How Do You Talk To Someone With Cancer?

It’s a situation I wish none of us had to face, but it’s more or less inevitable that all of us do.

When someone you care about is diagnosed with a serious illness, how do you talk to them? What do you say? How do you keep their spirits up, and yours, in the face of something as terrible as cancer?

I’ve been there. I was that guy sitting next to you when you were sick, with no idea what to say. And now I’m that guy you’re sitting next to, as you’re trying to figure it out.

So, with me as an example, I’d like to share what I’ve learned so far…

First, it’s okay to talk about the disease. I’m dealing with this thing – it’s a fact you really can’t avoid. So it’s okay to ask how I’m feeling, physically or mentally or emotionally. If I’m hurting, it’s okay to talk about the nausea or vomiting or whatever symptoms I’m going through. You’re invested in my well being, so share it.

Second, it’s okay to not talk about the disease. As much as I know I can’t truly avoid it, sometimes I’d like to pretend I can. And you’ll figure out pretty quickly when those times are. So, talk about what’s going on in your life. Talk about your work. Talk about your family. Talk about that show you’re in. Talk about books you’ve read. Talk about that show on Netflix you really like. Give me things to write. Give me grief about my klutziness (and if you’ve known me long enough, you know I’ll give you a lot of material). Play cards with me. You can even gripe about the weather (and it’s 20 degrees as I’m writing this, which is reason enough to gripe in San Antonio). Life isn’t normal for me, so I appreciate the effort to carry on like it is.

And that’s the most important thing: treat me like the guy I used to be. I know my life has changed. I have cancer. But I don’t want to feel like I’m just That Guy With Cancer now. I want to be Lee. I miss being Lee. So when you call, when you text or FB me, when you stop by, just remember the way you used to talk to me before I was diagnosed, and keep doing that.

For anyone who’s asked if there’s anything I need… I think I need that the most.

Thanks as always for following along. Love you all…

A Quick Note About Future Posts

When I first announced my diagnosis on Facebook, I wrote that I didn’t want people to see me as That Guy With Cancer. I was still Plain Old Lee. I didn’t want that disease to define me.

And that’s why I’ve only written two posts about it in the last four months. I didn’t want this to become That Cancer Blog.

But I’ve had so many people respond to my updates. So many people thanking me for my bravery and strength. Personally, I don’t feel particularly strong or brave, but it means a lot to me that so many of you see that in me.

What I am, of course, without dispute, is a writer. And from the beginning, I knew I’d have to use what voice I have to get through this. I knew that I’d have to use my experience to help others.

A few of you know that I’ve been working on a long form project. Trying to share my story in my way. I don’t quite know if the shape it’s taking now will be its ultimate form, but it has helped me deal with the mental and emotional issues that come with this whole cancer thing.

But while and until that comes to fruition, I think I’ll be writing a little more on the blog. I’ll still do my best to keep my original focus on the arts and pop culture, but be ready for a brief update here, a definition there, when I feel like I have something to contribute. When I feel like I can help.

I hope you’ll read these posts. I hope you like them. And most of all, if you know someone who might be going through the same experience, I hope you’ll share them. I want your friends, your family, your loved ones to know what you all have reminded me time and again: that we’re not alone.

Thank you.

Digging for Good in an Objectively Terrible Year

I really don’t want to write this post.

It’s always a challenge to write the last post of the year. Looking back always means having to work through those year-end blues. Regrets for missed opportunities. For all the times I stumbled. The goals I never quite achieved. All those little and big things that wear on you. Or at least on me.

But this year just felt worse. So much loss. So much darkness and meanness. So much stress. So many people hurting.

And then there’s that one thing I don’t want to address, but I know I have to.

That Whole Cancer Thing.

Some of you will know that I was sick for a long time before I was diagnosed. And I probably had the cancer for a long time before I even knew I was sick (Stage IV doesn’t just come out of nowhere). You witnessed the effects first hand, and I’m sorry you had to.

Once the diagnosis came, it kind of derailed my life. I couldn’t work. I didn’t have the strength to even walk, let alone get out and about like I used to. For a while, I wasn’t even sure I had the strength to write. I was lonely. I was scared. Part of me still is.

