Author, Journalist, Filmmaker

Maladie d’amour: Love, Sex and Cancer

Maladie d'amour MASKA work in progress

I pulled into New York on a rainy, gloomy day that perfectly matched my mood. I stepped off the No. 123 bus from Jersey City, dreading the errand I was on. I drifted through the Port Authority bus terminal from stairway to escalator to subway in a daze, oblivious to the swarming humanity around me, preoccupied with my own thoughts and feelings. I had cancer in my throat and neck and possibly other parts of my body. I didn’t know how bad it was, I didn’t know yet what my life or death odds were. Even though cancer had—as Dr. Johnson once said about the gallows—wonderfully concentrated my mind, I really didn’t know what I should do next. I knew that the damage radiation and chemotherapy could do to my body would be extreme, and I was desperate for a second opinion. Now I was on my way to Mount Sinai hospital to consult with Dr. Eric Genden, hoping he would tell me something that would change my fate and save me from weeks of squalid and painful treatment. I let myself be swept along with the crowd flowing through the Times Square subway tunnel on my way to catch the No. 6 train uptown.
Before I could see Dr. Genden it was necessary for me to undergo a full-body PET scan to see how far the cancer had spread. In his office we would review the results. I was certain I would hear more bad news. Positron emission tomography can detect even the smallest of tumors. Along with throat cancer, I was deathly afraid I had tumors in my lungs or esophagus or both. I was sure a lifetime of smoking and drinking liquor had led me to this crisis, and now I couldn’t help but feel, just for a moment, that I’d been careless with my health but lucky for a long time, but now I was caught, big time. I quit smoking cigarettes a long time ago—well, actually, I only traded them for twenty years of cigar smoking. When I lit my first Lucky Strike the thought of cancer never occurred to my fifteen year old mind.  I was sixty two years old, and I had long lost the naive feeling of immortality of youth. Exercise has been my lifelong habit, and I appeared to be in better than average health, never been seriously ill or broken a bone or spent a night in the hospital, and I had no major problems in my body aside from the occasional back ache, some acid reflux, and a case of mild sleep apnea. So, cancer, like, what the hell was that? I mean, my smoking and drinking didn’t compare to the habits of some of my self-destructive friends. Why me? For a moment I forgot that asking that pointless question would only weaken me when I needed to be strong.
Walking through the tunnel under Times Square, I passed a news kiosk, and saw the front page of the Monday, June 3, 2013 New York Post. A large photograph of the actor Michael Douglas, who, I vaguely recalled, had struggled with throat cancer himself a few years earlier, lay beneath the headline: Michael Douglas Shocker: SEX GAVE ME CANCER.
I bought a copy of that Post. I quickly finished my hike to the Times Square cross town shuttle. I took a seat, pulled the paper out of my back pack, and, astonished, began to read.