Monday, March 16, 2009

A walk in the park

My friend Ric broke sad news last week in a comment posted on this blog.

In case you didn't see it, that note from Ric began:

My dear friend Jim Nussbaum, who made and sent you one of his beautiful scarves, died on Saturday morning from pneumonia and lung cancer.

Jim decided to give the scarf to me after Ric told him about what I was going through. The hand-painted scarf is about five feet long and 10 inches wide, and shows a grid of fragments of red ribbons, accented with yellow rings and bursts of blue leaves. On one of the ribbons, Jim signed his name.

Already a thing of beauty, the scarf is even more special now. It represents Jim: someone whose life was cut short by diseases similar to what I'm facing.

So when I got dressed for the 13th Annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on Sunday at the Rose Bowl, it was Jim's scarf that I chose to wear.

It will be a while before I run again, and it could be years before I match the pace I was running before I got sick last fall. So I was content to walk the 5 kilometers of the Komen Race for the Cure. Even at that short distance –slightly more than three miles– the route was the most walking I've done at one time since early December, when I got my G-tube.

That pace is perfect for conversation with other walkers, for all of the good that did for me.

It's not impossible to communicate without a voice, but it's not an ideal situation. It wasn't until I reached the finish line that I reached out to someone.

She was a woman with short gray hair, and she was with several other women. I guessed that she was probably around my age. On the back of her shirt was a message printed with large, bold letters: "23 Years Living with Cancer."

I took my notepad out of my backpack, wrote "Congratulations! I got my diagnosis two months ago" and then waited for an opportunity to approach her.

When I did, she read the note, looked right into my eyes and said, "I'm sorry."

I wrote "tongue cancer" in my note pad.

She reached out to hold my hand. "Twenty-three years for me," she said.

There was so much I wanted to ask her, and a lot of my own story that I wanted to share. I wanted to tell her about the significance of my scarf, and show her Jim Slotnick's book, which I had in my backpack.

But I sensed that the other women in her group wanted to move on, so I just underscored "Congratulations" in my note pad and then added "thank you."

She gave me a thumb's up and said "You can do it."

As I walked away, I thought to myself that it's hard to imagine where I will be with this disease in 23 days, let alone 23 years. But 18 years ago, I learned that I was HIV-positive and if anyone back then had told me I could live this long with AIDS, I would have said that's crazy.

At the finish line, a volunteer handed me a small pin with the Komen Race for the Cure logo with the pink ribbon. I'll add it to my frog's collar today at my radiation therapy session.

After today, only seven more radiation treatments remain.


Thank you again to the Thinking Positive readers who sponsored me in the Komen Race for the Cure. When I got home from the Rose Bowl on Sunday, I saw that my brother Mike gave a generous donation. Together, we raised $285 for this cause.

The Race for the Cure raises funds to provide the underserved and uninsured populations in Los Angeles County with screening, diagnostic tests and treatments for breast cancer.

As soon as I learn how much money was raised at the event, I'll post that information here.

It's not too late to donate to this cause. My Race for the Cure page will remain up through the end of the month.

Click Here to Donate

1 comment:

  1. Hey Paul,

    It's so gratifying to know that my brother's book means so much to you, and is an inspiration. I think that's part of what he had in mind when he set out to write it in the first place. Stay strong.

    Jon Slotnick