Tag Archive: death

Trouble on the Tracks: Selflessness in a Time of Turmoil

Photo by Lani Buess

Photo by Lani Buess

I could see the murky mass from afar. It didn’t initially make much sense to me. It was so dimly lit that I could only see a black shape ahead blocked by heavy shadows. As I made my way closer in distance, the figure took form. It was a man, a heavy set, middle-aged man. And he was plainly seated on the #train tracks, as if he had just pushed his chair under a kitchen table to begin a meal.

Unresponsive, the man sat with his back against the filthy stained tile wall. One knee was curled up to his chest, which was dressed in a now-sullied burgundy button-down, while his other leg extended flat out in black slacks. Like a chimney sweep, heavy soot covered his entire face, wisps of his fine brown hair and his swollen eyes ajar. He was turned towards us, the small crowd of drunken or exhausted bystanders standing on the platform waiting for the #PATH train home at 2:30 a.m. He sat there rather serene, but in a seemingly #drunken state. Either he was too inebriated to understand the weight of the situation or his indifference masked sheer shock. He sat dangerously close to the third rail.

When you are tired and tipsy after a long night of #partying with friends this is the last thing you expect to see. A man had fallen on the train tracks.

“Have the #cops been called? Oh god, I hope the train isn’t coming!” Thoughts and questions swirled chaotically in my hazy mind. And yet, no one looked especially affected.

“Richard? Look at me, Richard. Come over here, let’s get you off those tracks,” a rather collected woman, who looked to be in her early 30’s, said. In dressy white shorts, a black satin blouse, and tall black high heels, I’m sure she wasn’t expecting this on her #Friday night, either.

From what I gathered, police were on their way, which could explain why Richard and those waiting for the train had no sense of urgency. He must have fallen off the tracks some time ago, but this was all new to me, as was the feeling of #terror at this potentially looming #tragedy. The woman helped coax Richard to the platform where we all stood, while the two #officers who arrived shortly lifted him up clumsily. Richard supported himself on a PATH column. He murmured something about his glasses. A #conductor from a passing train jumped onto the rails, retrieved his glasses, and handed them over. Richard, eyes still half shut, sat there clutching his left arm, while the officers stood overhead, barely saying anything.

“He has a fractured arm,” the woman told the officers. She also pointed out Richard’s bleeding temple. One of the officers pulled out a large rectangular bandage from a bag, pressed it against Richard’s temple and told him to hold it firmly in place. The woman crouched down to Richard’s eye level a few feet away trying to make contact. Most of the crowd stood a good distance from Richard. They didn’t want to get in the way or were simply too scared at the unexpected sight. They say in the face of #fear you either #flee or #fight. This woman stood in the trenches, like a #medical officer in #battle, constantly talking to him, calling him by name, and making sure he stayed awake. She stood strong.

When the #EMT’s arrived some half hour later it was confirmed that Richard had a broken wrist and would need some stitches.

“Are you in the medical field?” I asked the woman.

“No, but my mom is. I’ve seen a lot,” she replied.

“Well, I just wanted to thank you,” I said.

“Oh, I wasn’t the one who called the cops, or anything,” She answered.

“You are the one still here, and actually talking to him. Yes, you deserve a ‘Thanks,’” I said.

As if not expecting or knowing how to receive a compliment the woman averted her eyes from me and humbly said, “Oh, it was nothing, but thank you.”

Too often we hear of failed #action in #emergency situations that it’s been dubbed #TheBystanderEffect, the #psychological phenomenon where people neglect to help a distressed person, especially when there are hordes around. We tend to shirk #responsibility to act because we feel the responsibility is spread among the entire group of onlookers, and if no one addresses the issue we assume that’s the socially acceptable response.

I was reminded of this behavior when my roommate frantically called me one day after witnessing an elderly man getting dragged by a bus on the Upper East Side. She saw a woman running past her screaming, after witnessing the #accident. The woman called for an #ambulance. And when the bus finally stopped, dislodging the man from the bottom of the bus, my roommate got into the street to stop and redirect traffic.

“No one else stopped to even help,” my roommate explained, frustrated and angered. “People were actually driving around the body or taking photos on their #cell phones!”

Our aloofness often looks like apathy. We don’t want disruptions to our day. We can’t be late; we have a busy schedule to keep. As a result, all too often we maintain a safe distance. We make social connections via #technology and do less of “helping thy neighbor.” We disconnect, we disengage. In fact, psychologists Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell surmise in their book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, published in 2009, that egotistical self-adoration associated with excessive selfishness is an increasing troubling trend. We’re in an era where #selfie is named the Word of the Year in 2013, according to #OxfordDictionary. 

