Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Lion's Share

The Texas Tour concluded in Houston where the Ultimate support continued. The Houston Ultimate community has an annual tournament every year which they dedicate to a different charity. As luck would have it, its 8th incarnation was going to be filled with 8 teams, each one named after one of the 8 distinct letters in my two names. The funds would be dedicated 75% to the Livestrong Foundation and 25% to help my family with medical costs. VC Ultimate had once again sponsored the tournament as they had the one in Austin, and the Livestrong Foundation sent several things as well. Having run several tournaments myself, I both donated some left over gear and gave away stuff to random people I met throughout the day. This was done as I rotated playing part a few points with each of the teams. I had actually planned to not play since the marathon was only a week away, but I couldn’t resist the urges to be part of this community and to play Ultimate one more time.

There were some critical differences between Austin and Houston. At Austin, I had known nearly everyone and the tournament had been explicitly for me which lent itself to some entertaining, if not embarrassing, heckling. Houston was mostly against Cancer, with one of the chief organizers being a cancer researcher. The cheers there were explicitly anti-cancer, cries of “Cancer Sucks” and “Fuck Cancer” filling the air every so often. There was an edge that hadn’t really come across from friends. It created a refreshing quality to so openly blast this ‘disease’ which had, without many symptoms, caused such disruption in my life. It was also easier to explicitly ask people to donate to this tournament because the Livestrong Foundation was a great organization by itself and it had helped me as well.

There were many memorable moments during that day: a high school student meeting me for the first time taking me to the side and passionately pleading with God to heal me, either at Duke or in whatever way He saw fit; a drunk friend with a background in cancer who, as we talked about my diagnosis, said that “in the long term, you’re probably fucked.” This was finally the day that we told Kiana about my going to Duke to do the surgery. We’d put it off both because we didn’t know how to approach it, and because for children what is a short time to us is forever to them. She knew I was sick (daddy has a booboo in his left temporal lobe), and that this was what was stopping me from driving; she could even point out the tumor on the MRI pictures. However, during the middle of the tournament, since my playing was very inconsistent to anything she’d previously watched, she asked “Why are we here?” I explained it as best as I could and when I referenced the biopsy and hospital stay from 3 months before, she stated without hesitation: “You don’t have to worry about anything from then Daddy, that was a long time ago.” I continued to explain things to her as well as I could but after a while she withdrew and shut down, clearly scared (when telling a friend this story later, he said that was more than understandable as he was a little bit scared as well). Being the cause of my wife and daughter’s fears was not what I had hoped to be.

I thoroughly appreciated the Houston Community’s effort and kindness, but it was weird as I continued being a charity case. The Toronto Ultimate Community who had also dedicated their annual charity tournament to me (I’d been to Toronto once!); the UT women’s team that had announced their first annual tournament would give a small percentage of the proceeds to help with my brain cancer treatment. I had emailed both of those communities and told them they could find a more worthwhile charity but they both rebuffed my effort. While it was certainly true that never once in my entire adult life had I worried so much about bills, it still didn’t feel right (this was assuming everything went relatively well at Duke; if things didn’t…). Even in this state, there were people who were in much worse shape than I was. While in comparison to my medical bills it was a fraction of the cost, I was going to the Caribbean before going to brain surgery so that my wife and I could have a lull before the storm. While more people get to travel than get my type of brain cancer, most human beings never get to travel far outside of where they are born. I was keenly aware of this as many of the people I’d grown up next to were still in that same neighborhood. I’d hesitated on even traveling to the Caribbean because of how it would look to all the people who had donated money for my medical bills but I wanted the time to spend with my wife away from it all and anyone who didn’t understand that… could have their money back.

Struggling with these ideas I shared it with a few friends. Their responses were very intriguing, ranging from brilliant to downright silly. One reminded me that over the course of my life I’d raised tens of thousands of dollars for various charities. This was, of course, absurd since I hadn’t raised a single one of those in case something went wrong with my life. Another said that’s what friends are for; this idea was even sillier: friends are for enjoying the pleasure of their company and I’d gotten the privilege of some great ones. Perhaps the only answer that was semi-acceptable to me was the one that said: these are people who love you and wish you weren’t going through this. This is the only way that they know how to help right now and you would do that for them. Don’t let people not have a chance to love you; you know you love them back.

Another friend said something similar but used a choice of words that stung: “We’re just hoping between your insurance and these events that we can take care of the lion’s share of your bills.” I am a Leo, a Leon, and my high school mascot was the lion. The lion was the animal I’d most related to so when they said an expression which I use all the time but I rarely hear, it echoed unpleasantly. In doing the Lion’s share, they were doing my share; they were taking care of the things I was supposed to take care of.

I finally found a way to make some piece with it by passing it forward almost immediately. Those people who were less fortunate than me started receiving a percentage of each of the help that I got. When someone forwarded me something from a friend or put up a facebook status about a cause, I donated to almost all of them. Even if everything went wrong at Duke, I wanted to share some of the goodwill I had gotten before I knew how Duke had gone. I was also nervous about if this would bother some of the people who had helped, but this lion also wanted to share when he’d been given so much.

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