I have been a huge Bette Midler fan for years. If secrets be known, I used to listen to the Divine Miss M every Sunday morning for years. She is bawdy, outrageous and a damn good singer. That doesn't preclude the fact that for a fleeting moment I actually blamed her for my cancer.
I know you're thinking lets back this up just a wee bit. Okay, here goes.
Bette and I have been missing each other over the years on her concert tours. It always seemed that whenever she was in town, I wasn't. So in January 2004 I finally made the pilgrimage to see her in NYC at Madison Square Gardens. Enough waiting, if the mountain won't come, then I was going to the mountain.
So that January weekend as the group of 6 walked the streets of NYC I confessed to a friend that I thought something was wrong. For about 2 months the strangest thing was happening. Each night my toes and legs would go into complete spasm. My grandfather had a neuropathy with his legs and I was pretty sure that regardless of my young age, I had something in common with this 90 year old man. That night after an amazing concert I made the statement that would haunt me; "Now that I've seen Bette Midler, I can die a happy man".
Within the week I had been diagnosed with kidney cancer. For a moment, albeit a fleeting insane moment, I actually blamed myself for making that statement.
Over the years I have come to understand a lot about self blame.
My tumor was ridiculously large, clearly Bette had nothing to do with it. It had been growing for approx 3 years to reach that size. I kept wondering if I had somehow missed a symptom.
Wondering if I had done something to bring on this mutant multiplying cell. In one humorous exchange with my doctor I needed to clarify how I had missed it, so I asked him if there was some symptom I had ignored.
" Did you have blood in your urine?" he asked. " No" I replied, I know that's not good.
" Well did you have lower back pain?" he asked. " Well I answered, I'm 44 years old, do you mean Oy Vey I have back pain, or OH MY GOD I'M GONNA DIE back pain." When he qualified it as the second I realized that there was nothing I had done or could have done to avoid getting cancer. I had to make peace with the fact that neither I, nor Bette, were to blame for my current state of health.
I've spoken to a few cancer patients and it is always amazing how many people ask you if you smoked. I realize that in doing so they are trying to give themselves hope, that somehow they are safe, that somehow this can't happen to them. The reality is that it could and it might, so whatever you do lets leave the blame game out of it, cancer patients are going through enough.
Whatever happened to empathy?
Last week at my surprise party someone gave me the latest Bette Midler CD and today I actually had the courage to open it. As tears welled in my eyes I once again sang Friends with all the gusto I could muster. Thanks Bette, 5 years later all is forgiven.