“You need a haircut!”

Not what I necessarily wanted to hear from my oncologist, but could have been worse. And it got worse, though not health wise.

“It’s been a long day,” he said.

No shit, I thought, having waited 90 minutes after being asked to reschedule my 10:30 a.m. appointment to the afternoon, since he was in surgery in the morning. When I got there at 3 p.m.—half an hour early—the place was packed, and when I finally saw him at 5 there was only one other patient left.

The long wait had left me vulnerable, though.

You may recall that the first time I went down for radiation, I walked in and ran right into an old music business pal. Remember? The last place in hell you ever want to run into someone you know is the cancer ward, if not the cemetery.

So now with the long wait, this guy comes over to me, but this time it’s a guy I can’t stand. Another music guy. Run into him once a year, usually, at a big trade show in January. He’s with his brother and dad, and introduces me. I have to act like I care. Not sure I pulled it off.

“See you next week,” he said. “And don’t worry. Dr. X is the best.” I’m not worried, at least not about Dr. X. He is the best, even if I am hiding his name. I don’t know if he’d want to be identified here, and I’m too embarrassed to ask.

But I am in fact worried about running into this guy next week and having to act nice again. Maybe even have to talk cancer, which I hate doing. I don’t even like writing about it.

And then it got worse. There was more to the bad news than needing a haircut.

Dr. X is leaving. At least he thinks he might be leaving.

But Thank God he hadn’t said I was fat, like he did last time. I would have jumped out the fucking window.

But I never really had much of a conversation with him in the three years he’s been treating me. That’s not his fault. Ever since Dr. Subramaniam, the urologist I chose because he had the same name as my friend Dr. L. Subramaniam–the renowned Indian classical violinis–diagnosed me, the only real question I ever asked was, “Should I read anything?”

“No,” Subie said. His staff called him Subie. Whereas we call Dr. L. Mani.

“And don’t go on the Internet!” Subie added. I didn’t. Him doctor, me patient. I write about music. It’s not curing cancer. I don’t like reading much anyway.

Subie had sent me to X with highest recommendations. In our initial consultation, X said he was among the best. I had no reason to doubt him. Never even thought of getting a second opinion. “Do you have any questions?” he asked, after outlining his plan of radiation treatment. I told him how Subie told me not to read anything. Prostate cancer, Dr. X esplained, was heavily marketed. He didn’t explain why that mattered, and didn’t have to. After, all, I come from the record business.

In the three years since, I must come across as the biggest loser. Couldn’t afford to have the shingles vaccine he’d been ordering me to get for three years. About the only question I ever asked was whether I needed to be concerned about futility and he said yes.

Otherwise, it was always the quick in-out, so to speak. The nurse would draw blood, then ask the rote questions about urinary, defacatory, and sexual activity. Dr. X would come in and go over medications and then scribble out four or five prescriptions and that was it for the next six months.

It was different this time.

Dr. X isn’t at all unfriendly, but he’s always been pretty strictly business—and that’s fine. He has an office full of patients, and no one knows more than me the time it takes to treat cancer. I don’t mean to suggest that Dr. X was cold, not at all. Or that he wouldn’t have answered any questions I might have asked. I just didn’t ask much, and it was never like I had anything going on in my life to match his.

Yet now, even before glancing at the computer screen to see the info entered by the nurse, he suddenly went on a first-time ever monologue.

As was his manner, it was rapid and complete, yet just the fact that he was doing it was almost moving. And then the more he spoke, it actually became moving.

Also as was his manner, he got straight to the point, the point being that because of political and ownership changes at the facility, he wasn’t sure he’d be there in six months.

He explained that there were only two doctors in New York who could do what he does, he being one of them. He told me the same thing the first time we met, never boastfully, just matter of fact. I believed him then and believe him now—and had the guy I didn’t like and his brother and father to now back me up.

