Thursday, March 31, 2011

Passed Away Resulting from Cancer: Poh Nikbar March

Johnnie Cochran

The famous attorney, Johnnie Cochran, has been the defense for honorable cases, often representing black victims of racial violence. He has defended individuals who make me proud to be American. Individuals who have made the world a better place, who shape the minds of our delicate youth and enliven the old, who are the epitome of selfless citizens: Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, Riddick Bowe, Marion Jones, Puff Daddy, and O.J. Simpson.

The Juice was minding his business when the bacon began chasing his white Bronco and making ridiculous accusations that he murdered his ex-wife and her lover. This is the same O.J. who won the Heisman Trophy, was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, and brilliantly played Detective Nordberg in The Naked Gun. It was criminal to think he was anything but innocent.

Thankfully, Mr. Cochran rushed to O.J.’s side and proved without a doubt that “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” We can all sleep well knowing our justice system works.

Cochran’s biggest contribution—even more so than keeping the possible Second Coming free—is providing the inspiration for Jackie Childs, the fictional attorney for Kramer in several Seinfeld episodes. When Childs proclaimed, “A bra's got to fit right up against a person's skin…like a glove!" I became concerned that O.J. may take the comedy seriously and do something drastic. But then I remembered that O.J. is like a modern-day Buddha and would never think of raising a finger to anyone.

Cochran stopped practicing law following Puff Daddy’s stolen weapons and bribery case (Puffy was deemed innocent). Cochran was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004, and passed away the following year. It is a shame he would not be able to defend other victims, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the supposed 9/11 mastermind.

Cochran has been honored for the right reasons. His boyhood middle school was renamed the Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Middle School, after a unanimous school board vote. The school board officials said Cochran was an "extraordinary, superb lawyer with movie-star celebrity status." I only wish that if I ever reach book-star celebrity status then my local landfill will be renamed the Benjamin M. Rubenstein dump.
O.J. Simpson wearing glove

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Birthright Israel: We’re Coming Back (Part II of ?)

Read this first:
Birthright Israel: We’re Coming Back (Part I of ?)

We stood in the 115-degree heat ready to climb a mountain in the desert. Cancer had been growing in my hip without my knowledge for at least six months. At first my hip had hurt only when I ran; then when I walked up steps. By this point my hip hurt even in a resting position.

That wasn’t about to change my decision to climb Mount Masada eleven years ago during a family vacation in Israel. Some tour group members rode the aerial tram to the top. Instead, I climbed the “snake path” in under an hour and then lagged behind as I limped between different rocks to sit on, not wanting my family to see my agony, having to hold my breath every step. It was one of my proudest moments.

Once back on the tour bus, I closed my eyes hoping to black out the pain. When I opened my eyes, many hours had passed, and my intense pain had disappeared.

Up to that point I had assumed my hip had a stress fracture, but now I knew something was really wrong. I finally told my parents about my pain when we arrived home from the trip. Two MRIs, a bone scan, and a few doctor appointments later, I was diagnosed with an aggressive tumor in my iliac crest.

Over the ensuing eleven years, I have become mindful of my different types of hip pain. One type in particular bothers me: the kind deep, deep inside my hip, like I felt after Masada. The kind that I felt before I was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. The kind that has struck me down with The Fear that my cancer has returned.

Fast forward to my Birthright Israel trip last month.

We woke up after 5:00 am in order reach the summit of Mount Masada at sunrise. We climbed the easier side of Masada, and not the snake path—that would be our way down.

Top of Mount Masada, Israel
We discussed the history of the mountain and how, when surrounded by Romans, the Jewish people who were settled there committed mass suicide so as not to become slaves, despite suicide being a sin. Our group of 45+ stood at the lower terrace and shouted “Masada shall not fall again!” only to hear it echo back. Then “Birthright!” Then “Borrrriiiiiiiiissssssssss!” (our crazy Russian bus driver).

It was time to head down. Two group members rode the aerial tram. I walked down the snake path with the rest. I coddled my leg with the surgically removed hip, and performed the majority of work with the other, feeling a wildfire flaming through my quad. I mostly kept pace with everyone, slowing down just a few people behind me and getting passed by a few others. Once at the bottom, my hip was very sore, and I began limping to relieve stress. I looked back to where I had started less than an hour earlier. I felt refreshed, invigorated, truly alive, and once again extremely proud of my accomplishment.

