I Have Met The Enemy And It Is ‘The Other Steve’

To paraphrase a very wise cartoon character, I have met the enemy and we share the same name.

To be fair, I’ve never spoken to The Other Steve Wissink, better known in the database of TV drivel as “The Guy Who Chose Girl No. 2 On A TV Game Show.”

I’ll even venture a guess that The Other Steve is a good guy in many ways. If it weren’t for his Tea Party paranoia, we probably could pass a pleasant afternoon at his yacht club bragging on our daughters and chuckling over the latest Facebook humor.

The laughter would die quickly – and we’d likely end up in a dual at dawn in the grand tradition of Burr and Hamilton – if we ever talked about the real issues. Like millions of

Steve and Dating Game girl in Kenya.

Steve and Dating Game girl in Kenya.

others in every neighborhood and workplace, we are polar opposites on gun control, immigration and the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency.

From his Facebook posts, I can tell The Other Steve likes assault rifles, hates the president, and belittles those who don’t speak his language.

Among the most offensive: “I Will Not Be Forced To Learn A Foreign Language To Accommodate Illegals In My Country.”

Um, Steve, no one is asking you to. I’m betting my Hispanic and Asian friends really don’t want to hear your bile even if you bothered to pick up a Rosetta Stone course and learned their language.

Plus, I never realized the Wissink clan spoke the language of the Wampanoags, the tribe that met the Pilgrims when they stormed the border without passports or work visas.

You can feel The Other Steve’s hatred toward Obama on his Facebook page. One post shows a picture of Michelle, Beyonce and the president at the Inauguration. The caption: “Fake Hair, Fake Singing, Fake President.”

Cheap shot, Steve.  I suspect you’re just angry that Obama and his coalition of minority voters stomped the holy bejesus out of your aging white guy who only cared about the Haves and the Have Mores.

I stumbled across The Other Steve while searching online for old newspaper stories I’d written. Since there are so few of us with the same name, I checked him out.

I was amused to find a video clip on YouTube from 1967 when he was on ABC’s “The Dating Game.” He chose Nancy, a college student with big blonde hair who loved to cook

Steve the advertising model.

Steve the advertising model.

and dreamed of having children. Host Jim Lange commended Steve on his choice because Nancy definitely had serious “domestic possibilities.”

Even back then, The Other Steve looked like the future chairperson of his local the Tea Party Whackos For Michelle Bachman. While the rebellious wore their hair long and their jeans torn, Steve favored short hair, suits, and polished shoes.

He looked just like a local weatherman, or a pretty-boy model for magazine ads, or a shill for Lexus at the L.A. International Auto Show. By the way, The Other Steve was all of those, according to his LinkedIn profile, Facebook photos, and YouTube videos. In between bouts of wanna-be-celebrity status, he was a successful executive before retiring a dozen years ago.

The Other Steve also loves guns, whether it’s an old army rifle or a modern-day machine gun. “Firearms may change [but] the right of the people to keep and bear arms will always stay the same,” one of his Facebook posts is captioned.

Given his passion for the NRA, I doubt The Other Steve read the The Atlantic magazine’s authoritative piece on the “Secret History of Guns.” If he did, he certainly would have known the IRA originally advocated for stronger gun restrictions.  He might have cringed to learn it was the Black Panthers and Malcolm X who led the charge for less restrictive gun laws in the ‘60s to gain liberty “by any means necessary.”

It’s pretty obvious The Other Steve and I agree on very little. I’m not sure how the handful of other Steve Wissinks feel, but I hope they lean more toward my point of view

Pogo

Pogo

than his.

According to various online directories, there are fewer than 20 of us in the United States with the same name. It’s such a small group that we all could get together for a weekend of fishing and camping. Despite our differences I’d actually invite The Other Steve.

I’m not sure he’d understand the invite, though. I’d write it in Wampanoagian.