And when I remember 2016, I have to remember all of that.

But I’m trying to remember the rest of it too. I’m trying to remember the good.

I’ve received so much love and support from everyone. Friends and family I’ve known for years, who have always had my back. Friends I’m still getting to know, who weren’t afraid to reach out to someone who was too shy or scared or at least unsure to reach out to them. People I’ve loved and appreciated. People I’d taken for granted for far too long. So many people, so many friends, that I can’t begin to name them all.

You gave your time. You gave your presence. You gave your gifts (I wasn’t going to share that link – I always feel a little awkward about asking for help – but I suspect my sister would at least approve). You embraced me when I could be around for you, and forgave me when I couldn’t. Literally and figuratively, you showed up for me.

It’s such a rare thing to know, while you’re still here on Earth, how much you’re loved. For all I’ve been through, I have the gift of knowing. And for all the bad stuff, for me that one bit of good is the best thing about 2016. It’s the thing I’m going to carry with me into 2017.

So what comes next?

My goals for the year ahead are the same goals I had in the year behind, the goals cancer kind of derailed. Build my calling into a career. Get out and engage with the people in my life. Do better. Be better.

And get better.

It probably won’t be easy. I still have a long way to go. But I’m fighting.

And I know I don’t have to fight alone.

Thank you, everyone. I know I say it all the time now, but I still don’t feel like I say it nearly enough – I love you all.

See you next year…

Another Strange Visitor From Another World

And when you go back to the stars and tell others of this planet, when you tell them of its riches, its people, its potential, when you talk of the Earth, then make sure that you tell them this: It is defended!
– The Tenth Doctor

You’re not the first lot to have come here – oh, there have been so many. And what you’ve got to ask is, what happened to them?
– The Eleventh Doctor

I’m not really a fan of the current trend toward dark and gritty superheroes. I accept that there’s a place for them, and when you’re talking about characters like Daredevil or the Punisher (and yes, Frank Castle is technically not a superhero, but he walks in that universe), there’s really no better way to play them.

But I grew up with the Superman of Christopher Reeve and Richard Donner. My Batman is the Chandler archetype of Kevin Conroy and Paul Dini, “neither tarnished nor afraid.” They’re characters who fight the darkness because they still believe in the light. I miss that kind of hero.

Which brings us to the hero of this post. The Earth’s most constant defender. “The one, the only, and the best.”

Of course, The Doctor. Continue reading

When Reel Monsters Fight Real Monsters

One of the great things about being in my 40s is that I came of film age when filmmakers like John Carpenter and George Miller and Joe Dante were emerging to do whatever they wanted. The 80s were such a great time for bat-crap insane movies like Big Trouble in Little China and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (yes, I love that movie) and pretty much everything Dante made in that time.

I wrote that some months ago in a capsule review of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Gremlins 2: The New Batch, the ultimate Joe Dante movie. It’s the perfect summation of the filmmaker’s anarchic spirit, honed through years in the Roger Corman school of storytelling.

But even in his most “conventional” film, that spirit is as strong as ever.

Released in 1993, Matinee retains the vibe of Dante’s best 80s work. It’s a coming of age story set in Key West in 1962, in that moment when the reel terrors of Corman and William Castle faced the real terrors of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (In this respect, the film works as a companion piece to Peter Bogdanovich’s debut, the tense and poignant Targets.)

But the film (written by Charlie Haas, from a story by Haas and Jerico Stone) keeps the real danger in the background, a phantom image on TV screens. For young Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton), the biggest thing happening in Key West is the arrival of his hero, shockmeister Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman, representing both Corman and Castle), for a sneak preview of his latest epic, MANT! (Technically, it’s just Mant, but I think a title like that deserves all caps, boldface, and an exclamation point at the end.)

As Gene quickly impresses Woolsey with his film savvy, and as the seasoned producer teaches his new protege the dirty tricks of the trade, we’re treated to the kind of high-school relationship drama few coming of age movies can do without. Gene, a military brat, finds himself attracted to Sandra (Lisa Jakub), the progressive loner whose parents taught her to question everything. Meanwhile, his friend Stan (Omri Katz) has fallen for the more traditional Sherry (Kellie Martin). Except that Sherry’s ex just happens to be Harvey Starkweather (James Villemaire), a short-fused hoodlum who thinks he’s a poet, and who’s less than thrilled to see her moving on. You get the idea.