And yet we get those #silverlinings, in the woman who helped Richard that fateful night, which show us all isn’t lost. She stepped up when it could have been as easily for her to bow out. While it’s “nothing” to her to offer a helping hand, I’m sure Richard thinks differently.

Opening a door to someone struggling with a stroller, giving up your seat on the subway to a pregnant woman, helping an elderly couple with their groceries, any small gesture of acknowledgement and assistance may end up having a big impact on one’s day.

“Even the smallest act of caring for another person is like a drop of water-it will make ripples throughout the entire pond …” –Jessy and Bryan Matteo

So “Thank You” to those who think unlike the flock. In Richard’s case, you saved a life.


Photo by Lani Buess

Photo by Lani Buess


One Man, One Ball: No Bueno (PART TWO)

hospital room


Me: Tell me about #chemotherapy. What was treatment like? How did you feel?

Andy: I had three sessions of chemo, each session was five days, getting chemo from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m., then I had 2 weeks off and then I had to come back.

Me: Oof.

Andy: Turns out I had three different #cancers wrapped in one, all of them aggressive. I didn’t even think that was possible.

Me: Damn! Me neither!

Tell me, how did you physically feel through all the #chemo treatments?

Andy: Well, after the first chemo I felt fine, like nothing ever happened. So I #smoked and #drank wine. After the second session my hair started to come out, starting with my pubes, not very sexy. After my third and last session I was vomiting, lost all my hair and my sense of smell and taste.

I still can’t smell and taste 100% and I got done with my last chemo right before Christmas 2013.

Me: At the end of the day we are all left with our thoughts at bedtime. What was nighttime like for you? And the thoughts you were left with?

Andy: At night I thought about it all the most, but it varied. Sometimes I would get totally freaked out and convince myself I was #dying. Other times I was sure that I was going to be fine. Some nights I felt I had accepted #death and was almost looking forward to ending my life here and getting to another dimension. So it was pretty much different every night.

Me: You once told me that you felt unworthy in some way of being alive, that you don’t do enough to have had this second chance. Do you still feel this way?

Andy: Yeah, sometimes I do. I can be pretty fucking moody so it depends on a day, but I definitely have days that I do. I was expecting this huge #awakening for me, but it hasn’t come to me. I guess I’m supposed to look for it.

Me: Where does one look?

Andy: Once I figure it out I will let you know. I’m guessing it has something to do with #soulsearching.

Me: Have you started any #soul searching? I mean, you have been given a second chance. What do you want to do with it?

Andy: I think a lot about #life and death in general. I don’t know if you could call that soul searching. I haven’t found my #calling or what to do about getting a #secondchance, in spite of my old age. Obviously, I don’t like to rush things.

(Andy gets sidetracked) This is my favorite picture taken during my cancer period. 🙂


Me: Why is it your favorite?

Andy: I like this pic. because it represents my life at the time, kinda dark, with no friends except for stuffed #animals. 🙂

Me: Stuffed animals don’t get enough credit nowadays. But why didn’t you have friends during this time?

Andy: I had just come back from the states after 13 years. All of my old #Polish friends had moved on with their lives, [got] husbands, wives, kids, etc. I wasn’t gonna call them up and say, ‘Hey, hang out with me, I have cancer.’ So I relied on my #family and stuffed animals, which was fine.

Me: Hmm. That’s really sad.

Andy: Haha! No, not really.

Me: No?

Andy: Honestly, I wasn’t in the mood to see a lot of people. I wasn’t sure how they were going to react and my family is pretty #dramatic, so I wasn’t looking for any more of that.

Me: How dramatic IS your family?

Andy: Umm …pretty fucking dramatic. I don’t wanna say hurtful things so just take my word for it.

They are also amazing, just to be clear. 🙂

Me: So it’s not dramatic in like a funny #TV #sitcom way then? Just dramatic-dramatic. Gotcha!

Andy: Yeah, like everything is the end of the world.

(For Andy, it’s just the beginning. He learned he was in #remission.)

Me: When did you learn you were in remission? And what was the first thing you did (or said) when you learned you were now OK?

Andy: I found out right before #Christmas, on the 22nd, I think. Right before my #doctor told me I was fine I thought, ‘This could be a really shitty Christmas,’ but thankfully, it wasn’t. I called my immediate family and told them and probably had a lot of red #wine later on that night.

Me: What’s your #dating life been since this?

Andy: I haven’t been thinking about it to be honest, but then again, I don’t think I ever dated. Haha!

That’s probably sadder than having stuffed animals for friends. 🙂

Me: If you start dating your stuffed animals then we’ll need to have a talk.

Andy: It hasn’t come to that yet, but never say never.

Me: I was just wondering how you are going to break that news to potential dates? Like, do you avoid having that talk over #dinner, especially Italian or anything “ball” related on your plate?

