One morning, on Page Six of the New York Post, the tabloid's gotta-read gossip column, I read that I'd thrown a tantrum at a movie screening, demanding an aisle seat and threatening to walk out if I didn't get one. Richard Johnson writes the column, he'd called me the day before to check the item, an awfully nice thing for a gossip columnist to do. I'd told him the studio people caused the fuss, there was no aisle seat but I'd offered to stand while I watched the film, which was the truth but he didn't believe me and ran the item anyway. What I didn't tell him was that the reason I needed an aisle seat was because I was afraid my bag would fill, and pushing my way out of the middle of the row in a crowded theater, would jar itself loose. If Oliver Wendell Holmes convinced the Supreme Court it was dangerous to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater, what would he have to say about the riot that would cause?
I'd travel with a kit: baggies, wipes, paper towels, Lysol spray. You know how they say "After a while you get used to it?" After a while you get used to it. It becomes the new normal and it's no big deal, it's what you do to get by.
One of my first days doing the news, in 1972 on hippie-radio KMET-FM, 94.7 in Los Angeles, I read a story that came over the wire about a so-called enema bandit in Springfield, Illinois. He would tie up women, give them enemas and leave them in their bathrooms. The last line of the story: "He has yet to leave a clue or a trail behind him." I thought of that story every time I cleaned up the trail I left behind me.
The colostomy, it turned out, was the easy part, one of the side-effects of the disease. The hard part is the cure. If you're not careful, or a little lucky, the cure'll kill you before the disease will.
I liked my oncologist right off. Dr. Jeffrey Tepler. My cancer was common enough that I didn't need cutting edge treatment; thousands of people every year got what I got, and, I knew, when the year was over some lived, some died. What Dr. Tepler had going for him was that he genuinely seemed to care which of the two would happen to me.
In his book-filled office, plastered with water-colors his kids had painted, Tepler recommended a course of radiation at the initial site and chemotherapy to kill any of the rogue cells that might have traveled through my lymph nodes.
5-FU with Leukavorin is the chemotherapy of choice for Grade 3 colo-rectal cancer. 5-FU is the chemical that kills the cancer cells, Leukavorin is a vitamin that amplifies the kill-rate. It had been the chemotherapy of choice for ten years which, my reporter's instinct told me, was a good thing. There are few arenas as cut-throat or as competitive as the search for a cancer cure. Every once in a while a scientist trying to cure cancer will get caught lying in a paper or keeping a second set of books in his lab and make the front-pages, the stakes are that high. The prize they're fighting for isn't grant money or even the Nobel prize in medicine; the real battle is for immortality. Salk, Einstein, Newton, Galileo, how many scientists' names does the average person know? Find the cure for cancer, you're on humanities' short-list for a thousand years. So, I figured, if the finest minds of my generation couldn't find anything better then 5-FU with Leukavorin in ten hot years of research, that was the stuff for me.