————–

 The information on The other Steve Wissink came from his Facebook Page, his LinkedIn Profile and YouTube. I’ve sent him an email via Facebook and left a voice mail on his home machine. He didn’t respond to either. Nor has he accepted my Friend Request. Mmmmm. Wonder why?

More Sizzle Than The Super Bowl

The question raised by my coffee house clique posed a daunting challenge.

How does one become the buzz at a Super Bowl Party, more talked about than the year’s best commercials or the game itself?

To make the challenge even more arduous, there was a ground rule. Being caught in flagrante delicto during the pregame ceremonies doesn’t count. After all, it is considered rude here in the South to feast on a man’s chicken wings after playing bow-chicka-bow-wow with his wife.

Grammy Award winner David Byrne
Grammy Award winner David Byrne

 

So, setting aside the serious issues of the day, I contemplated several ways to upstage that annoying brat whose parents are dumb enough to let an infant plan the family’s investment strategies.

Alas, after many a restless night of rejecting one idea after another, the answer jumped off the TV screen while watching a late-night rerun of the Andy Griffith

show.  Barney was getting fancied up for his date with Thelma Lou and donned that grandest garb of Southern fashion, the seersucker suit.

My heart actually skipped a beat at the thought of forgoing jeans and a jersey for a stylin’ seersucker suit better suited for polo matches and the Kentucky Derby.

dressTo be “the buzz” of the party, all I had to do was show up in an old-school suit complete with a pink shirt, a blue bow tie with green stripes, white buck shoes, and an elegant straw hat highlighted with a black and red ribbon.

Best of all, I wouldn’t have to iron. Seersucker is 100 percent double stitched cotton and never stays crisp, so ironing is futile and the rumpled look is part of its charm.

Still, with such a difficult challenge ahead, I had my doubts about whether wearing bikinia suit – no matter how distinctive – would overshadow a group of inebriated frogs thirsting for another beer.

To test my theory, I scoured the web for information and asked several Facebook friends for their thoughts.

Sure enough, seersucker is a sure-fire conversation-starter.

“Nobody doesn’t notice when you’re wearing a seersucker suit,” reporter Ken Burger once wrote for Charleston’s daily paper, the Post & Courier.  “[It’s] a statement to the world that you’re a little different and darned proud of it.”

Well that certainly works in my favor. I’m proud of my premature eccentricities and if you need references to that fact, just ask. I have a few in writing.

But back to the subject at hand. For a simple piece of cloth, seersucker certainly evokes strong reactions.

For example, my pal Tom, who works at a university in Michigan, says seersucker seems “foreign.”

shorts“Only one person I have known in the last several years has worn seersucker,” he says, “and he’s an old guy from Texas who might say something like, ‘What we have heah is a failure to communicate.’”

Ouch.

My long-time pal Joanne, a respected attorney in both New York and Fort Lauderdale, adds: “I would not wear it, and I don’t think I’d be too keen on any of my men wearing it.”

Double Ouch.

I turned to my former colleague Dawn, a southern native who now works for a nationwide newspaper based in New York City. She’s a fan of seersucker but offered this counsel when I asked whether such Southern garb can be worn in the land of city slickers and sophisticates. “If you’re coming here, don’t. That’s my best advice!”

And that comes from a woman who notes her husband “charmed her” when he wore a seersucker suit while they dated.

Photo courtesy of Ron Gunzburger
Photo courtesy of Ron Gunzburger

 

Still, some people have a quaint fondness for seersucker. A quick search of the web shows the puckered fabric is used for dresses, shirts, ties, bikinis, travel bags, hats, shorts, skirts, capris, robes and certain delicates worn by ladies who favor both comfort and style.

My friend Karen, an educator in North Carolina, “likes everything” about her pink seersucker jacket.  Stephanie, a supermarket CEO in Ohio, says “it’s quite preppy” and Leslie, a firefighter in Connecticut, “loves it on young kids.”  Laura, a marketing professional for a San Francisco TV station, says it “makes me think of little boys at a beach wedding.”

