you disgrace me, and you should have died instead of me because you wasted your chance.”

And when I left the hospital that day, he was following me. When I received a letter  from a urologist telling me a patient of his discovered he had testicular cancer my newspapers articles about my cancer experience, and that because of those articles, the patient discovered his tum0r in time and was going to live. I imagined that kid applauding me. And when I quit my job as a journalist to go to California and pursue stand-up comedy and surf. I looked to my right and imagined him, thin in his robe and nodding his approval. And when I finished a novel. I saw him, giving me a weak thumbs up.. But whenever I made mistakes along the way, I felt his reproach, but sometimes asked forgiveness by saying to him, “I know, but hey, you don’t know what it’s like out here. Even you would make a few mistakes.” And he would smile.

But his presence was always with me.

And thirty years later, after getting diagnosed with testicular cancer again, suffering through chemo, and losing my hair, and being weak, and thin, and emerging through it but still wondering if my cancer is cured. Yet, I was blessed experiencing all the support and love from friends, had performed stand-up comedy, surfed, wrote novels, and performed on the radio, and worked at a winery and made my own wine, and knowing I lived up to my expectations and still had more to give. I don’t see him anymore. I don’t feel him anymore. He is gone.

I realized why, he left. He doesn’t have to judge me anymore.

I’m innocent.

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