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Fuck Cancer

You can tell Cancer I said it, too. Cancer is the biggest coward I’ve ever met in my entire life. It drains everything it touches. It doesn’t just attack the person it leaches on to, it attacks everyone around, too. It attacks their joy. Attacks their faith. It’s a Why without an answer. It’s scary. Even if you beat it, it can come back. You live the rest of your life looking over your shoulder waiting for its return like a bad acid flashback. 

By all accounts, Chadwick Boseman took Cancer head on and went on a four year run which produced three of the top 12 highest grossing movies of all time. And also somehow found a way to squeeze in seven other movies. And also became an icon, a true icon, to millions of children around the world. Representation matters. You don’t think about it if you look like me, because you don’t have to - you’re well represented. When you’re not, for decades upon decades, and finally someone comes around and looks like you? That can change your entire outlook. That can set the bar that much higher for an entire generation. It’s that important.

Chadwick Boseman, the actor, transcended film and became a symbol. A beacon of hope. An inspiration. It took until his death, at the age of 43, to an illness nobody knew he had, for the majority of us to recognize the man he really was. What he stood for with his actions. How he used his remaining time as if it were a never-ending hour glass overflowing with sand when he knew Death was constantly waiting around the corner. I don’t know how many of us would be willing and gracious enough to spend any time at a children’s hospital hoping to put a smile on a sick kid’s face when you know you’re in a similar boat. It’s becoming obvious, through his choice in roles and actions in his last four years alone, that he was more of a man than he ever was an actor. And I say that with no disrespect towards his acting prowess whatsoever.  

Cancer doesn’t give you time to prepare. It’s like waking up to a knock at your door only to open it and see the 2000 Ravens defense demanding you play until you beat them. No you don’t have time to eat, they can’t come back in a few days, you cannot get them out of your way until you hang 28 points on their heads. And even then, they might demand a rematch sometime down the road if they feel like it. Cancer is a gigantic asshole. 

Cancer has followed me around my entire life. That doesn’t make me unique, I’ve never met someone who hasn’t personally had their life or a family member’s life greatly impacted by some form of cancer. For me, both of my parents had it. My father had jaw and throat cancer when I was one. It finally killed him when I was 27. They read him his last rights in 1991. He survived. I was able to grow up with a father. A father with a voice he couldn’t raise above a whisper due to the amount of radiation he had to sit through. A father who didn’t have his entire right hip bone because the doctors had to shave it off in order to fashion him a new jaw. That jaw did not come with teeth, nor could it fit dentures due to its unnatural shape. But it did give him a gnarly scar on his forearm after they removed some veins in order to transplant them into his new jaw. So he had that going for him. But I had my father, he was able to watch me grow up. But he always felt rushed, as if there wasn’t enough time. He had me prepared to be the man of the house for as long as I can remember. Because he lived in a state of constantly believing the Reaper to be around the corner. Because of this he lived out his remaining years selflessly - both for me and for the community he served. He was the driving force behind the construction of the Greater Roslindale Medical and Dental Center: an upgraded, modernized health facility for one of the most diverse communities of Boston. Leave the world a better place than how you found it, that’s what he always instilled in me. Make your life better so that your kids’ lives can be better than yours. Make your community better so that the next generation can improve upon that. 

I had my father for 26 years after cancer took his voice. We were lucky. But the radiation from his initial treatments finally caught up to him. It took his epiglottis. The epiglottis is an underrated body part. It’s like the mail sorter for your innards. Oxygen? You can go down that tube over there, palm that'll bring you to the lungs. Food and beverage? Nah, you want the other tube to get to the stomach. It’s not something you ever think of. It’s an involuntary muscle. You’re literally never supposed to think about it. Sure, there are a few droplets of water that will sneak by and end up going down the wrong pipe and make you cough uncontrollably for a few seconds but hey listen nobody’s perfect. Mistakes happen and that’s about as large of a one as the ‘glottis is capable of making. Unless you have to sit through a year’s-plus worth of radiation cooking your throat on high. Then that involuntary muscle might tap out before the rest of your body. They don’t have a fix for that. And when they don’t have a fix for that you get pneumonia. You get pneumonia because you don’t know your epiglottis is broken at first. It just stops. Food, water, oxygen, go down whatever pipes they want. And when that much food and water gets into your lungs you start to lose weight, and that decaying food starts fucking with your lungs something fierce. And when you start to lose weight because you’re not getting your regular daily nutrients they pierce a feeding tube through your body so that you can pour protein directly into your stomach. You don’t get to taste your favorite foods anymore. You have a big plastic syringe that you inject protein drinks into yourself multiple times a day. The tube clogs, sometimes the clasp at the end becomes undone and you end up pouring your meal back onto your pants. You become embarrassed even though it’s not your fault. It’s hard. My father worked for EMS for the final stage of his life. He managed every ambulance in the city of Boston. He had to make sure they were stocked, and not just stocked, he had to make sure there was a surplus “in case shit happens.” April 15, 2013, “shit happened.” I was on Twitter. He was in his computer room. I saw the bombs go off at the Marathon finish line and went downstairs to tell him and my mother. He walked directly out the door and drove into EMS headquarters. He was physically weak but mentally he knew he could help, so he did.