“I find myself smiling whenever I see someone in seersucker,” she says. “It always seems so sweet and evokes a ‘time gone by.’”

Great. There are strong opinions on both sides, which is sure to spark discussion and debate.

Much to her surprise, my friend Terri Bridgewater, discovered during our conversation that she’s a bit of a “seersucker connoisseur.”

Her advice: Always make sure the attire is clean, tailored for the perfect fit and limited to the traditional blue with white pinstripes. Women should only wear one no nopiece at a time, such as a blazer or jacket. “If the sleeves are too long or the fit isn’t just right, hit the gong and No Go,” she says.

“Very few people can wear it well and most of those who do are men,” Terri says.  “[Acclaimed musician] David Byrne definitely pulls off the seersucker look and I think Andy Griffith did a pretty good job with it too.”

Her advice on who shouldn’t wear it? Those with weight issues, bad complexion, dirty hair, or favor the grunge look, ala Kurt Cobain.

“If you’re sort of greasy, somehow seersucker just highlights it,” she says. “You might as well be wearing a sign around your neck that says ‘Dirty.’”axe

With all that to be considered, I do believe I can achieve the challenge first raised at the coffee shop. Seersucker makes for much more compelling conversation than a commercial starring a bikini-clad blonde beauty who abandons a lifeguard for an astronaut just because he wears the perfect deodorant.

Ok, it may be tough to outshine the blonde in the bikini, the lifeguard with the chiseled body, or the dude who’s been to outer space.

Even so, the idea of eating wings and chips while dressed to the nines has a certain appeal.

As a columnist for GQ once advised: “I always aim to overdress rather than underdress. It looks like I have someplace better to go later.”

–          OUTTAKES –

Here are a few final quotes (with a bonus scene from the Simpsons) on seersucker.

“From this Northerner’s point of view, it’s fine for selling ice cream but crazy out-of-date nowadays. On a certain kind of elegant old dude, however – white beard required – I like it.” – Syndicated cartoonist and political commentator Ted Rall.

“I’d say that like a skinny jean, it only looks good on the right people. In this case, middle-aged to older men, only in the South, and preferably in the few weeks

jacketsurrounding Easter.” – Megan B., a friend from my days working at a daily newspaper in Fort Lauderdale; she now lives in California.

“Textiles are not my specialty, but I do have a table cloth made of seersucker. It works well because it doesn’t need ironing and I don’t own an iron.” – Peter C., a Facebook friend in Australia, who’s obviously single.

“These days, I could see seersucker shorts on the golf course  …  but only in New England and only on a WASP. I do bet they are cool on a humid August day, something I dream about a lot up here in Maine in February. – John C., my favorite editor of all time.

 “Having come from the North where seersucker is only for preschoolers’ dresses, I was in total shock that the gentleman wore such a thing.” – Anne M., a Facebook buddy who came to North Carolina to study law.

“There is perhaps one occasion a year upon which I would wear it – Halloween.” – Scott A., another newspaper buddy and online pioneer, who now lives in Chicago.

“Quite honestly, there’s just something about wearing seersucker that makes you feel like you’re starring in a James Dickey novel and talking to Mark Twain while having a drink with William Faulkner.” – The Post & Courier’s Ken Burger.

Ah, Ken’s observation is my favorite.marge

Lastly, the final words come from an episode of the “Simpsons” where Marge tries to sweet talk the family out of trouble while traveling in the South.

 Marge: “My goodness, what a lovely suit, sheriff. Is that seersucker?”

Officer: “Nah, not on a civil servant’s salary. It’s neersucker.”

Marge: “Well, the fabric really brings out the red in your neck.”

Once again, Ouch!

 

For Me and Other Parents, Gun Violence Is Personal

I knew something was very wrong when I pulled in the driveway to pick up my daughter for the weekend and saw her mom’s front door ajar. As a single mother living in suburban Miami, my former wife always kept the door shut tight and locked.