But being so specialized actually worked against him, Dr. X said. If I understood correctly—rarely a certainty—New York wasn’t big enough for the both of them.
But the gist of it came with Dr. X’s admission that “I’m just not good at kissing ass.”

“You can stop there,” I interjected. “I was never much good at it either. I tried hard, but never got the hang of it.”

Suddenly, I felt, we were kind of alike.

“I don’t know if I’ll be here in six months. I might not even stay in New York,” Dr. X confided, then handed me a sheet of paper. “But here’s my cell phone number and my email address. I will remember you. You can contact me any time and I will always take care of you.”

He added the magic words, “no charge.”

“You trusted me with your life,” he said.

That part I tried to shrug off, much as I tried to hold back the sudden and altogether weird sensation of choking up.

I mean, it wasn’t a big deal to me. I made it to 60, a good 40 years longer than I expected. I had so little to show for it now, and so few future prospects, that what did it matter anyway, whatever the perecentages of survival for whatever number of years.

Frank Zappa, whom I knew, died of prostate cancer at 50. I read the obits and every week see some famous person who dies of prostate cancer. Most of my friends that I knew yesterday have gone home, to paraphrase an old gospel song the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet used to do so beautifully. “Don’t read the obituaries,” Rosanne Cash told me.

True, I hadn’t gone home yet myself, thanks in large part to Dr. X. And now he was extendng himself to ensure that I wouldn’t, under his continued watch or not.

I did in fact fight back tears as I mentioned “Cancer Funnies.” He wanted to read it.

“But no one reads it!” I confessed, adding my signature line: “Maybe one person, but that’s only if I decide to proofread it, which is never!”

A lot of his patients have written books about their treatment, he said.

“I know! Everyone does. I wasn’t going to do it, because everyone does. But then I thought of the title ‘Cancer Funnies’ and just had to try. Except it wasn’t very funny.”

But it was cathartic, said Dr. X. “Fuck no!” I countered. Well, I didn’t think I said “Fuck no” then, but I’m saying it now. It wasn’t cathartic at all, I told him. Just another thing to write for free that no one reads.

I said more or less the same thing a week or so earlier at the Social Security office.

I’d never even thought of applying for Social Security. I have such an undocumented work history, other than the billions of articles I’ve written for free that no one’s read. I figured they’d look me up in the computer and either toss me out into the street or have me arrested just for showing up.

Then a friend with an inordinate amount of pity and compassion who is actually giving me work said I needed to go. So I went. Couldn’t find my Social Security card and thank God I didn’t need it. But I did have to make an appointemnt, and the earliest one was in three weeks. In the interim I mentioned all this to another friend, a lawyer, who said I needed to be prepared and bring along my work history.
My work history? I thought, realizing, again, that it was all mostly undocumented. I gave it five minutes.

My first paying job was at Goodmans’ Jewelers, in Madison, I guessed around 1968, when I would have been 16. The Goodmans were family friends and I think I refinished display cases there during the summer. From there I went to The Pancake House in Hilldale, maybe ’69 or ’70. Entry level dishwasher–which set the pattern of my career advancement for the rest of my life: The progression was dishwasher to busboy to waiter. I washed for a few months, then saw guys who came in after me getting promoted ahead of me.

The boss finally took me aside one day and said he’d give ma a dime an hour raise (to $1.35), but that I wasn’t cut out to be a bus boy. I quit and walked across the parking lot to Chandlers Shoes, a low-end women’s shoe store chain. Entry level was a stock boy, and the same scenario played out: After the stock boy who came on after me was promoted to salesman, the manager took me aside one day, gave me a raise and said I was never meant to be a salesman.

I figured I worked at the State of Wisconsin from around 1973 to 1977, first as an assistant to a blind counselor in the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Bureau of the Blind, then as a Clerk/Typist 1 in the Division of Corrections, then a Clerk/Typist 2 in the Department of Administration before going full-time as a free-lance writer. I did work for the 1980 Census before moving to New York at the end of 1981 and getting a full-time job at Cash Box magazine early in ’82.

