Everyone looks towards the New Year as being better than the last – I am no different. The year 2010 was what I thought was a rough one so I looked forward to 2011 with great optimism. After all, what could have been worse than 2010? I soon found out.
I was at most major community events. I lived in the gay community. I was out there photographing, videoing, writing and reporting on the community for the last 25 years for just about every gay publication in the area at one time or another.
I started feeling ill in the summer of 2010. I knew I was under a lot of stress especially after having helped plan the Stonewall Festival in Wilton Manors. This, following the very successful “Wicked Manors” the October before, the last year “The Drive” had been shut down to car traffic on Halloween.
By the time the end of 2010 rolled around, I was having every little symptom of being sick you can imagine, but none of them at the same time. Some days I would have the chills, some days I would be very tired, some days I would be light-headed, some days other little symptoms, or I would feel just fine. But the temperatures were colder than normal over the holidays, so I thought I was just fighting off the flu because everybody was coming down with something.
I attended New Year’s Eve festivities in the Shoppes of Wilton Manors with no problem but within a few days, all of the symptoms – plus many more – started to attack me all at once. So bad in fact, I was taken to the emergency room on January 10 and just in time since I collapsed while in the waiting room.
I was admitted and went through the normal pre-examination “vitals”: temperature was high, blood pressure was high. The nurse removed my shoes and stated, “oh my god.” I thought she was talking about foot odor but no, she pointed out that my feet were orange and very swollen. The next thing out of her mouth was “kidneys.” Emergency testing of my blood showed that indeed my kidneys had failed and the toxins had built up to critical levels. I met my first doctor who told me had I waited another 24 hours, I would have died. I went through quick surgery to make preparations for kidney dialysis.
I spent the next three weeks in the hospital as the doctors checked everything out. In addition to the kidney problems, they discovered bladder cancer. I was told not to be too concerned with the bladder at this time as it’s a very tough organ but they needed to rid my body of the toxins with dialysis and treatment first, then take care of the bladder. $233,000 dollars later, I went home, continued with dialysis three times a week and was scheduled to return to the hospital in April to remove the bladder. The doctor told me that, though it is rare, the kidneys have been known to come back to life to some degree in some cases, but warned me not to count on it.
At first, the dialysis was helping and, though I felt weak immediately after treatment, I was feeling much better. Then, I started feeling worse than ever before and started to lose weight fast – too fast – in fact, I lost 110 pounds in three months and my blood toxin levels started to go crazy and I was often feeling worse than ever. The doctors didn’t seem concerned, so neither was I.
When I returned to the hospital in April for the bladder removal, initial tests showed that my kidneys had started to function at a very limited basis. My left kidney was literally dead with only working at around 1% efficiency; my right kidney was now working at around 38% — enough to operate on their own. The reason I was feeling so bad was because both the kidney dialysis machine and my internal kidneys were fighting each other over control of my body. Though my kidneys were partially working, dialysis was no longer needed.
It was also decided that since the kidneys were working again, we should try to save the bladder and cure than cancer instead of just removing it right off. However, what was also discovered was that I also had bone cancer in my hip.
As the year progressed, I’ve been off dialysis and I’ve been going through chemotherapy for the cancers. This past October, scans, prods, probes and tests show that the bladder cancer is in remission, but the bone cancer has somewhat spread. Again, my oncologist has told me that there are different treatments for bone cancer that we haven’t tried yet. I am now going through the second regiment of chemo drugs which are rougher on my body.
Being cynical by nature, I’ve learned some important lessons this past year. First, I’ve learned to appreciate life and what life has to offer.
Things that I would normally stress over–and I can’t afford any stress, now–I’ve learned to brush off. Second, I’ve learned to take life slower, but then again, I really didn’t have much of a choice. Finally, I’ve realized what great friends I have and my huge support group.
There are those people that didn’t walk, but came running to my side as soon as I took ill like Brad Casey, Tim Yatteau, Ryan Dixon, Sheri Elfman, Dan Renzi and Robert Cieslak. There are also those who were able to give me great advice to follow concerning my mental and physical state like Terry DeCarlo, Paul Hyman, Peter Clark, and longtime friend Norm Kent. Florida Agenda publisher Bobby Blair never lost faith in me and, through it all, I never missed writing in a single issue of the newspaper and also accepted my new, limited physical abilities. (Learning to type on a laptop while lying in bed is a skill that everyone should acquire.) Then there are those that would regularly call or email to find out how I was doing like Nicky Rose, Pompano Bill, Shane Phoenix, Gary Resnick, Julie Carson, Dale Madison, Eric Reivik and there are dozens and dozens more that I just don’t have enough space to list.
And then, there are those that have purposely avoided contact me fearing the worse and perhaps fearing their own mortality. Recently I ran into Victor Cody who confessed to me that he has been afraid to see me not knowing how I would look and was surprised how much better looking I was then he thought and said how glad he was to see me again. For those of you who have avoided me not wanting to deal with reality of a person who was sick, don’t worry – I was one of you up to this year – I just couldn’t deal.
Then, there were the surprises. Shortly after this past Halloween on Wilton Drive, it was brought to my attention someone wrote on the local blog, “Wilton Drive Online,” about how disappointed they were over what has happened to the annual big event. Someone suggested that the person (which was me) who used to handle the party start doing it again. Someone else replied that the person who used to do Wicked Manors was named Bob – but he died. I, of course, replied myself saying that, though sick, I was still alive–all while laughing to myself about the situation. Then again, I laughed too at the appropriateness of a dead person running a Halloween party. Was I upset? No. In fact, I was flattered knowing that the community really appreciated the hard work put into large public events.
The other night, longtime friend Ellen Friedman, who has also had her health problems, took me out for a holiday dinner that I will forever remember. As we sat there talking, I told her that I didn’t realize how many people would have cared what happened to me and how many friends I really have. She said to me, which prompted this piece, “Bob, they’ve been there all along. You’ve just been too blind to see them.”
Though I am sick, I’m getting better slowly; sometimes painfully, but I’m not going anywhere. I wish I could go out more, but my body starts to wind down around two in the afternoon.
Each year, I write a feature in the last issue of the year for whatever publication I have worked for, getting New Year’s resolutions from people in the community, and though I would have like to have gotten many more for the last week’s issue of the Agenda than I did, I was too weak to continue.
One person, who I asked for his resolution a week ago, turned the tables on me and asked me what my New Year’s resolution was. I simply replied, “2013.”