“Are they gone,” she asked when I knocked and walked in without waiting for an invite to come in.  Visibly shaken, she told me of the three men who forced their way in, held them at gunpoint in the bathroom and tore up the house looking for valuables before running out a few moments before I pulled up.

As a reporter for a big-city daily newspaper, I had grown numb to the onslaught of crime involving guns. When I covered the police beat, most stories were considered so routine that the shootings and armed assaults were relegated to the Page 3 “Briefs” column in the Metro section.

This time, though, it was personal.

Illustration making the rounds on Facebook

Illustration making the rounds on Facebook

Someone had stuck a gun in my kid’s face – my 7-year-old daughter’s face – and I was angry, well beyond the point of pissed off.  But like most people, I was powerless to do anything except call 911, watch investigators process the crime scene and offer comfort to my daughter.

Now, though, that sense of powerlessness seems to be anything but.

With the massacre of 20 elementary school children last month in Newtown, Conn., parents are finally saying they’ve had enough. They too are angry beyond the point of being pissed off.

Much to my surprise, the leadership in Washington is starting to act. Their new-found backbone is remarkable given that even the shooting of one of their own, Congressman Gabby Giffords, two years ago in Tucson didn’t motivate them to do anything but issue meaningless press statements and shed crocodile tears for the TV cameras.

Even President Obama has found his spine.

With the election behind him, Obama is showing a willingness to chomp like an alligator when it comes to guns and is leading the charge to reinstate a ban on assault weapons.

His nine-point proposal – which offers a good start toward ending the gun terror that ravages this country – also would require background checks of people who want to buy a gun;  limit to 10 the number of bullets a weapon’s magazine could hold; increase funding for the long-neglected mental health system and increase the criminal penalties for violating weapons’ laws.

From Time magazine's compilation on deadly shootings.

From Time magazine’s compilation on deadly shootings.

What still surprises me is the large number of people who oppose this modest effort. Four in 10 people oppose the ban on assault weapons, according to a recent Gallup Poll. One in 10 oppose mandatory background checks, nearly three in 10 oppose increasing criminal penalties and almost half say it’s ok to jam as many bullets into a gun’s magazine as possible. I guess if you miss the soda can or deer with the first 20 bullets, you need five more at the ready to try, try again.

I’m presuming the defenders of an armed-to-the-teeth society are the same folks who insist that guns don’t kill people, video games and movies do. Still, FBI statistics show that seven of every 10 murders is the result of a gunshot, not a slingshot.

Or perhaps they are those like Brian Fischer of the conservative American Family Association who believe “God doesn’t go where he isn’t wanted” and the Almighty let the school kids in Newtown get slaughtered because prayer is banned in schools.

Or as religion columnist Lisa Miller wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post, these people believe God also supports the Second Amendment, as it’s currently misinterpreted. “This, at least, appears to be the argument on the home page of the Christian Gun Owner Web site,” Miller wrote. “It goes like this: The authors of the Constitution were acting under the guidance of God, therefore the Constitution is itself inspired by God.”

Who Owns The Weapons? From the Public Religion Research Institute

Who Owns The Weapons? From the
Public Religion Research Institute

Putting God aside, I suspect many in the no-gun-control group are just selfish and neurotic.  They’d rather see kids at school risk wholesale slaughter than give up the thrill of firing an assault weapon. As a friend of mine said, “It’s a real rush, you have to try it.”

Um, no thanks. I want the critters, discarded Coke cans and kids to feel safe in my neck of the woods.

I also believe there are some people who need the psychological ammunition of owning a gun to compensate for the powerlessness they feel in their own lives. To them, owning a gun means they really aren’t inferior – they indeed are more powerful than their boss, their spouse, the girl at the bar who didn’t laugh at their jokes, the idiot who cut them off in traffic, the minorities who “are taking over the country,” or anyone else who makes their skin crawl.