After two years as retail editor at Cash Box, I went over to MJI Broadcasting and produced a syndicated country radio trivia quiz show full-time for six months, and have been a free-lance writer ever since, a few months of delivering newspapers in the morning in 2011 notwithstanding.

But as luck would have it, I didn’t need to relate any of this.

The Social Securities rep I was assigned to, to my great fortune, happend to be from China. He was nice enough, but when he saw my t-shirt, it took him home.

Like Kris Kristofferson wrote in “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” I’d found my “cleanest dirty shirt.” It was a black t-shirt with a nondescript logo on the top left. I didn’t even know what it was until the man—I can’t reveal his name, obviously—asked if I was a singer.

The shirt, it turned out, said “Freedom Sings” under the logo. I probably got it 20 years ago at some First Amendment-related event. Maybe I even bought it. If so, it turned out to be well worth it.

No, I told him. I wasn’t a singer. But I was a music journalist—at this point, a failed music journalist.

Yet here was a man, originally from China, who could not have been more impressed.

He had left China, he said, because they didn’t respect intellectual property. He had been a professor, and said that what I had done, as a free-lance writer, required not only courage but was something that was vital to society—though maybe I’m exaggerating this a bit. Either way, he gave me such respect and understanding that I so rarely get anywhere else, such that I started getting teary-eyed—as I had with Dr. X.

Throughout the next hour or so, he went through the paperwork—he already had a computer printout with my work history—and explained everything. But every couple of minutes or so he’d take off his glasses and wax sentimental.

After leaving China he traveled around, England, Japan. He had ideas—good ones—and when he came to New York patented them. But he also got married and had a kid; his wife didn’t understand his inventions, and he needed a job to support his family. When he applied at the Social Security Office and saw an opportunity to help people, he seized it—again, much to my good fortune.

He was a huge help to me, and like I said, I was near tears. Same as I was with Dr. X.

On that sheet of paper with his contact info was a website address for providing feedback. Dr. X asked me to go to it and fill it out and hopefully say nice things about him, that it would be helpful whatever his future.

As a patient with a life threatening illness, I wrote, he’s as good as it gets on all counts.


The theme was, “Rock out!,” so it was appropriate that my old friend John Fogerty was playing, which is why I went to the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation benefit dinner at Cipriani Wall Street a couple weeks ago. And rock out I did, which would have been hard not to do, considering John’s one of the greatest rockers in history and hasn’t slowed down a whit at 70.

But I didn’t follow the second command of the theme—”Invest in cancer.” I’m not sure what it meant exactly, but I am sure I’ve invested plenty enough already. Too much for my own good, it turned out, earlier in the week, when I saw that cancer PSA again on MSNBC, the one where all the cancer patients or survivors or living-with-cancers look at the camera and whine about what cancer has taken from them.

“Cancer,” I tweeted, “if you return everything you took I won’t press charges.”

I thought it was funny. I think everything I tweet is funny. Not everyone else does. Clearly.

Although 17 friends did hit “like,” not everybody got the joke. From a friend in India, “Sending wishes, light and gratitude to the divine for your recovery.” As I told her, trying neither to reveal nor hide the truth, “Sweet of you, Isheeta, but health aside, I was goofing on a cancer public service announcement on US TV.” From my cousin Shayna, who knew, “Jim, this is a heartbreakingly funny comment. I hope you are ok. I am sending much love!”

Thanks, Shayna!

“Know exactly how you feel Jim,” wrote another, and while I didn’t respond, let me say right here, I most certainly hope not! Then again, since this Cancer Funnies series is the only thing I publish that I don’t promote, how could she, that is, know what I’m talking about other than the PSA?

But one friend I hadn’t seen in probably 20 years completely missed it. First she came back with a heart emoticon. Then “How are you Jim! It has been years, but yet no time at all!”—this with a smile emoticon.

Then I unintentionally opened the floodgates with “If you only knew, Rhonda, if you only knew”—though I at least had an inkling.

