Spiritual French Fries
You know those hypothetical desert island questions like, “If you could only have three CD’s, seven books, one food, or two people you actually don’t loathe on a desert island, how many licks would it take to get to the center of a Tootsie-Pop while traveling on a train leaving Chicago at 7am at sixty-three miles-per-hour?”
The one that I never waffle on is, “If you could only choose one food…”
It’s French Fries. Perfect, simple, golden, crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, sea-salted French Fries. I’m an aficionado, a lover, a model of covetousness for them. Throughout my life, I remember the really good ones, the really bad ones, the these should have tasted better ones, and the ones I would seriously consider taking a life for. I grieved when Burger King got rid of the grossly underrated crinkle-cut Satis-fries.
But like the good book says, “Man cannot live on fries alone.” We need something more. Sometimes, it’s just hard to figure out what that more actually is.
I make no qualms about the fact that I was born with a horseshoe up my ass. I was blessed to be conceived by parents who are two of my best friends, and to be the younger sibling of an amazing brother. I have had not one, but two rewarding careers that I have loved beyond what should be legal. The woman of my dreams agreed to marry me after we found each other at the perfect moment in our lives. It didn’t matter that we were born 3,804 miles from each other as the airline flies. I’m not kidding when I say she saved me in every way imaginable.
And after twenty rounds of chemotherapy in eleven weeks, followed by the eviction of my left huevo, we conceived two of the kindest, smartest, most beautiful gifts from God I’ve ever laid eyes on. They constantly feed my soul.
Now if someone who didn’t know me read that, they’d probably think that everything sounded idyllic… save that whole cancer thing. What they would not realize was that having cancer is, was, and will always be one of the most important and integral times in my life. And nowhere was that proven truer than in Denver this past weekend.
When I heard those three words that no one wants to hear, I immediately got angry at my tumor that was, for all intents and purposes, trying to evict me from my own body. I put my head down, metaphorically hulked-up, and dove head-first into my treatment. I was a twenty-nine-year-old man-child… I didn’t need to talk to anyone about seventh level of hell where I would be residing for a while.
It was due to my stunning lack of vision that my journey was probably far more difficult psychologically than it needed to be. And I’m not alone.
A twenty-one-year-old kid named Matthew Zachary was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor in 1996. When he looked for psychological support, he quickly realized that his efforts were about as useful as a fart in a stiff wind. There was virtually no one to talk him off the many ledges from which he clung to for dear life. By the miracle of family, friends, a gifted array of medical professionals, and the sheer determination to live, Matthew beat cancer, and then turned his life over to making cancer suck less for so many others like him.
In 2007, Stupid Cancer was born, and every year they invite patients, survivors, caregivers, and medical professionals to Denver to leap back into the fire. They connect, imbibe, and empower each other like you simply can’t imagine if you haven’t seen it in person. They are the living embodiment that no one has to go through cancer alone. Ever.
The event is CancerCon… the largest gathering of people who have been affected by cancer of it’s kind. Most are patients and survivors who have been affected between the ages of eighteen and forty, which fits my bill as that jackhole tried to take me out at twenty-nine. My Half Fund partner Joe Farmer and I first visited CancerCon three years ago, and it forever changed us. Never had we seen so many brave badasses in one place.
And when I say brave, I don’t mean to say that they were fearless. Anyone who goes through this disease experiences sometimes-extreme fear. I’m sixteen years out, and I still get scared each March when I have to get righty felt up to make sure he’s not trying to kill me like his bastard twin-brother did in oh-two.
These folks just believe that cancer doesn’t define them, and they have been entrusted with a unique perspective that they’re willing to share with the world.
Which brings us to why Joe and I were there this past weekend. He and I are storytellers by trade, primarily in film and video. We’ve also expanded our capabilities by delving into writing and blogging, and using that, we hosted what we call “The Five Minute Blog,” where we ask anyone who will sit with us five questions that dig deep into the perspective of diagnosis, treatment, and the less well-known or well-studied aftermath.
At the beginning of this particular weekend, I arrived in Denver excited, but also a bit apprehensive. Through the high-class problem of an abundance of video production projects, my Half Fund work has really taken a back seat for well over a year now. To be honest, I didn’t know if I still had the desire I had three years ago when we first attempted this experiment. I didn’t know if I could do it the justice it so richly deserves. And I didn’t know if I still had the courage to be so close to such wonderful people who had been through a situation beyond any rational comprehension.
And then they came up to our table. One by one. Sometimes a cluster at a time. Seventy-one humans who were willing to share their experience with the world. Some were on fire with gratitude. Some were struggling with the lingering fear of after effects, and whether or not they would ever go away.
Some still had cancer. One was Stage 4… a wife and mom of three young girls. Her outlook astonished me.
Her plan was spectacular and poignant. “I’m still going through treatment,” she said, “But in case it doesn’t work, I don’t just want to leave my children with a loving household. I want to leave them with an army of warriors who will have their backs for the rest of their lives.”
And with that, after a long hiatus of altruistic starvation, that unquenched slice of my being was finally full. I wish I had the words to describe this feeling that truly defies any explanation.
Joe and I left Denver as different people… happier people… fuller people… from all of our old friends we’ve made through our years at CancerCon, as well as the new friends who are now an intrinsic part of our DNA.
And full from French Fries. A bunch of us ate several orders of them in the hotel lobby bar while we slowly peeled away for our respective journeys home. Apparently I’m not the only one who’s a fan.
They were fabulous, by the way.
Dan Duffy is a husband, father, cancer survivor, and accidental activist as co-founder of The Half Fund, a mission to help those affected by cancer tell their stories. The first project from The Half Fund, The Half Book: He’s Taking His Ball And Going Home, is available at Amazon. Stay tuned for the results of the Five Minute Blog, coming soon. Oh, and read this.