Then there’s sex. A condition known as “Holophilia” creates a strong state of sexual arousal among those with the disorder when they’re near a gun. No wonder there’s a condom machine in the men’s room of a local gun range here in Raleigh.

To the “keep-my-gun-at any-cost” crowd, the 9,000 murders caused each year by gunfire in this country is trivial compared to their Second Amendment “rights.”

To them, it’s meaningless that 2,900 children are treated in the hospital each year from accidental gunshots when mom or dad leaves their weapons lying about, according to statistics compiled the Brady Center To Prevent Gun Violence.  Or the fact that nearly 20,000 people commit suicide each year with a gun.

News photo of the scene of the shooting of Congressman Gabby Giffords in Tuscon.

News photo of the scene of the shooting of Congressman Gabby Giffords in Tuscon.

To them, the scores of multi-victim shootings since the assault on Congressman Giffords just isn’t that relevant.

But it’s not trivial to the parents of the children in Newtown. Or to the families of those shot in a movie theater in Colorado, or to the mother of the 7-year-old girl killed at a Giffords’ greet ‘n’ meet in Tucson, or to the parents of students slain at Virginia Tech.

Last weekend, thousands gathered in Washington to protest gun violence and show their support for gun control. Some carried signs like, “What Would Jesus Pack” and “Stop the NRA.” Some just wrote the names of victims written on a cardboard sign.

As I watched the news, I thought back to another night during my days in south Florida.

It was Friday evening and my daughter and I were watching TV. My apartment complex was a nice place in a safe neighborhood. It featured two pools, a hot tub, a gym and well manicured lawns punctuated with palm trees. The city’s police station was right across the street.

Over the laugh track of a silly sitcom, we heard a young woman scream.

“No, John, No!”

Bam. Round one fired.

Bam. Round two fired.

John had killed his ex girlfriend in a jealous rage and then turned the gun on himself.

She was 20, he was 22, the police later told me.

Once again, 911 was called, police officers processed the scene and I tried to comfort my daughter. Once more, I felt powerless.

shooting.unitarian I don’t feel that way today. Parents are pissed. They don’t like it when their children are gunned down at school, at the movies, at the mall, at a cafeteria, or attending church.  And for once, their outrage is being turned into a real action.

It’s about time.

 -30-

The ‘Discipling’ of Jane Roe

By Stephen Wissink

I’ll give her this much credit. Over the years, Norma McCorvey has become quite polished in her role as the repentant sinner who was saved by Jesus, looks back in horror at her past, and only wants to save the world from committing genocide against millions of unborn children.

For the last 25 years, Norma has found fame and a good paycheck by helping lead the Anti-Choice Movement.

For the last 25 years, Norma has found fame and a good paycheck by helping lead the Anti-Choice Movement.

In this recent performance, she even sticks to the facts every once in a while.

Decades ago, Norma was known only as “Jane Roe,” the woman whose desire to terminate her third pregnancy caused Supreme Court to make abortion a constitutional right for women.

With the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade upon us, I decided to check in on Norma’s latest attempts at fame and fortune.

On YouTube, I found an exhausting three-part series titled “Reversing Roe – The Norma McCorvey Story,” where she tells the tale of being manipulated by two ambitious lawyers who fed her pizza, got her drunk and preyed on her ignorance.

“They started pounding all this talk, ‘Don’t you think a woman should have the right to control their own body,’” she tells the camera. “Yes I said. They never said anything about ‘It’s really a baby, Norma. You’re going to be killing your own baby.’

“I didn’t have a clue. I was ignorant. I mean I was dumb. It went right over my head.”

Perhaps the scene was meant to create sympathy for Norma, a suicidal 9th grade dropout who was abused by her parents, worked part time at the circus, and spent many of her days either drunk or stoned on pot, LSD and mescaline.

