Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Bond: My August Cancer Peep


When I was diagnosed with cancer twelve years ago, I reached out to my friend, Hamburgers. He had hemophilia, a serious enough disease that would allow him to relate to me, I thought. His knowledge was more extensive than I expected.

I wanted to know the decibel level of an MRI. “A jackhammer,” he replied. When I learned I'd be treated at NIH, he described the atmosphere and even the treatment floor. “Does the waiting room still have that big fish tank?” he asked. And when I wanted to wash my hands every seven seconds, he busted out instant hand sanitizer. “IHS!” he excitedly announced.

I had not considered why Hamburgers possessed broad knowledge about mitigating infection and one of the world’s largest research hospitals. Maybe he owned stock in Purell and sold it to cancer people? Hamburgers did possess a strong knowledge of markets.

Halfway through my year of treatment, Hamburgers shared a secret that connected the dots: he had been infected with HIV when he was three years old. We talked and laughed about disease for the next three hours, as we consumed and partially digested fake meat from Taco Bell. Our biggest howls were when we entered the restaurant, both on crutches—his injury hemophilia-related, mine cancer.

Hamburgers was the only person I talked to about cancer. My No Complaining rule prohibited me from discussing it, but Hamburgers was exempt. And I was one of the first friends he told. Our bond strengthened at the University of Virginia. We would chat until just before the sun came up—sometimes with Halo, sometimes without. When we felt that we were discussing disease and their related struggles too much, then we switched topics to football, candy and girls.

The struggle we discussed most was revelation. Who has a right to know? Does it make us Sick Kids to bring it up? Does the knowledge forever change others’ perceptions of us? How would girls accept us with that baggage? Does Hamburgers have to justify withholding that secret to long-term friends?

I couldn’t hide cancer—my lift, limp and scars revealed the truth. And when I wrote my book and began this blog, I couldn’t mask my cancer with the world’s supply of L’Oreal. Cancer is a chunk of who I am, and now that I can’t hide it, I don’t try. I am happier and more complete this way. The transformation from my former guarded self to the current open one is astonishing.

Hamburgers didn’t need a spec of makeup to camouflage his HIV. Before college he told a handful of friends and maybe another handful during college. Many times he wanted to tell friends but couldn’t follow through, sometimes for lack of courage and other times to not disrupt pleasant conversation.

Like me, Hamburgers is also now in a better place. He is married, as healthy as he’s been in 25 years, and very active in the hemophiliac community. Friends who were not aware of his secret were shocked when they read my book (he approved my disclosure each of the several dozen times I asked). In fact, my book was the push he needed.

One month ago Hamburgers posted on Facebook that he had celebrated the 25th anniversary of his HIV diagnosis. I didn’t think anything of it at first glance. Then the next day I recalled his posting and texted him immediately, “Holy shit…did you Facebook your HIV?”

I think it is human nature to want to share our stories. I have and will continue to tell mine. And Hamburgers now tells his. I hope he feels happier and more complete because of it.

Hamburgers and I no longer live near each other, no longer go to college, and rarely play video games. But our bond remains. I was very proud of him at his wedding. I am proud that his wife, Bubble, calls me his “boyfriend.” And I feel most proud of Hamburgers for overcoming one of his biggest demons and sharing his story.

Here’s to 25 more years of us remaining healthy and cancer-free. And if in our old age we find ourselves on crutches together, then I’ll suggest we step up to El Taco.
Playing guitar at Greenstone Overlook

Leia Mais…

Sunday, August 26, 2012

‘Expend’ your Youthful Side

Sylverster Stallone's Expendables 2 movie poster
When Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro were casted in Heat 21 years after The Godfather: Part II, the moviesphere tingled. The full cast may have been among the most star-studded ever. Until The Expendables 2: Sly, Arnold, Willis, Van Damme, Jet Li, Statham, Chuck Norris, Gale from The Hunger Games and the Russian from Rocky IV. Beyond combining the greatest cast of 80’s action stars and developing the second most gory American film (behind Rambo), Sylvester Stallone also broke records for taking the most steroids and wearing the worst mustache, excluding Hitler and Michael Jordan.

