Cancer

My niece Suzy J. just sent out an email that she and some of her classmates are fund raising for the American Cancer Society via the Relay For Life. Here is her fund raising page for anyone who would like to support her efforts: http://bit.ly/RDwTx

I would support this cause just because it’s so cool that a 15-year-old is thinking of something besides lip gloss and whatever else goes through teenage minds. But I’m especially moved to help as I suffered from Hodgkin’s Disease when I was around Suzy’s age, when I was 13.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I would like to do something for people stricken with cancer, especially for teenagers. I’d like to tell kids going through chemo: “Hey, look I survived. Yes it sure wasn’t fun going through MOPP chemo. Yes the worst part was losing my hair in Junior High School. Yes it sucked beyond belief. Yes I worried everyday that someone might pull off the bandannas I wore each day. But I also meet people who became my best friends for life–BFfL”  [The bandannas were colorful. I was fitted for a wig, but couldn’t stand it. And I wouldn’t wear one.]

Luckily the doctors of Washington D.C.’s Children’s Hospital were beyond fantastic, and very wise. The hospital had a meeting with all my teachers so everyone was aware of my condition. And more importantly my Dad was a knight-in-shining-armor.

If you ever have a problem, any problem in the world whether it be a parking ticket, or let’s say, cancer, you will want Alan E. Gross at your side. And he was, day and night. He, who has a PhD in Social Psychology (and in Business, just for kicks, I guess), is able to disarm just about anyone with his ingenious mixture of acting like a Fool–with a capitol F, as in a Shakespearean Fool and small f, like a damn fool–and like a Rabid Junk-yard Dog who Will Not Go Away until he gets what he wants. And he usually does.

He often used his PhD title of Dr. to glean information, knowing hospital folks would not think “What Kinda Doctor is Mr./Dr. Gross”. He’s clever like that. [My Dad received a national award for his work as a post 9.11 Volunteer Coordinator. See more about the award and his bio here: http://www.ojp.gov/ovc/ncvrw/2006/2006bios_3.htm.)

Pops now works as a mediator and teaches mediation for Safe Horizon. I’ve often asked him to let me do a documentary on his life because I’d win an Oscar! as he is such an amazing subject. His idea of a hobby is to drive a New York taxi. He has had a taxi license for as long as I can remember, and has many of his old, expired licenses framed on his wall.

As you can tell, my story has a happy ending, as I survived a brush with cancer at an early age with flying colors. I was deeply influenced by this experience because at an  impressionable and sensitive time in my life I was forced to be an outsider–to be very aware of myself and others who might be in pain. I think having cancer carved out a deep well of empathy into my psyche. Empathy is not a bad quality to have, even at such a high price.  Surviving a life-threatening disease gives deep and true meaning to the saying: “if it doesn’t kill you, it’ll make you stronger.”

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