But finding any feelings of compassion for Norma was tough to do, given that just a few scenes earlier, Norma said her hope was the case would be decided soon so she could terminate the pregnancy. “I didn’t want it in my body. I wanted to kill it. I wanted an abortion.”

That, plus her history of blatantly lying, has left me a little jaded. For example, Norma initially insisted she got pregnant as a result of a rape. Then the story became that she was gang raped.

When she finally admitted the truth, that she got pregnant during a casual fling, she claimed she was forced to lie by her attorneys so the courts would accept her case. That too, was a lie. Rape was never mentioned in any of the court pleadings nor was it a requirement of the courts.

With Norma, it’s always “just drama,” one of her longtime friends and neighbor, Suzanne Ashworth, told the magazine Vanity Fair for an article in this month’s issue. “A story would be told one way, and three days later, it would be different.”

Working at an abortion center before joining the anti-choice crusade

Working at an abortion center before joining the anti-choice crusade

Like many, I was surprised back in 1995 when Norma joined the anti-choice crusaders. Until then, she was pro-choice. She even wrote a book and worked at an abortion clinic. But the leadership of the pro-choice movement was embarrassed by her rough edges, her flaring temper and her poor speaking habits. They even banned her from appearing at a national rally celebrating the anniversary of the Roe decision and that left Norma feeling like an outsider.

Then, Operation Rescue moved into the building next to the abortion clinic where Norma worked. She shared smoke breaks with its charismatic leader, Flip Benham, gave church a try and decided that abortion was tantamount to murder.

The religious right loved her. As one evangelical put it, the poster child for abortion had jumped off the poster. She wrote another book (she got a nice advance for this one), started a church, (with a nice salary) and was asked to speak before anti-choice groups across the country (for a fee).

She was famous. She was making money.

Of course, there were a few rough edges. About two weeks after her conversion, Norma gave an in-depth interview to Newsweek magazine and said, “I haven’t changed sides all the way.”

She still supported a woman’s right to choose during the first three months of pregnancy, she said. She also spoke openly of her lesbian partner, whom she was with for 35 years, and mocked some of the evangelicals because it was always “Lord Jesus Christ this, Lord Jesus Christ that.”

“You aren’t going to be seeing Norma for a while,” Benham announced shortly thereafter on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. “We’re going to intensively disciple her.”

Baptized in a pool by Operation Rescue's Flip Benham

Baptized in a pool by Operation Rescue’s Flip Benham

It apparently worked. Norma today is opposed to abortion in any circumstance – and she renewed the religious right ‘s faith in her by cutting a disturbing campaign commercial that showed pictures of discarded fetuses and urged people to vote against Obama because “he murders children.”

On the YouTube videos, she comes across as polished, sincere and articulate. Unlike her days with the pro-choice movement, she dresses well, is immaculatley groomed and modulates her voice to convey exactly what she’s trying to say. She speaks lovingly of how a 7-year-old girl would come to the abortion clinic where she worked and beg her to come to church. “I would love to have you. Please,” the little girl implores, convincing Norma to give it a try. She is shown singing Amazing Grace during service.

She talks of how she regrets being “Jane Roe.”

She’s not the only one. One of her attorneys, Sarah Weddington once said she too wishes she could have found someone else who hadn’t turned out to be an embarrassment to the people who fought a long and difficult fight on her behalf.

“All Jane Roe did was sign a one-page document,” Weddington told reporters when Norma bolted for the anti-choice movement. “She was pregnant. She didn’t want to be. That was her total involvement in the case.”

Attorney Sarah Weddington

Attorney Sarah Weddington

There is a huge amount of material to be found on Norma. But there are two final things I’ll leave you with.

The first involves money. Norma likes it and demands it. To cut the controversial campaign commercial, Norma charged $1,000. When Vanity Fair asked for an interview, Norma refused unless she was paid. I was glad to hear the magazine refused.