Expendables 2 was hilarious. It made fun of its genre, cast’s average age, and the Russian from Rocky IV because he’s the Russian from Rocky IV. The characters were based on the perception of the actors who played them, and sometimes referenced lines from old blockbusters.

Arnold Schwarzenegger—my childhood hero behind Ken Griffey, Jr., and O.J. Simpson—glowed in his return to Hollywood. If I could change anything from the last decade it would be Arnold remaining an actor instead of the Governator; getting a second cancer would earn honorable mention. I can’t wait to see his upcoming films, and only hope he gets hold of Sly’s steroids so he can play the Social Security version of Terminator.

Still, Expendables 2 succeeds because of Sly and Statham’s friendship. Their characters, Barney Ross and Lee Christmas, share an understanding of their jobs and place in the world that the rest don’t. Sly is dark and unwilling to grasp the light. I wanted to shout at the screen, “If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!”

The death toll and kill methods were spectacular, as expected from that talented group. The movie blended the unrealistic gunfire of old with modern, realistic fight sequences, leading to some awesome decapitations.

Some critics did not enjoy Expendables 2 because they take their jobs too seriously. My friend, T-Unit, would be proud of my matured film critiquing abilities over the years, but in this instance that all gets trashed in favor of a fun ride. Damon, Leo and Gosling now rule Hollywood, but Sly et al will always remain precious. We have waited long enough to see those studs together, and I hope they continue on with this series with one addition: Mel Gibson. Even he can change!

Leia Mais…

Friday, August 24, 2012

Rip It

I accelerated up the I-95 North ramp in Woodbridge. At 12:02 a.m. I merged just as a police car flashed its lights and got inches behind the car ahead of it. The front car quickly changed lanes and the cop zoomed out of site.

I had just attended Friday night Temple services for the engagement blessing of my friends DWT and BBQ, and afterward a small group of us had chatted at a diner over coffee and milkshakes. Then I drove DWT and BBQ back to Arlington.

Auto accident leads to fatality on Interstate 95 north around Woodbridge, VA
A minute late
At 12:03 a.m. I pushed hard on the brake. The speedy cop had turned horizontal in the middle of the interstate and blocked all the lanes. I was about the fourth car back. DWT and I opened the windows to feel the cool air and drizzle. The police officer was walking around with a Maglite in search, expressionless.

A fire truck pulled up to my left. We eavesdropped as the police officer approached and shouted to the fireman, “We’ve got body parts back here!”

“Where?” the fireman said.

“Everywhere! Legs are over there,” he said pointing to the interstate shoulder off to my right.
Looking for tissue

Within minutes ambulances and police cars swarmed all around, but the nucleus was in front. Officers and others walked around searching for something. Some of the stopped drivers and passengers, mostly teenagers, walked closer to the scene. After the rain picked up and just before we rolled up our windows, a younger girl walked past and said to her boyfriend, “Take me back to the car, I want to go back to the car.”

DWT told me a story of his friend who was servicing his car on the shoulder when he was struck by a car. “Since then, I never pull off to the shoulder. Too many crazy drivers.”

DWT told me about his time in the military, and how some Marines would hoard the best flavors of Rip It, the contracted energy drink. “The yellow flavor was disgusting,” DWT said.

I could’ve gone for some Rip It (the red flavor, not yellow) because we were stopped for over an hour. We couldn’t understand the delay given that, at the least, the left lanes seemed clear up ahead. Finally, they let cars crawl through a designated path on the left shoulder.

The rain pounded my windshield. My wipers were set to the highest level. There was too much congestion at the nucleus for me to see, but once past the emergency vehicles we observed the red debris scattered across the pavement for the next hundred feet. It was human flesh.

I finally got to bed at 2:30 a.m..