Protein drinks through a syringe can only do so much. My father kept emaciating. He was all bone. He couldn’t even stay up to watch the entire Patriots-Falcons Super Bowl. He found out the next day when he rewatched it. Needless to say he couldn't believe it. I still think every Patriots playoff game is DVR’d on that tv. He passed away a few weeks later. It’s still hard. Hard to think about, hard to type this. I’ll always miss him, but there’s a relief that comes with it being over. A relief that someone you care about is no longer suffering. That they pain you can only watch and in no way help subside no longer exists. The relief for my mother who lost both of her parents and her husband within the span of 14 months, knowing she had become unburdened with waiting. That’s all cancer is: waiting. Waiting to see if the treatments work, waiting to see test results, waiting to see if it comes back, waiting for the end. The relief comes much later, there’s too much grief in the moment to start searching for a bright side. But it comes, in fleeting moments of reflection, it comes. I hope Chadwick’s family finds tranquility in those moments, whenever they may come. I can’t imagine how taxing the last four years have been on them. I hope they can reflect and appreciate the highs he accomplished while he was battling those lows. 

I'll never understand how Chadwick Boseman was able to have the physical and mental strength to accomplish all that he did over these last four years. It's truly remarkable to star in some of the largest scale action movies ever produced, being on sets for months at a time, doing press tours and promotional runs around the world, fighting with your own body to maintain the appearances of being in top physical shape to assume the role as a superhero, all while battling this nasty disease. 

When I was in eighth grade my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. I don’t remember the stage, I don’t remember viewing it as that serious at the time. I was 13-years old, I was an idiot. I was still living under the illusion that bad things only happen to the people on the news. Surely they couldn’t happen to me. But looking back on it my parents hid me from most of the wickedness this cancer brought on my family. My mother was to have a routine procedure done to take care of her colon cancer. What I didn’t realize at the time is that there’s no such thing as a routine procedure when dealing with cancer. It’s fucking cancer. It doesn’t care about your plan. The procedure got fucked up to the point where she had to have a colostomy bag inserted and she narrowly escaped with her life. My mother’s always been stronger than she appears. Because even seeing her in the hospital I never had any doubts she’d pull through. She never allowed me the opportunity to worry. She came home, she didn’t work for a long time. She was stuck in the house all winter. And all winter long her childhood friends were in and out of my house like they were paying rent. Like the Royal Rumble kept announcing names and wrestlers were sprinting into the ring every hour on the hour. The Dorchester Irish might as well all be blood the way they look out for one another. My mother grew up with the McDonaghs. The McDonaghs as in Pat McDonagh - founder of "Pat’s" pizza and sub shop in Lower Mills. When he found out my mother wasn’t able to work, was living in daily pain, he had his sister - one of my mother’s best friends - bring over platter after platter after platter of food. Not once. Not for a week. Until she was better. He didn’t do this because it would end up in the paper as good publicity for his business. Just as her other friend - a nurse by trade - didn’t come over to change her colostomy bag for any other reason than they deemed it to be the right thing to do. It’s easy to do the right thing for the accolades and recognition. And it’s not wrong to want those things if the good deed is ultimately accomplished. But there’s something about people giving of themselves when no one is watching, that is truly the best part of humanity. That when I’m sitting there as an idiot 13-year old boy, I don’t only have to see the pain and suffering of a loved one but also the extreme good people are capable of. 

I’m glad Chadwick’s story is being told this way. It shouldn’t have taken a sudden death for it to come out, as a society we generally have a problem with giving people their flowers while they’re around to sniff them, but it would appear he wanted it this way. He kept his fight private while showing up to St. Jude’s and sitting with children just because it would make someone else in immense pain feel better, if even for a minute. It would have been far easier to tell everyone what he was going through and rake in the sympathy while sitting around feeling sorry for himself. That’s the easy path and I fault no one for choosing it. It’s a daunting battle and none of us know how we’d respond to the toll of that bell until we’re sitting across from a doctor telling us the bad news. Chadwick didn’t want the sympathy. Despite blossoming into one of the largest movie stars in the world he was not impervious to being embarrassed. He posted pictures earlier this year, his cheeks were gaunt, thousand of people speculated directly in his mentions what it could mean. Is he sick? On drugs? Tired from people making him say “Wakanda Forever” over and over and over again? He deleted the pictures. It was his secret to keep, he didn’t want the sympathy, authentic nor faux. Now, knowing what he was going through, I can't imagine how tough a day that must have been. Posting a picture, trying to feel a sense of normalcy, and now you've got all these strangers wildly speculating in your mentions when no one knows the truth. 

You never know what someone is going through. You don’t know where a person has been, how they got to this point in life, what hurdles they’ve had to overcome, what obstacles they’re currently dealing with. It’s a decent perspective to hold while we try to navigate this shit together. I’m glad Chadwick’s no longer suffering but I’m profoundly sad that the world lost a great man by any and all accounts. I hope his family finds peace sooner than later by reflecting in that fact. 

Forever and always, Fuck Cancer.