“McCorvey has long been less pro-choice or pro-life than pro-Norma,” the magazine’s reporter, Joshua Prager wrote in his story.

The other involves her partner, Connie, the woman for whom Norma once said, “I might walk away from Jesus before I walk away from Connie.”

The couple met when Norma tried to shoplift some items at the store where Connie worked.

Rather than prosecute her, Connie fell in love with her and took her into her home. For 35 years, they were together, even when Norma followed her “discipling” and declared the two no longer slept together because homosexuality was a sin.

A few years ago, Connie had a stroke and suffers from dementia. When the going got tough, Norma walked away, Connie lost her house, and now lives with a niece and relies on food stamps.

“Norma has never been able to do the right thing,” her first child, Melissa told Vanity Fair. “Never.”

That’s harsh. And for Norma, well deserved.

The Uncalming Quiet of Surviving Cancer

By Stephen Wissink

Today is an important anniversary for me, but I’ve yet to find a greeting card suitable for the occasion. Not that I blame the writers at Hallmark. Even I find it difficult to express the range of emotions that continue to strike when I least expect them: gratitude and guilt, fear and fortitude, anger, anxiety and acceptance.hodgkins_lymphoma_survivor_grunge_winged_emblem_mousepad-p144973624733271498envq7_400

Two years ago today, I walked out of the Cancer Centers of North Carolina. It had taken 19 rounds of chemo, 27 visits to the radiation lounge, three blood-plasma transfusions, scores of pills and dozens of shots to kill the diseased cells and generate healthy ones, but I had won.  I joined the ranks of those of us lucky enough to have been paroled from the grips of this monstrous disease.

“I have a new lease on life,” I thought as I walked to the car in a light drizzle on a cold day. “But I am so lost.”

At that moment, I felt more fear than the day the doctor confirmed what I already suspected.  Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Stage 4.  A lump the size of golf ball protruded from my left arm pit and cancerous cells were taking over my spleen, the vessels up my neck, both kidneys and the fluid around my heart.  I had lost close to 80 pounds and resembled a stick-figure drawing of Caspar the Ghost.

When I finally heard the official diagnosis, my fear actually turned to relief as the medical team outlined a treatment plan. Yes the coming months would suck, but they assured me Hodgkin’s was curable and the survival rate was extremely high. A certain confidence developed as we talked over a plan of action and I could envision the elation I would feel on day I was cured.

Lots of people cheered me on, doctors, nurses, social workers, coworkers, family and friends. One of my customers – I worked for a cell phone retailer at the time – would pop in unannounced with a cup of Starbucks and a pastry. A friend from a prior job took me to lunch several times at the city’s better restaurants. Cancer survivors would notice my bald head and pasty pallor and offer words of encouragement. My daughter mailed care packages, my mom called daily, and my ex-wife would invite me over for dinner a couple of times a month.

Even a simple Facebook post declaring, “No work, no chemo, no doctors, no hospitals, lunch with a friend and uploading new pics of my daughter. WHAT A GREAT DAY!” generated dozens of uplifting responses.

I often said getting cured was easy. My only job was to show up, let the medical experts administer the drugs and turn to friends and family when I needed support.

Abruptly, on that cold January morning two years ago, it was over – and someone apparently forgot to schedule the parade.  The simple act of breathing no longer was a reason for others to cheer and I felt the same sense of uncertainty that long-term inmates must feel when they walk out of prison and wonder whether they can deal with life on the outside.flags

“Once you finish treatment people start moving away from you because they assume you’re fine now,” says Susan Nessim, author of “You Can Survive: Reclaiming Your Life after Cancer.” But it’s not that easy. Many of us are not prepared for the fact that everything isn’t going to be the same.”

There’s the fear the disease will come back, which in turn can cause emotional paralysis and cast a cloud on even the most joyful moments. It’s a condition known as “Damocles Syndrome.”   Greek legend tells the story of Damocles, who, once he realized there was a sword dangling over his head, could no longer enjoy the banquet before him.