The accident was on the news over the following days. An intoxicated 19-year-old girl struck—or rather, shredded—a man who was standing next to his parked car on the shoulder. She sped away from her crime and was arrested in Maryland.

Before leaving the diner earlier, we had waited for another friend to use the restroom before saying goodbye and leaving. “It makes me wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t waited for him,” BBQ said.

I don’t bother dwelling on such thoughts. However, I do plan on getting an ample supply of red Rip It for alertness, just in case.

Leia Mais…

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Organic Sense of Wholeness

While at a dinner party last month, Fake yapped about music unleashing his creative juices. “I don’t listen to music for pleasure, but only for inspiration to write,” Fake said. “I need to be in that mindset where I hear a melody, feel the melody, and then have a sickening urge to tell a story about it.”

I openly listened to his artist-speak regurgitation. But I considered myself a quasi-writer, and Fake was creating a perception that writers are conceited and weird. He gave all writers, quasi or not, an odd if not a bad name.

Artists speak similarly of psychotropic drugs releasing the grip on their imaginations, and needing to be in a state of intoxication to create art. (I am basing this solely on movies.)

I have used music to remember details of past events, because experiencing sounds or smells sensed at that time can unlock those memories. And I have experienced drunkenness leading to idiotic ideas. But nothing more.

Linkin Park symbol
Last night I attended a Linkin Park concert. Two drinks flowed through me, achieving a pleasant, mild awareness. The lead singer, Chester—covered in tattoos and a sheath of sweat—screamed Linkin Park’s hits as well as new treasures like “In My Remains.” I felt the beat. The fist-pumper in front of me was switching from her right to left hand, gypsy girl danced away her energy, and super-awkward-jumper dude twitched to his version of rhythm. Surrounded by those “artists,” my imagination captured a concept that has been floating around me, and for the first time I felt like a real artist and writer.

I have transformed into a new person, a change that began towards the end of college, accelerated after my book released, and reached Mach 5 when I achieved my best Michael Phelps imitation. I am not very religious or spiritual, but the baci bracelet that has been tied around my left wrist has led to mystical lessons. I was on the verge of feeling whole.

Recently, one of the people I’ve felt closest to, SZB, had been distant and nonresponsive. I was tortured, always placing myself in one of her many pairs of boots and trying to see the world from her perspective, thinking of ways to get through to her. Not understanding led to me feeling cracked. SZB was unknowingly the only missing piece to me feeling whole.

I believe I know SZB better than she thinks I do. I perceived that I had become toxic to her in a way I’ll never understand. But I respected her sense of wholeness as I had hoped she respected mine. So I finally asked if I was sensing the truth. If so then I would leave her be.

Though I maintain hope that SZB and I can connect again someday, I wish for her to feel whole as I do now, even though I ached as if a good friend died. For now, I have no wandering pieces of myself. As life goes on that may change, and I would look forward to the challenge of collecting them.

Perhaps my Organic Sense of Wholeness is the Secret to Life, the One Thing, the Key to Happiness. I have considered ways to share my story through speaking in order to inform and inspire, and this may be my calling.

Achievement begins with accepting yourself completely. Strive for a goal, preferably one you can measure. Accept those characteristics you cannot change, so long as that isn’t due to laziness or stubbornness. Superesteem will follow. Some people will not accept those characteristics; will not accept you. But that is ok. Consider this: Justify Nothing, because they can’t crack your wholeness.

Use your imagination next to discover what pieces of you are missing. Attending a free rock-climbing trip and wearing a cultural bracelet will help, but aren’t necessary. Music and hard drugs are, though be careful because the latter may crack your state of living.

Finally, collect those missing pieces. What follows is your Organic Sense of Wholeness which cannot be cracked, even if cancer or unemployment or gonorrhea tries to.


Postscript: To justify my current mystical weirdness, I declare that I am jacked-up on Colombian coffee and have been listening to Linkin Park. Now, back to sports!

Leia Mais…