Damn it, I’ve had it with cancer.
Not that I am battling it myself; I’m on-my-knees thankful that me and my immediate loved ones are healthy.
But it seems that everywhere I turn right now, people whom I adore and admire are dealing with scary diagnoses, tremendous upheaval and treatments that leave them sick, exhausted and sometimes dead.
It’s really pissing me off.
I’ve seen enough to understand that when cancer invades your house, it takes over. Cancer demands to eat in the dining room then breaks all the china while things like romantic daydreams and vacation plans and opinions about Syrian refugees have to go eat in the kitchen with the dog.
Cancer doesn’t discriminate about race or religion or political allegiance or even age—it is an equal opportunity terrorist that declares war, taunting everyone.
Cancer doesn’t care how much money you have. You can try to buy cancer off, but it will just punch you in the face and steal your wallet.
It has been chased into corners and corralled temporarily by the billions of dollars sunk into researching ways to get rid of it for good, but it always seems to find a way to morph somewhere else like the creepy liquid cop in Terminator 2.
Also, cancer laughs at ribbons. Right now cancer is probably setting a whole pile of pink and purple satin pretzels on fire in a bathtub full of Methotrexate.
You can try to sneak around cancer by giving up the cigs and drinking vegetable smoothies and doing six types of yoga and meditating really well, but that can’t guarantee that it won’t catch you up in its lizard eye and find you anyway.
(But those healthy habits will make you more invisible to cancer, so do them.)
Cancer is a master of disguise. Sometimes it masquerades as a common cold, other times it’s an itchy mole, sometimes it’s a lump, or it’s a dull, nagging pain. It’s always ugly.
Anyone who’s ever had to deal with cancer—as a patient, as a loved one, as a caregiver, the nurses, the doctors, the hospice workers, the friends—knows without a doubt that cancer is a full-on ASSHOLE.
I’m sorry if you’re offended by my language, but I’m deeply fucking offended by cancer and will not stop swearing about it until it apologizes for being such a nefarious presence in our lives.
I’m extra irate because I’ve attended way too many gatherings with this jerk cancer over the last few weeks. Some of them were funerals.
Last month brought the passing of Dr. Harvey Zarem, Savannah son and world-renowned plastic surgeon who, among many other accomplishments, helped pioneer the field of post-cancer breast reconstruction.
The good doctor returned to his hometown in 2011 after a brilliant career in Los Angeles to “retire,” though he continued to work with Savannah Plastic Surgery until the demon C caught up with him at the age of 83.
The older brother of our beloved Bobby Zarem and husband to the lovely Beth, Dr. Zarem is also survived by six children, six grandchildren and thousands of grateful patients.
Days before, the inimitable and inspiring Robyn Reeder transmuted to the astral plane. Punk rock goddess, fearless entrepreneur, and tireless champion of Savannah, Robyn demonstrated fierce grace in the decade that she lived with the world’s worst roommate.
The fabulous 40 year-old leaves behind her husband, Igor, her sister, Jenny, her mother, Mina, and a town full of artists, musicians, fashionistas and weirdos stamped on the heart with her indelible style.
Cancer tried to be the center of attention at Robyn’s glorious memorial at the Legion Ballroom Nov. 12, but it was far outshone by Robyn’s love and legacy.
Her Silver Machine bandmates conducted the beautiful ritual of draping her drum kit in flowers. Robyn’s own shimmery rock ‘n’ roll robe was pinned up in a stunning installation of photos and memorabilia, including her iconic pointy-toed white Creepers. All came decked out in their Civvies best.
Scott Stanton—better known as the artist Panhandle Slim—brought the wooden easel that Robyn insisted on giving him when she learned he was painting on the floor. He shared her mantra for all those who want to contribute to the greater good but might doubt their talents:
“Just go do it and don’t fuck it up!”
There is some not-awful news in here, and that is that cancer doesn’t always win. Our local indie theater muse JinHi Soucy Rand has been flipping it the bird for a couple of decades, though she lost a few feathers in her latest round with the devil.
Considering JinHi’s affinity for fabulous plumage, it was apropos that artistic activists (or active artists, take yer pick) Karen Abato and Corey Houlihan invited dozens of local creatives to interpret everyone’s favorite pink plastic lawn ornament in her honor for the Savannah Flamingo Festival on Nov. 15.
(It was a privilege to revive my yarnbomb and glue skills by knitting a fuzzy green “lawn” sweater and attaching a miniature garden gnome and in gleeful irony—a teeny flamingo! JinHi herself dubbed it the “Absurdimingo.”)
The festooned works were auctioned off along with donated gifts from local businesses to raise funds for her medical expenses, because in addition to being a total creep, cancer is also stupid expensive.
If you would like to support Jin-Hi and the marvelous Muse Arts Warehouse, her brother, Chris, has set up a Generosity.com fund in her name.
Fortunately, cancer has some seriously formidable enemies, like the oncologists and scientists developing new treatments and earlier detection at the Anderson Cancer Institute at Memorial University Medical Center.
Over 400 people showed up for a recent luncheon to benefit the Stephen Hollenberg Fund that finances Memorial’s pancreatic cancer research, making Savannah a world-class ring to go all UFC on cancer.
Just ask former patient and champion Jeff Kole, who recounted for the crowd his battle that has left him “grateful and gracious” to be cancer-free for four and half years.
The Hollenberg fund also helps families shoulder the financial burden and has been overseen for a decade by Steve’s wife, Tobi, who continues to raise awareness about the disease that emcee Sonny Dixon called “no respecter of persons.”
Few know that better than the event’s keynote speaker, Lisa Niemi Swayze, who watched her husband, sexy strong superstar Patrick Swayze, deteriorate in a matter of months from pancreatic cancer in 2006.
Still looking like the lithe dancer glimpsed in the video for Patrick’s hit song “She’s Like the Wind” (check it on YouTube for an instant cry), Lisa promises that the man we adored as a Catskills hottie, a roadhouse bouncer, a loyal ghost and Pony Boy’s older brother fought valiantly, even as the heinous thief stole his life day by day.
“’The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all,’” she quoted.
Facing cancer takes every ounce of courage a person has, along with the bravery of those who surround them.
Those close to him laud the strength of Chatham County Sheriff Al St. Lawrence, who succumbed to his quiet fight against cancer last week at the age of 81.
Finally, there is my beloved mother-in-law, Marcia Lebos. She survived breast cancer in 2003 only to find waiting for her another insidious destroyer of lives, frontotemporal lobe dementia.
Her suffering ended on Thanksgiving, and we are so grateful for the outpouring of support from the Savannah community.
There’s only one decent thing I can think to say about cancer and its evil colleagues, and that is this:
It puts the precious gift of our lives in perspective.
It dwarfs the rest of our problems, reducing the politics and the polemics to dust under its blinding glare.
It reminds in the harshest of ways that underneath the flimsiness of whoever it is we think we are, all that’s left is love.