Then there’s survivors guilt. I try not to dwell on why some people live and some die, but these thoughts manage to creep into my conscious thoughts, particularly when the lives of children end. I think of the 7-year-old girl, bright eyed and bubbly, laughing because neither one of us had hair. She gave me a piece of candy and we took a minute to color while waiting to see the doctor. I later learned she didn’t make it and I still kick myself for not taking a moment to write down her name.

Some liken the shock of survival to PTSD, the psychological disorder war veterans have when they return home from the nightmare of combat.  Readjusting to civilian life can be too overwhelming to manage.

At the annual Caring Community Foundation fundraiser. The group provides financial assistance to low-income cancer patients.

At the annual Caring Community Foundation fundraiser. The group provides financial assistance to low-income cancer patients.

“Partly, I think, I’m grieving for the person I was before I learned I had cancer,” Dana Jenning, a survivor of prostate cancer, wrote in the “New York Times:”  “Mortality is no longer abstract, and certain innocence has been lost.”

Renee Silverfield is a breast cancer survivor. In reviewing “Dancing in Limbo,” a highly acclaimed book on the transition from victim to survivor, she writes, “After reaching remission, you think cancer patients would be able to quickly return to their ‘pre-cancer’ self. I can’t speak for everyone, but I have never found the person I was before cancer. It’s almost like I have my ‘before cancer’ life and my ‘after cancer’ life.

“Before my diagnosis, a headache was just a nuisance.” Silverfield writes. “Now, it is a possible brain tumor. When my son gets a cough, I don’t even think it could be a cold or the flu. I instantly start worrying about lung cancer. It is terrible to be this way, and I wish I wasn’t. However, it is not something I can control.”

Yet I am still on the planet and do what all of us do to survive.  You’ve seen the bumper stickers and heard the pep talks.  “Suit Up & Show Up. “ “Keep On Keepin’ On.” At the center of life, these words, I’ve found, are true. I work, play, laugh, cry, celebrate the little victories and mourn the inevitable losses.

So, OK, my feet scream in agony with every step due to nerve damage caused by chemo. Yes, I’m not as bright as I used to be. Chemo Brain is a reality, not just an insult hurled by teenagers. Breathing can be difficult, but I’ve come to realize every breath is precious.

In the past two years, I’ve started rebuilding my career, searching for the right words to write, learned to live in the moment and have come to truly value the importance of a kind word or deed.

I marvel at the accomplishments of my daughter, the “mad scientist,” as I call her, who is earning a doctorate at Cornell. Not only is she smart, she’s physically tough; last year she rode 100 miles on her bike for a fundraising event. Now, she lifts weights and runs.

Last fall, I met the love of my life, Andrea, a very strong and courageous woman who’s overcome more hurdles than an Olympic medalist and stared down many a challenge that would have crushed others. She provides a great sense of optimism and keeps me laughing hysterically at the craziness of people in the day-to-day world.  We’re planning an outdoor wedding this fall when the leaves are red, the wind is crisp and the afternoon sunlight glows warmly. Even if it rains, the day will be perfect.

Two years ago I posted on Facebook that treatment had ended.

“As I leave the treatment center for the last time, my thoughts are with you, the ones who helped me so much. From ‘Frisco to Ft. Lauderdale, from Detroit to Dubai, from the Windy City to the Big Apple,  every good thought, prayer and word of encouragement has meant so much to me. Fighting cancer can be lonely, but I never felt alone. Thank you. You are all wonderful people. Life is moving ahead in ways I had never planned.”

Chuck Eckstein, an old friend from my party days in South Florida, was among the many who took a moment to post a reply. “Fresh air, in its many forms, is a wonderful thing,” he wrote. “Keep breathing in, my friend.”

Like everyone else, that’s what I do to keep moving forward, one step at a time. One breath at a time.

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