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Going back to the cancer battlefield: Stanford Cancer Center

March 25, 2015



Went back to the Stanford Cancer Center to see the most beautiful people in the world: the oncology nurses and the people receiving chemo. Donuts to the nurses. Left some books for the chemo guys and candy for the people in the chemo waiting room. I went into the infusion area and walked around slowly, and left a book. I do this so people see the Relay For Life shirt and on the back it says, “I got it. I survived” I walk through their battlefield to let them know they aren’t the walking wounded but heroic people walking to the horizon of a cure. I will not let cancer define me, but I will not forget those behind me. I choose not to cast the shadows of others. There are no shadows in the light ahead.

I told her about Australia, She was all excited to hear about it. A nurse who didn’t know me, looked at my face and said, “You look so happy!”

I went into the Infusion area. All the chairs were occupied by people receiving chemo. This might seem a depressing place to some. But all I can say is it energizes me. These are people who have the courage to fight for their lives, and you’d be surprised how many people might not rise to these heights, even when they’re alive and healthy–all they have is the mirrored ambition of their egos and achievements, and never know who they really are in their hearts–their brain is always doing the math, usually subtracting the connections and obligations we have to others and justifying it.

A women in her lsat sixties, weak and thin wearing a knit cap.She was eating cut fruit from a styrofoam cup with a plastic fork. Her eyes lit up. I said, “How are you?”

“i’m fine,” she replied.

“I sat where you sat,” I said. “Four weeks.”

“I’m in my fourth week and I have six to go. Why are you here? Visiting someone?”

“No, I came for you. I bought donuts for the nurses and candy. Do you want a jelly belly?”

She smiled and shook her head, and nodded at her fruit cup.

“All i can say is I learned the people you have done the most for in life and have given back the least to you, weren’t there for me. But others came, wonderful people who gave of themselves. Those guardian angels of the wilderness,”

Her eyes glazed and she smiled, “Yes, the people who come are amazing,”

“You go through this and fight for your life, then the person you think the least about, the one who is the least important, is yourself, and what you want. I’m not saying you can feel that way all the time. But you think of others. That’s why I come here.” I pointed to the chemo tube. “I sat here and watch the chemo drip into me. ANd I thought about going to Australia and I did. That’s why I’m wearing this hat.I thought about what was beyond this. I know it’s hard.” I paused. “I leave you alone, just saying hi. All the best.””

“Well, bless you. For what you’re doing.”

I went through the other rooms and made sure other people so the surivor message on my shirt. I walked slowly and paused. I noticed some heads turned and saw it. Good, I thought, good. I left a few books.

I walked out and put some jelly bellies on the table in the waiting room. Ad man in his sixties and another woman who had a mask over her face made eye contact with me and smiled.

I sat down and said, “I sat here and these were the only things I could eat. They say eat healthy but I ate all types of crap just so I could taste.”
They smiled and laughed.

“I did medicinal marijuana just so I could get some splinters of flavor. Just so I could taste and remind myself in life I had a hunger.” They nodded and listened. “Then after I got better and tried to smoke that marijuana, I was watching Animal House on my birthday and saw three Dean Wormers and crawled on my knees to bed. You know, you don’t really know how much soak chemo keeps those meds out from reaching you.” I paused. “I wrote this book.”

The man took it and said, “Small print.”

I laughed and said, “Everyone’s a critic–even when they’re getting chemo. If the print wa bis the book would be too heavy for you to lift. Check out the picture in the back, it wasn’t photoshopped, that’s me. That’s me with boxing gloves in the CAT scan.” He turned the book around and studied the back text. One line is “If life is a dream, then death is a wakeup call…” And I see his eyes narrow, and he was an intelligent man who had scene a lot of life, and the words hit him, and I could see him nodding at the words with a feeling of you-got-that-right, and he knew this was a book that was real. And I felt proud to see it.

He started turning through the book and showing the woman the pictures and she wanted one too.

“I left some with the nurses. They’re free. I have an ebook for 99-cents because I saw there were ebooks for 25 dollars and you know, with chemo you’re broke, and it’s wrong to make money to provide help.”

I left them and went outside. Usually there are cregivers and people recovering from chemo sitting outside.

“That’s a nice shirt.” said a thin and strained woman who was with her mother, who had cancer. She had it in her jaw, some of her teeth were missing on the left side of her face and the right side of her face where part of her jaw was missing was sunken. She showed me where they took some bone from her ankle. Some people cringe at these sights, all I saw were combat badges of honor.

I said, “Fighting for your life is the most courageous thing to do. So many people don’t, and we don’t see them because they’re not here.”

Her caregiver said, “So with chemo what did you feel.”

“Well, you’re tired, but it’s a different kind of fatigue. It’s like you clothes weight a ton and the weigh is pressing down from outside of you.” Her mother nods. “And I was cold all the time, wearings sweatpants, a sweatshirt, and sitting and shivering in front of a space heater on a warm spring day. ANd even then there were people I knew who could have come by to see me, and drove by my house every day and didn’t. That was tough to handle. But others came, others came. There’s a lot of pain, but it’s all a path to a cure.”

“Why are you here?”

“Donuts for the nurses. Left some jell bellies in there for you. It hurt going through chemo, but after you get through this pain, you just think of the pain of others, and if you don’t care about that then you’ve learned nothing. You just don;t think you’re important anymore. Not all the time. But it’s there.”

Later, I walked down the stairs and down the aisles that lead to all the different clincis that handle a variety of cancers, and walked slowly so people could see my shirt. I’d stop, and act like I was looking for something else. But I’d see heads turn.

Then I saw a little girl, probably twelve, sitting in a wheelchair. Still looking pretty good. But she saw the Aussie hat and the shirt and looked at me like I was some comic book hero. We made eye contact and I smiled and continued walking them turned and walked past her and stopped so she could see the survivor on my shirt. And as I left the hospital she stared at me and looked up to her mother.

Man, what can you say?

You fight so hard for your life. And when you make it out. You have to find the will to overcome the stigma of having cancer and trying to find work. I’ve been trying to lock into performing and even hospital work. And I have to say the cruelest thing done to me was a comic refusing to book me or even allow me to perform for free on the grounds that he had his reason and “didn’t want to have a show about cancer.” And they say cancer is the worst thing a person can have. Comedy was the one thing I always believed in. And the challenge is never to let the evil ones shadows to turn you away from the light. They are mud people. You can close your eyes and float to the stars.


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