It all comes together at the climactic premiere of Mant (“Half Man… Half Ant… All Terror!”). And since it’s a Joe Dante film, you know that means it all comes apart. The film within a film (like the film itself) is a glorious love letter to the kind of monster flick nobody makes anymore, with nearly every gimmick Castle ever used thrown in, along with a few I’m sure he wishes he’d thought of. And for a brief instant, the fears of the outside world threaten to overcome the safer fears within the theater.

But even then, Matinee never loses its sense of fun. And much of that comes from the cast. The young actors all deliver solid performances. Cathy Moriarty is a delight as Woolsey’s long-suffering but loyal girlfriend and leading lady; with just a look, you know she’s seen it all and loves it anyway. And it wouldn’t be Joe Dante without his wonderful repertory company, including William Schallert, Kevin McCarthy, Robert Picardo, That Guy Dick Miller, and an inspired cameo from a fellow Corman grad, indie legend John Sayles.

But the film belongs to John Goodman, in one of his finest performances (and this is John Goodman, so that’s saying something). He makes Woolsey more than a huckster, more than a showman. In his hands, the character has as much heart as bluster, and possibly more.

And when I can go this long in talking about a Dante film before mentioning Goldsmith (whose score is perfectly manic and light-hearted), that might be saying something too.

I’m not sure how easy it is to find these days (though if you have an all-region player, there’s a new BluRay just out in the UK), but Matinee does turn up on the Starz networks from time to time. However you track it down, I hope you will. This one is highly recommended.

Thanks as always for following along. Until next time…

Aaaaaand There’s A Knock On The Door

Sometimes life has to hit you a few times to get your attention.

This is especially true when you happen to be me.

Over the last few months I’ve had a few signs, a few knocks on the door, reminding me to pay a little more attention to my health. Growing nausea at the day job that I thought was just stress. A collapse at the park that I thought was just the heat. Dizziness, and more nausea, that I thought was just me walking into a pillar. (That last one cannot surprise anyone who knows me.)

You’ve probably figured out that there was Something More going on. Something that all these signs were trying to point me to. And I finally paid attention.

I’ve been to a primary care physician, which in turn led to a gastroenterologist…

…which in turn led to an oncologist.

Yep, as I’m wont to do, I’ve buried the lede. A few weeks ago I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Stage IV, so it’s pretty serious. But I’m fighting it.

I’ve been through two rounds of chemo, and learning to manage the side effects so they don’t manage me. I’ve been doing my best to overcome the nausea and build up my diet again. I’ve been writing, whether it’s on assignment for Nikki or for my own little project (after all, if I have this story, then isn’t it on me to tell it right?). I’ve been working to keep my mind going even as we work to bring my body back.

And most of all, I’ve been overwhelmed by all the love you’ve shown me. Family and friends and fans, online and off, the support you’ve shown means so much to me. And I hope you know that. I hope you know that all the messages and comments and gifts and GoFundMe donations have helped carry me through good and bad days alike.

With all of that said, I’m going to try to reboot this blog again. I have a few reviews I’d like to write, and maybe a few other musings along the way. Maybe, maybe I’ll offer a few posts about my medical experiences, but I really don’t want that to be the focus. I have cancer, but I’m not Lee With Cancer.

I’m still plain old Lee.

And one way or another, I’ll find my way back.

Wonderland’s Got Talent, or: Why We Do What We Do

The Academy at Morgan’s Wonderland is nearing the end of its school year, which means that Miss Nikki (as the Creative Arts head) has been working pretty hard on the school’s annual talent showcase.

Now, the thing about these showcases is that they’re not just about performance. They’re not just singing or dancing or magic or stand-up. It’s part of the school’s philosophy that performance skills are life skills. When you’re up there on stage, you’re learning how to present yourself with confidence. You’re learning how to interact with others. You’re learning how to be out there in the world. You’re learning that you have a place there.

And for students with special needs,that’s the most important lesson of all.
Continue reading