Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cancer Schmancer... and Rick Dancer



Cancer Schmancer.  That's the name of actress-comedienne Fran (The Nanny for six seasons, and much more) Drescher's 1997 book.  You can read an excerpt from it called In The Beginning HERE.   

Fran's life hasn't been at all like the nanny she played.  She has endured awful experiences and a dreadful disease, the latter compounded by a series of missed diagnoses and blundered opportunities.  Many of us would have given up and withdrawn to await the seemingly inevitable, heads in our hands.  Fran didn't.

Rick Dancer is a medium-sized frog in the Oregon pond.  He's very well known; a former Eugene TV news anchor turned businessman, family man and unsuccessful 2008 candidate for Oregon Secretary of State.  He knows everyone who's anyone and everyone likes him, even though they may not have voted for him.  He's handsome, fit, articulate and personable.  And he has cancer.

Cancer.  It happens and it respects no one.  It takes without remorse.  Rick says it gives, too.  Gives in ways he never expected and so profoundly that he calls it "the best thing that ever happened to me."  I can't quite get to that but who am I to question him?

Rick is a passionately spiritual man.  He gave the sermon at our church last Sunday, the second time I've heard him there.  The first time was during his campaign and I chalked it up to political chutzpah, plowing the church ground and hoping that votes would grow.  I think I was wrong.

This time he talked about Christians dying in order to live, an unusual topic.  He clearly contemplates his own death and just as clearly fears it.  Still, he knows there is more for him when he passes, as pass we must.  He is confident, even though trepidatious.  [NB:  Actually that's not a word but you understand it, don't you?]  He shared his fears with us, and his experience, strength and hope.  It was a moving experience and I'm glad we were there.

As we walked out of church Rick greeted us and shook our hands.  I took a moment and said "This is my wife.  She's a cancer survivor (I didn't mention "twice") and she's fourteen years past being told she was beyond hope."  What the doctor actually said back then was "You'd better put your affairs in order.  You've got less than sixty days to live."  Rick didn't say a word at first.  He just glanced back and forth between us, finally murmuring "Thank you."

Fran showed us her strength in the book.  Rick his, by speaking out so publicly and eloquently and hopefully.  There are others, you know.  Others who aren't as glib as Rick or Fran, who suffer without being able to express their fears, to ask for help, to see nothing but... nothingness.  My darlin' wife Edythe writes.  Things she isn't comfortable saying to my face I can read on her blog at EdytheAnnSays.blogspot.com.  

We watched "The Bucket List" earlier this year, starring Jack Nicholas and Morgan Freeman.  Fine movie, that, but I didn't know she actually had a bucket list until a short while ago.  On the list?  A ride on a big Harley.  A Harley?  I've known her for 30 years and I never knew that.  

Our friends Rick and Denise did a wonderful thing.  Rick rides a Harley Road King, the very definition of a BIG Harley.  A couple of Sundays ago Rick put Edythe on the back seat (with Denise's permission and encouragement).  Off they rode, with Edythe fully decked out in Denise's black leathers and black-and-pink helmet.  It was really a sight to see.  Denise and I and Andy and Saunders followed along in our Tahoe, out of sight, finally meeting them at The Oakland Tavern, a 100-year-old+ joint in the tiny town of Oakland, Oregon.  

We enjoyed each others' company, laughed, ate wonderful Reuben sandwiches, drank root beers and listened to Edythe's breathless tale of the trip.  Afterward we drove back, Edythe with us for the return trip and Denise in her rightful place on the Harley.  We stopped along the way at a decrepit ice cream stand in Rice Hill, OR, where we ate the best ice cream cones ever.

Before the trip, Edythe - herself the victim of missed diagnoses and blundered opportunities - was trepidatious.  There's that word again.  She had to muster all of her courage but in the end she said "What's the point of having a bucket list if you don't follow through when someone gives you the opportunity?"

This story is about three people - Fran, Rick and Edythe -  who haven't given up.  Why, then, should you and I even think of giving up?  Bad day?  Keep some perspective.  Are our problems so much graver than theirs?  Are our futures less promising?  Are we so immune to the pleasure of the company of friends or of a warm summer evening that we just can't get out of ourselves?  Get over it.

Cancer Schmancer.  Way to go, Fran.

Gay pride parade just to support friends?  Way to go, Rick.

A ride on a BIG Harley?  Way to go, Edythe.

On really, really bad days you can still help a friend.  On the good ones, nothing is impossible.  Don't get confused about what makes or wrecks a day for you, just assume it's going to be a good one.

Mel Fisher found the Spanish treasure galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha after 16 years of trying, years that cost him dearly.  Every day he woke up and said "Today's the day!" and one day it was.

Today's the day for me, too, and maybe for you.  There's only one way to find out.  Live it to the fullest.  Ride that Harley.  Find that treasure.  Pick that tomato you planted in May.  Kiss your love.  Swing that kid.  Remember friends and keep them close.

* * *

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.

Mark Twain