Rhonda, by the way, is not her real name. She’ll never read this, of course. Then again, maybe she will….

“I hope everyone knows I was responding to the TV PSA….,” I wrote, hastily, trying to avert the not so secret truth getting out without anyone subscribing to and donating to my cause.

“I get it!” said Rhonda, though she could only really have gotten less than the half of it, especially since she followed with the dreaded, “Hope you are well!” followed by “I am here if you want to chat!”

Goddammit! I don’t want to chat with anyone! And especially not about cancer!

“Very sweet…” was the best I could do.

“You are part of The Tapestry Of My Life!” she wrote. That being the case, I said to myself, said tapestry is due for a thorough cleaning.

“We all helped shape each other,” she continued. “You did a much better job than I did!” I said, hoping to absolve her of all blame.

“REALLY?” This was starting to enter dangerous waters, so I tried to reel it all back in with, “Thank you. You’ve been a wonderful audience…” If I was on Twitter I would have laughed out loud.

One friend bought it, I guess: “Love yourself, and we will add more love to the mix!” But I wasn’t sure, so I returned to the beginning with, “I won’t press charges!”—earning another friend’s “best status ever” proclamation.

Then, from a rare friend who knew the truth: “You had me worried.”

I was really hoping it had run its course, now, and it had, except for Rhonda. She was now taking issue with my “you did a much better job” response, and was now messaging me privately, thank God.

“Why do you say that? I remember our hallway talks like it was yesterday, we all built that sturdy foundation together. Thank God we had each other in a safe and sacred space and were never alone. Bert Padell brought so many of us together. He is truly one of my mentors. You OK?”

She was referring to the fabled Seventh Floor at 1775 Broadway, where I rented a tiny room from “accountant to the stars” Bert Padell. Everyone from Madonna to The Ramones did business there, and Rhonda worked for a top producer who also rented office space.

“Hey one last question did or do you have cancer?”

She had missed the joke, and I couldn’t lie.

“I was joking on the cancer PSA, but yes, in fact, I do have prostate cancer. Am destitute and have lost everything.”

“You have cancer! Why are you destitute and why have you lost everything?”

I really didn’t want to go into it.

“I really don’t mean to pry!”

“Come on. you have a tribe of loved ones to help you!!!!!!!!”

Yeah. That and 10 cents will buy me a good cigar.

“I have nothing and no one.”

“Jim you can be an asshole, but we still love you! And I do mean a mean asshole, at times. I am here for you let me know what you need please.”

Now I appreciated the affirmation, here, but when was I mean to you, dear? I thought, but didn’t write.

“Please talk to me. If I did not have a husband and a family I would be on the street right now! I mean that!”

Honestly, as much as I could have done without this exchange, I wasn’t avoiding it. It was past 10 p.m., and I’d fallen asleep.

“COME ON JIM! Please don”t leave me!”


“Please let me sleep tonight/I will hunt you down tomorrow!”


“You have a phone and FACEBOOK!”


“Don’t make me call the authorities, I will.”

“I am calling! unless you tell me not to!”

“I am calling!”

“PLEASE call me”

She left her phone number.


“Do I need to check on you?”

“I will!”

I woke up at 4:16 a.m.

“Hey! Fell asleep. Just woke up at 4:16….”

Rhonda returned at 9:01.

“You brought out the Mother in me. I was concerned and I have a tendency to over react. The word destitute really got me. What do you need? I may be able to help. I would really like to do that!”

I didn’t know how to respond.

“Hey it is me! I really need you to be honest with me about what is truly going on and what your needs are. I will keep it private but would love to help you get whatever help you need. YOU ARE LOVED JIM, most of the time we don’t feel it but please know it! You are Blessed weather you like it or not to be a part of a community that still cares about one another. Please reach back to me. I will not preach to the choir! Just want the absolute best for you!”

This seemed appropriate: “You’re very sweet Rhonda. I’m drinking myself into oblivion now. If I don’t call you tomorrow remind me.”

