So when I started in radio, my first job was being the sports guy for the Steve and DC Radio Show. My dream job had become a reality, and the mixture of fear and adrenaline was intoxicating.
I will never forget my first sportscast…March14, 1994. I walked into the studio and my butterflies were going berserk. The guys said, “Just relax, you’ll do fine.” So the mic cracked, and I read my script. I felt good about it. The guys looked kinda, “Meh.” But I didn’t pay attention to them. I had survived the first. The second would be even better.
After reading the second sportscast, DC said to me live on the air, “Dan, you’re doing a good job, but you’re forcing it. Share it with us like we were all having a beer.”
I immediately thought two things. A. DC is an ass. And B. DC is absolutely right. I ended up reading my stories, not telling my stories. The reason is because I was trying to picture talking to tens of thousands of people as opposed to telling each listener individually what was going on with the Blues, spring training for the Cardinals, etc. I couldn’t put a face to with whom I was trying to communicate.
My third sportscast was remarkably better because I was sharing it with Steve and DC and everyone else in the room. I wasn’t thinking of tens of thousands of nebulous listeners. By focusing on just a few, I was able to share with everyone listening while making it feel like I was talking to each person individually.
The experience that day taught me a valuable lesson. So now, whenever I think of something that isn’t quite tangible, I put a face on it. It makes things more personal, and I like it when things are personal. Personal gives me passion to get behind something. Personal gives me the courage to do something to the best of my ability. Personal gives me the desire to share something important with anyone who will read or listen. And personal gives me strength to stand up for myself, and for others.
I made my cancer personal. To me, my cancer was my bully. Before I started treatment, it beat me senseless on a daily basis. My tumor was so large that it was pushing my vertebrae sideways, making every step, every movement excruciating.
I will never forget the night before my first chemotherapy. My bully was giving me absolute fits. It felt as though it was kicking my spine with a pair of steel toe, golf spike, combat boots. I had already popped five Advil, which my bully swatted away like gnats. It’s as if it was saying, “Is that all you got?”
No, it wasn’t. I also had Bio-Freeze and Super Blue Stuff. I might as well have been using a cactus to slather on menthol-covered shards of glass mixed in with a few roofing nails while laying in a vat of gin.
In short, I was not getting out of this night unscathed. So I did the one thing I knew might help: I yelled at my bully. I was seriously laying in bed a 3am, yelling every four and twelve letter word in the book. I got so good at it, I think I even made up a few that Merriam-Webster is still researching.
Foaming angry. Writhing in agony. I almost blacked out from the pain. My vision blurred. My message was simple and clear, aggressive and anguished: “Go ahead, get your licks in, because tomorrow, you are so dead. Do you hear me? You’re dead! DEAD!!!!!!”
And it worked.
I don’t know if I truly passed out, if God laid a gentle hand on me, or if I talked my way out of it. All I know is that I pulled off about three hours of sleep, which was just enough to keep me from collapsing. I had beaten cancer that night, and I soaked it in.
Because that’s the one thing that no one realizes about going through cancer. It’s filled with victories, regardless of the outcome, and we have to hold on to those victories with all of our might and build on them, and use them to create more. And the victories have to be personal. They have to mean something. You have to relate to them. They must have a face, both good and bad. The bad being the face of the bully, the good being the face of the hero.
And there is no bigger hero in beating the cancer bully right now…than Valerie Harper.
For the few that have not heard, “Rhoda” has been diagnosed with a very rare form of brain cancer. Her doctors’ best guess is that she has three months to live. Her bully has given her a savage uppercut, and it has told her in no uncertain terms to stay down.
But Ms. Harper is an inspiration for what we should all do when faced with this bully: she got back up. She is spending her remaining days by embracing the opportunity she has been given to leave on her own terms. What she decides to do is her business, whether it’s spending every waking moment with her family, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, or mending a fence that needs mending.
Many people have faced her situation before. Some give in to the bully. Some refuse to fight back. Some just stay down until it’s over. To those, I implore you to take the last swing like Ms. Harper has done. By choosing life, no matter how long or short she has, she has chosen the path where cancer can no longer touch her. She has beaten the cancer bully.
May we all be willing and able to do the same.