Friday, March 27, 2009

Say, who was that masked man?

Anatole Broyard, a writer who died of prostate cancer in 1990, said in his memoir that "every seriously ill person needs to develop a style for his illness."

I came upon this quote in a piece by Dana Jennings in Thursday's New York Times. The author, a prostate cancer patient, discovered his style by getting regular buzz cuts to help him cope with cancer.

"I'm an optimist," Jennings writes, "but not a day goes by in which I don't wonder whether I'm going to die before I ever imagined. The buzz cut helps me scowl, glower and say 'No!' to that thought."

I'm more than two months into the cancer phase of my life, and it's about time that I developed a style of my own.

And I think I've found one.

Before going into my 33rd and final radiation treatment on Wednesday, I opened my note pad and jotted down a note to hand to the radiation techs.

"Do you think I could take my ThermaSplint mask home?" I wrote.

The ThermaSplint mask was molded to the contours of my face in late January, shortly before my radiation therapy began. At each session of radiation, my head was clamped inside the mask as the radiation rays targeted my tongue, neck and the sides of my face.

Take a look at it. It's pretty creepy looking, don't you think?

I've seen other patients' ThermaSplint masks in the trash, so I knew that Kaiser would probably toss my mask once my treatments concluded. I planned to show the note to one of the techs after Wednesday's session was over, before they had a chance to pitch it in the garbage.

But before I even got a chance, the techs asked me if I wanted to take the mask home!

I think I'm going to make my ThermaSplint mask the foundation of my cancer style.

You see, between my swollen tongue, my haphazard beard, reddish, flaky skin, and the constant flow of drool that seeps from my mouth, my appearance garners a lot of attention these days.

By wearing the ThermaSplint mask when I'm out and about, I can conceal those manifestations of my disease and establish a cancer style that would be completely my own.

I'd have to doff the mask while driving –the eye slits are too narrow– and I'd probably need to be careful about exposing it to sunlight (it could melt and make a mess of my hair). I wouldn't wear it while sleeping, and I'd take if off before walking into any bank or a 7-11 on Halloween.

But most of life's other major activities could be done while wearing my ThermaSplint mask. Even eating with my head encased in the mask would not be a problem, not as long as I feed myself with a G-tube.

I bet I can quickly establish myself as one of L.A.'s men of mystery, maybe even land in a few of the local gossip blogs. I could even hang out in Burbank around NBC's studios, catch Jay Leno's attention and maybe snatch an invitation to come on his show.

How cool that would be!

Sure beats hearing someone idling beside me at an intersection yell, "Dude, that is so gross! Get a drool cup, willya?"

With a Buzz Cut, I Can Take on Anything by Dana Jennings


  1. You should take up fencing after you recover. The mask looks perfect for it.

  2. I could also spray paint it grey and put a little dent in the top and pretend I am the Iron Giant.