She came back with “me too!”

But she couldn’t wait.

“please call me now,”she said, leaving her number.

Except that I actually was drinking myself into oblivion.

“Believe it or not I’m at a cancer foundation dinner. If the cancer don’t kill me, at least the cirrhosis will.” Again, I would have laughed out loud had I tweeted this.

“I am sweet, too sweet, but you are worth it!!!!

“Hardly.” Two bourbons followed by one Canadian was starting to kick in.

“So you are an asshole! Godspeed!”

Some how I felt better. It was time to Rock out!, so to speak.

The PR gal who invited me–why, I’ll never know–had been unusually helpful in getting my message to Bob Fogerty that I was there and was hoping to say hi to him, his brother and sister-in-law Julie. Hadn’t seen them in two years almost to the day, when John smoked the Beacon with a set including the entire Cosmo’s Factory and Bayou Country albums along with most of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s other big hits, as well as his own solo classics.

I did get a few minutes with John and Julie before they did a VIP meet-and-greet–during which one of his signature flannel shirts was auctioned off for $10,000–and then a full, dynamite 90-minute show with his full, dynamite band. I didn’t wonder how he does it, since I knew from the video presentation at the Beacon that he not only practices guitar four hours a day, he jogs six miles daily.

I came back down to my table in time to hear emcee Chris Wragge, co-anchor of CBS 2 News’ early “happy talk” “news” show This Morning, try to lead everyone in a “Cancer sucks!” cheer while pretty young female things went around the tables passing out “Cancer sucks!” temp tatts.

I was introduced to a major philanthropist/socialite who wanted to introduce me to Samuel Waxman, who was only a table over. “He saved my dad from lymphoma!” she said

Sam was in the middle of a mouthful, but swallowed politely.

“You guys in the press do such a great job for us!” he said appreciatively–underscoring the fact that this was no music business function. I really wanted to slap him on the back like we were old frat brothers and say, “Oh, yeah. I got prostate cancer, you old coot!”

But I thought back to my thread and returned to my seat.


It was just one of those days, I guess.

At least it started out pretty good. I got to the Met Monday morning in time—10 a.m.—to meet the great Danny Fields. We were going to the dress rehearsal for Don Giovanni, but found out when we got there that instead of the usual 10:30 start, it was 11, likely because of the morning snowfall, probably because I just didn’t get the memo for the later start.

Anyway, that gave us an hour to kill, and Danny fatefully suggested Starbucks. I had a large with soy, and felt compelled to down the whole damn thing. Of course I hit the men’s room at the Met, and figured I’d be fine until the second act, that three-and-a-half hours duration there’d be two intermissions.

No, I didn’t check the program, not until an hour in when I knew I was in trouble of the prostate cancer kind. This had happened to me a couple years ago, shortly after the seed implants, when I had to walk out in the middle of an actual Met performance. Luckily I was near the aisle, but the ushers freaked out, rightly, but understood when I explained the problem. Now, again I was reaching the point of no return, so I leaned over to Danny and told him I had to go, then apologetically climbed over two people at the end of the row and made it to the can in the nick of time, this time without any interference from ushers. I took my phone, laptop and ticket stub—which you need to have to get back in.

Bathroom break achieved successfully, I figured I could sit in the lounge area across from the men’s room, and at least work on my Don Covay appreciation for I wasn’t alone, especially since they have a TV monitor on the wall showing the performance, but without the subtitles. At one point I heard a thud next to me. It was my phone falling into the crack between chairs.

At the end of the first act I was able to go into the auditorium without being seen and pick up my lunch bag, then met Danny downstairs and ate. Went back to the bathroom prior to Act II, drained it best I could and figured I’d had it made this time.

All this prostate shit, by the way, I’ve gone into in greater depth in this section, though newcomers be forewarned: It really isn’t all that funny.