Walking down the snake path at Mount Masada, Israel
The next day I felt a deep soreness in my hip—a relative to the pain I felt at Masada in 2000. In the past, I would have panicked with The Fear. But time heals, and so this occasion I knew my hip muscles and joint were simply overworked and needed a rest. I kept limping. No cancer; no panic.

I limped to The Western Wall—the holiest site in Judaism—when we visited two days later. It is customary to write a prayer on a slip of paper and place it in the wall’s cracks. I wrote for God to keep my family healthy. Cancer was not on my mind; neither was my hip. I closed my eyes, placed my hand on the wall and said the Shema, the most important prayer.

I stepped away from the wall and read some additional prayers from the prayer book. Hundreds of deeply religious men were davening around me. The air was saturated with the buzz and energy of prayer. I’m not very religious, but it’s hard not to feel so at the center of the world.

I turned around and limped back to the group. When my hip is sore, I may limp subconsciously for a while, even in the absence of pain. Dozens of cautious steps later, I stood upright, went through the motions of my full gate, and stepped forward. Then again. And again.

For the second time in my life, soon after climbing Masada, in the Land of Israel, my deep hip pain disappeared.

Keep reading:
Birthright Israel: We’re Coming Back (Part III of ?)

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Passed Away Resulting from Cancer: Poh Nikbar February

Teddy Kennedy

My old college roommate, T-Unit, taught me much in life including his knowledge of Joseph Kennedy—John F. and Edward “Teddy” Kennedy’s father—and how he may have made his fortune from bootlegging. T-Unit also believed that the Kennedy bloodline was part of a secret government. Google combined terms like “Illuminati,” “shadow government” and “Kennedy family” and you’ll have a field day reading conspiracy theories.

T-Unit did not teach me about the Chappaquiddick incident. In 1969, Teddy Kennedy told the police that, earlier that night, he accidentally drove his car off a bridge and left the scene of an accident after causing injury. The “injury” was the death of his female passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy was not charged with anything.

I read many articles on this topic last year after my coworker mentioned the incident. The following is a combination of facts and my interpretation, which, if this blog were more popular, would lead to an angry mob of Kennedy supporters ready to castrate me:

Kennedy and Kopechne—a young campaign worker—were attending a party near Martha’s Vineyard, and left together to engage in extramarital behavior, as Kennedy’s wife was pregnant at the time. Kopechne did not tell anyone about her departure, and Kennedy had asked for the car keys from his chauffeur so as to remain secretive. Their car was spotted on a private road, and then veered onto Dike Road when approached by the deputy sheriff. Teddy had also been drinking alcohol, and did not want to destroy his public image.

Dike Road led to Dike Bridge. The road was unpaved without a guardrail. Kennedy drove right off and into a Pond. He swam out; Kopechne did not.

Kennedy walked back to the party, past several houses where he could have phoned for assistance. He called no one. Back at the party, Kennedy summoned his friends to help retrieve Kopechne, which they were unable to do after swimming underwater several times. Kennedy’s friends encouraged him to report the incident, and did not do so themselves because they had assumed he would. Kennedy did not. Instead, Kennedy “had not given up hope all night long that, by some miracle, Mary Jo would have escaped from the car."

At dawn that morning, two fishermen found the car and called the police. A professional diver was sent to retrieve the body. The diver later testified that an air bubble would have formed around Kopechne, allowing her to “live for at least two hours down there.” Kopechne did not die from the crash or from drowning—she suffocated when she used up all the oxygen in her air pocket in the underwater vehicle.

The medical examiner was satisfied with accidental drowning as the cause of death. The District Attorney’s attempt at a belated autopsy, based on evidence suggesting a form of death other than drowning, was not authorized.

If I still lived with T-Unit then surely he would explain the alternative theory that Kennedy, after being spotted with the young woman, returned to the party and had Mary Jo drive herself home. Unfamiliar with the car and intoxicated, she drove off the bridge by herself and died. This would explain Teddy’s inaction and seeming lack of concern.

…So, in conclusion via this prototypical transition, Teddy was a great person and senator, enduring endless personal tragedies all the while championing social justice. He is the fourth-longest-serving senator in U.S. history. Enacting universal health care was “the cause of my life,” he said.

Teddy was diagnosed with brain cancer in May 2008, and passed away a year later. Teddy had received countless awards and honors, including the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award.
Crash site of Tenny Kennedy

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