Big Time Medicine

Life is always complex. I am feeling good, but I have this disease. It’s cancer. When I say that to people they flinch and feel sorry for me, especially people my age. And it does sound scary, but it certainly isn’t as scary as it was thirty years ago. Part of the reason that things have changed has to do with the place that I went to today.

Last week I went through more tests — the bone scan and the MRI. I had already had the mammogram, the ultra-sound, the guided biopsy and the CT scan. It wasn’t until this morning, as we arrived at the building, that I received all of the results. They all came in a private email, under the heading “Good News.” That meant that the cells that are growing inside me have not sent any of their offspring to any other part of my body. Also, these cells are slow-growing, and they are of a type that is easily treated with a well researched pill, Tamoxifin. The studies they have done show that this works especially well in the men who get breast cancer, which is me.

Early this morning my wife and I walked down Jimmy Fund Way, and into the main entrance of Dana-Farber Caner Center. We went there to get a “second opinion” about our treatment plan, even though we had not gotten the first opinion yet, although it has been discussed. But, as I said, life is complex and we are not just going to be sitting around having cancer all day. Our plan is to get away from the cold New England weather for a few weeks. We don’t want cancer to stop us from going south for a warmer version of cold weather. This might be due to all of the hot air and lies being clustered around the White House, as some fat, blow-hard has sucked all the comfort out of our climate — — but that is another matter.

Dana-Farber is the famous cancer hospital in Boston. There are others in New York, in Minnesota, Cleveland, another in Texas, and Baltimore. They advertise in the magazines that old people read. They have slogans that include words such as “hope, live, personalized care and research.” And they do a lot of research here in Boston, some of it funded by the big bike ride that goes down to Cape Cod every summer. It’s one of the biggest fund-raiser events in the world.

Dana-Farber a fantastic place, full of brilliant people, and all the best technology. There are beautiful pieces of art and sculpture to appreciate. There are plaques with the names of the rich donors, who either wanted to do something ostentatiously good, or lost somebody to cancer. The building is well designed and functional. The staff is friendly and efficient. They are patient and will to take time to explain everything. People come here from all over the country and the world. I came her because it was two blocks away from my own doctor’s office, and my daughter’s friend is a doctor here. There are Saudi Princes here, as well as a lot of Medicaid patients.

But, the overall feeling of being there is still sad. Every floor is a different cancer: blood cancers, organ cancers, brain cancers. I’m on the ninth floor, the breast cancer floor, surrounded by women. Some of them look fine, and may be here for their yearly follow-up scan. Others don’t look that well at all. Many people come to Dana-Farber because the treatments they have tried other places are not working. It is obvious who they are. Some look pale and wasted. Some are wearing surgical masks because their immune systems are compromised. Many have lost their hair. There is a wig shop right on the premises.

Everyone is here; cancer does not seem to be too selective, although some people are more affected because their neighborhoods, or their jobs, are chemically toxic. There are rich and poor here, of all colors, and many languages. There are people who believe in science and others who just have hope. I even know a couple of Christian Scientists who have come through these doors, choosing this kind of treatment over that offered by the Mother Church just down the street. There are even Republicans here, the ones who don’t believe in science.

There are a lot of signs about where the chapel is, about spiritual groups and counseling. I don’t think that having cancer is a spiritual experience. I think that facing death is what gives people pause. It must be especially true of the people in real pain, and going through chemo-therapy, as that must make a person wonder what the hell life is all about.

Maybe everyone finds there own answer. From what I can see, everyone here wants to stay alive, realizing at some level, that whatever life is worth, this is still the only chance we all get. After this we are all going to be dead for a really long time.

So while we are here let’s get our house cleaned, and get rid of all those greedy Republicans who don’t want anyone else to get health care and stay alive. — oops, there I go again.

As for me, I was there for four hours. The doctors, assistants, residents and aids were all very good to me. They looked at all my information, slides, and scans. They told me that what I have is a puff-piece of cancer and the treatment my doctor is proposing is exactly what they would do.

That’s it. The diagnostic phases is over. The treatment phase begins tomorrow when I will take a pill.

Love to everyone, Keep in touch. I appreciate it.



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I have been mumbling almost incoherently in response to life's problems for a long, long time. Contact me at