I’m sure you know what’s coming. Halfway through Act II the discomfort commenced. Soon I was squirming around in my seat. I knew I’d have to make a run for it at curtain call, and began praying they didn’t have to redo anything.

They didn’t. I told Danny I’d talk to him later, made another mad dash to the can and got there again in the nick of time.

And then I realized my phone was missing.

I went back to the lounge, went through all my pants, sweatshirt, coat pockets two, three times. Took everything out of my gym/lunch bag. No phone.

Ran back to the auditorium, but I’d taken so long at the urinal that everyone was already out and it was locked. I caught up with an usher as she was leaving and she took me to the Lost & Found, gave me a slip with the phone number, and said I could call between 2 p.m and 4. It was getting close to 3.

I trudged home through the snow, all the while wondering if I had any friends and family members left to beg for money for a new phone. I didn’t.

I made it to the bathroom, again, in the nick of time. When I finally got to my desk it was 3:30—and I’d even lost the fucking Lost & Found phone number.

I had no recourse to call my friend at the Met who’d got me the tickets to the dress rehearsal—Lady A, we’ll call her, and we’ll go a step further and say that the “A” does not stand for “Antebellum.”

Lady A gave me the number, which I called and left a voicemail, as directed, with my name and number and missing item. It said they’d get back to me if they found anything, between 2 and 4. By now I was thinking of life without a cell phone, life in the Stone Age.

But Lady A said she’d also go down and look, and call back. She did.

“I have no good news,” she said. “I know you tore apart your bag and pockets and everything….”


I tried to reconstruct everything and now I wasn’t even sure I had my phone after Starbucks. Then I remembered how it had plopped into the crack between the chairs in the lounge. Lady A, being the saint that she is, offered to go down, again, and look.

She called back 10 minutes later.

“You are so lucky!” she said. “I’m a fucking asshole!” I replied.

“I didn’t mean that,” she said. “Just that I’m a great person.”

“You’re a great person because I’m a fucking asshole.”

Lady A had got down on her hands and knees, moved all the lounge chairs around—and found nothing. Then she found one of the auditorium guys who let her in, went to my row, got down on her hands and knees again and found the phone, a Samsung Note 3 in a black case, on the black floor in the darkened room.

“You’re so lucky!” she repeated. “I’m a fucking asshole!” I replied.

I think she laughed. Then again, I think everyone laughs.

I trudged back to the Met. Lady A handed me the phone through the cast iron Met gates, and I trudged back home, having wasted what was left of the afternoon.

Prostate made itself known once again, but at least I didn’t have to make any money-begging calls from the desk phone.

[This is a two-part post! Part Two can be found here at “Talking to Myself Out Loud.”]


My dear friend Ann Ruckert died Saturday night. I posted an appreciation yesterday at, but I left out anything personal.

If you want to know about Ann, here’s the link. Otherwise, May Pang summed things up nicely: “For all who knew her, she was a fixture in our music community and had a very big heart.”

I sent the link to the friend that I mentioned early in this series, whom I ran into, to my great surprise and chagrin, at that first day at the cancer radiation clinic. Still not naming name, he’s another fixture in our music community, thereby another dear friend of Ann’s.

He recalled being included in “that rarified air” of Ann’s famous Sunday “salon” brunches at her West Side apartment, where he got to meet one of his idols, Ann’s close friend and songwriting legend Gene McDaniels (he wrote “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” a big hit for Ann’s friend Roberta Flack) in the dining room.

“I wanted to tell him how much his recordings and songs meant to me but that can be daunting sometimes so it might have been left unsaid,” my friend said. “The only lesson I can take away from this moment is this: Don’t wait. I can’t say I remember if I told Ann how much I admired her passion and strength. A few of my friends have died recently and I don’t know if they knew how much they meant to me.”

Well, my friend, that goes double, triple, quadruple for me. Ann was as much a friend to me as she was to everyone, yet I let my own health and other problems overwhelm me to the point where I fell out of touch and didn’t realize how ill she was, hence never got to tell her how much I, too, admired her passion and strength–and how much she meant to me.”

It’s a lesson I should have learned with Nick Ashford, Steve Popovich, Al Goldstein. Apologies to you all, wherever you are.

At least I know it had to be tacitly understood.


Woke up this morning to a local CBS affiliate news anchor interviewing some gal about her “cancer journey.”

I’ve talked about this before, but I like to repeat myself. Hitchhiking across the U.S. is a journey. Taking a cruise ship to the Caribbean is a journey. Trekking across the Himalyas is a journey.

Going to the hospital for cancer treatment is a fucking cab ride. Dealing with it all is a challenge. Maybe you get to live a little longer in varying degrees of discomfort if not misery, but you don’t send postcards or invite your friends over for slide shows.


The urologist’s office’s waiting room was unusually full this morning. The only seat left was next to the table where the shit periodicals were strewn.

By “shit periodicals,” I don’t mean the golf mag–but that was buried under three copies of the Summer, 2014 issue of Cancer Today. Pretty cover girl, smiling face: “Christina McEvoy: Finding Her Way, Cancer Survivor Goes the Distance for Treatment.”

I didn’t reach for it.

The nurse came in to pass out urine cups to the gents in the waiting room. It was alphabetical so I got mine first.

I didn’t have a lot, even though I had a cup of coffee on the way. Or maybe I had more than I could get out, this being prostate cancer and all.

I’d say that the mostly males in the waiting room were old black men, but who am I to call the kettle old? They did chuckle as I walked directly to the water cooler for a refill after returning from dribbling out my urine specimen.

“Just in case they need any more,” I said.

“When you get to be my age, you can’t open it up,” one of the old men said.

I AM your age, thank you!” I said. The old men laughed.

The only seat open now was the one next to me. Another old black man came in and took it. He looked over me at the magazine table and asked me to hand him a copy of Cancer Today, which I did.

“Light reading,” I said.


As usual, I lost the papers for the blood work I needed to have done before yesterday’s appointment with the urologist (the promptly lost the card with my next appointment). So I had to come in last week to pick up new papers to take to the blood lab.

“Don’t let him see you!” the urologist’s nurse admonished me. Puzzled, I asked why.

“Because he’ll think you’re a patient!”

“But I AM a patient!” I replied, more puzzled.


Joan Rivers’ death was truly tragic, mainly because she seemed like she could have gone on at the relentless work rate she’d always maintained for at least another 10 years, if not forever.

But as Dr. Nancy Snyderman said yesterday on MSNBC, “no one gets a free pass.”

She was noting that even a relatively routine, “minor throat procedure” can be dangerous, especially for an 81-year-old—even one who’s had lots of procedures.

It was pretty clear all along to me, at least, how this was going to end, from the moment I heard “cardiac arrest.” But the whole awful episode underscored the care that my doctors took with me when it came to my procedures and well before, going back several years now when my PSA first gave cause for concern.

I can’t remember the number, but I knew it was high enough for the urologist to talk about biopsy. But things could go wrong even with a biopsy, he explained, way wrong. So he held off until the next blood test—the PSA being on the borderline—and said to come back again for bloodwork in six months, I believe, though it may have been three—as it is now, post-radiation.

And so it went for a year or two, as long as I had health insurance. I stopped going after I lost it, and it was at least a couple more years before I got to a free clinic for bloodwork—at which time the new doctor said I definitely needed a biopsy. But it would be another couple years or so before I got on another plan that would cover it.

When I finally did get to a urologist who agreed that I needed a biopsy, there really wasn’t any doubt. But I did have to sign papers and affirm that I understood what was going on, i.e., that this was a serious procedure with potentially serious consequences—even though it would be performed in the doctor’s office without anesthesia. I remember I had to take an antibiotic the day before and one again after, and was given an emergency number should anything go wrong later in the day.

The antibiotics were needed again when I had the seed implants, which were indeed done at a hospital and under anesthesia. And the hospital was very thorough in asking me, more than once, my medical history, what medication I was on, and anything else pertinent to the administration of the anesthesia.

“You don’t want to be sedated for anything if you don’t have to be,” Dr. Snyderman said–neither a 60-year-old man nor an 81-year-old woman, or anyone else in between or below.

I was completely out of it during the brief seed implants, but I remember that during my last colonoscopy I experienced the sensation of being semi-conscious toward the end. I mentioned this to the doc, a stern, humorless man, at the followup.

“It seemed like I wasn’t completely out,” I told him.

“Well we do want you to come out of it,” he said, almost cracking the suggestion of a smile.


What the fuck?

So there’s this Stand Up to Cancer show tonight hosted by Katie Couric and simulcast on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and 26 cable networks, to raise money for cancer research with–says The Washington Post–“a star-packed hour of musical performances and celebrity appearances,” including performances from The Who, Jennifer Hudson, Lupe Fiasco, Common, Ariana Grande and Dave Matthews and appearances from Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, Jon Hamm and Eric Stonestreet.

We’ve come a long way in these star-packed multi-channel simulcast charity shows since the one after 9/11. A long way down. I mean, stand up to cancer? Eric Stonestreet?

I want to know which channels aren’t showing Stand Up to Cancer, because I take my cancer sitting down.


You may re call—that is, a) if I ever explained it upfront in the first place, and b) you go back with me here to the beginning, that doing this series Cancer Funnies was the last thing I wanted to do, that blogging about cancer and other ailments has become a veritable cottage industry, albeit a nonpaying one.

And who wants to read a self-serving, self-indulgent blog about someone’s life-threatening illness anyway?

But then I came up with the title Cancer Funnies and laughed out loud at my sense of irony and offbeat cleverness. If nothing else, I figured, I’d amuse myself, and besides, the title was too good to let go of, even though in retrospect, now, I most obviously should have.

I mean, cancer isn’t particularly funny to being with, and neither am I. Hence neither is Cancer Funnies.

This hit home hard last Thursday night at The Beacon Theater, when I left an early set by the legendary Standells to get there on time for the Ledisi show and ran into a friend in the lobby, a “cancer survivor,” she would say, whereas at this point, I remain a “cancer sufferer.”

An old friend, she’s one of the few people who know I have cancer, even though I’ve written about it extensively and pretty much tell everyone who wants me to work for free that I’m too ill to do it. Which tells you, a) that nobody reads this blog, and b) nobody is much interested that I’m too ill to work for free.

I’ll say this for her: She’s the exact opposite from me. Bubbly, upbeat, positive. She asked how I was doing and I honestly told her.

“You wuss,” she chided. “You didn’t have chemo. You only had radiation. I had chemo, twice!”

Well excuse me for livin’, Sister. At least, I waited the fuck long enough for it to metastasize before having a biopsy. Shit, I could have stayed at The Standells. Not only were they great, I left before they got to “Dirty Water.”

I winced and walked away—and then into the theater to catch the end of Robert Glasper opening set. As bad luck would have it, she was seated at the other end of the same row, as I found out at intermission. And while I may write Cancer Funnies, she sensed correctly that I didn’t have much of a Cancer Humor and came over to apologize for making light of my radiation.

She tried, too, to engage me in some kind of private cancer patient secret society, which of course I neither feel nor identify with.

“We’re cancer survivors!” she proclaimed, trying to cheer me on. You and me against the world, to borrow from Helen Reddy.

“Not me, baby. I’m the original zombie: I drink your blood. I eat your skin.”

Dear Ledisi, maybe the most wonderful, bubbly, upbeat and positive artist ever.

She spotted me in the crowd and gave me a shoutout, and after the show she asked how I was. I shrugged and didn’t say anything.

If I do say anything, I say, “Old Man’s Disease.” Of course, that could be interpreted to mean something other than prostate cancer.

As my late father used to say, nearing the end: “Pneumonia is an old man’s best friend.”