Andy: Haha!

I’m getting a replacement soon so I’ll just wait until that happens and probably avoid the issue.

Me: Smart. Thinking a-head. Oh man. All the bad puns.

Andy: It’s like we’re writing #SexandtheCity for [#gays].

Me: I didn’t even know they could give replacements!

Andy: Yeah, and it feels totally real, so that’s good #news.

Me: I don’t even want to know how they make that! But that does sound optimistic for you and your future #boyfriends.

Andy: Boyfriends? Gross.

Me: Taking about balls is fine but not boyfriends? OK, your future #sex partners if you are all #commit-phobic and shit. 😉

Andy: That sounds better. I’m not gonna lie.

Me: I had this whole heroic story you could tell guys why you were missing a testicle. Like you saved a drowning boy from a #sharkattack and his teeth pierced your nut. And now with this replacement my story is useless. Thanks Andy.

Andy: Sorry… you should have told me what you had in mind. I would have gone along with it!! I like to be a hero.

Me: I guess the replacement will just have to be good enough now.

Andy: I mean, I don’t really have to do it, if that’s what you want. 🙂

I can #sacrifice myself for a good #story. 🙂

Me: Through this whole life and death defining experience, did you learn anything new about yourself?

Andy: (Silence)


That it takes a lot to shake me and that I can keep a sense of #humor even when most people would not be able to.

Me: Now I know I asked you this question while you were inebriated on wine, but I want to ask once again while #sober. Not many people go through such #life-altering experiences at such a relatively young age. If you could impart any words of #wisdom or life lessons to younger people, or people in general, what would it be?

Andy: Who said I was sober?

Just kidding!

Me: What time is it over there anyway?

Andy: 3:35 p.m., six-hour difference.

Me: Oh that’s totally acceptable drinking time then.

Andy: Well, I’m not drinking tonight.

I actually have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow and I can’t drink.

Me: I knew there had to be a reason! Totally kidding!

Andy: You might be kidding, but you also might be right.

Me: OK, back to that question …

Andy: So my words of wisdom would be that it’s hard to predict life so do what makes you #happy. If shit gets fucked up, try to have a sense of humor about it; otherwise, you might go #crazy.

Every day is a new day and [there’s] no point living in the #past.

Me: Anything else in general you’d like to add?

Andy: Cancer sucks and chemo sucks and don’t get it.

Me: I agree! Now if we all knew how to avoid it!

Andy: I know. You can live a #healthy #lifestyle and that will reduce the risk, but that would be boring wouldn’t it?

Me: I know how you feel about boring!

(Let me digress for a moment. You may be asking yourself, ‘but what did Andy answer while drunk?’ Well, here you go … )

Drunken Andy: Eat well. No flour. No white bread. No sugar.

But that’s really whatever.

Just know that shit can happen to you when you don’t expect it, so be a good person.

Enjoy life. Hum “Like a Prayer” before you go to sleep.

Just have your priorities straight.

It’s not worth it, dying for stupid shit.

And one more thing:

I love you!

(OK, so the “I love you” was directed at me, but I think we all could use a little extra #love in our day and if Andy is offering it, I would take it. I mean, he’s this towering 10-foot tall lean man. (Obviously, not really, but he’s really, really tall). His arms can seriously scoop you up in a gigantic bear hug. So take Andy’s love in, just take it. And feel free to send those well wishes back to him and to all of those you hold in your heart. I know I will.)

Andy, I love you, too.



One Man, One Ball: No Bueno.

An Honest Portrayal of One Man’s Battle with Testicular Cancer

Andy, if you haven't already guessed!  Photo by Bartosz Cerkaski

Photo by Bartosz Cerkaski

He can be unapologetically offensive. He’s not afraid to get graphic. He likes to stun just to see your reaction. That’s Andy! You may have a similar Andy, or seen one on TV. He’s the fashionable, fit and witty #gay sidekick. Depending on the era in which your Andy lives he either goes gaga for Lady GaGa or Material Girl Madonna. As for this Andy, never, ever, mention Lady Gaga or he’ll give you a verbal beat down. This is not to say that all gay men, or even those named Andy, fit some neat #stereotype. I simply mean he’s that confidant you can confide in, who will also chastise you for your music and fashion choices.

I met Andy, my ex’s former #roommate, about five or six years ago. We only ever exchanged a few words, but that was all it took for me to gather that he liked to use wit as a #weapon. I pitied those caught in the crossfire. And I hoped I wasn’t one unbeknownst to me. Fast forward to the World of #Facebook. We reconnected through a “like” here or a brief comment there. Until he messaged me out of the blue one day with a big revelation.

“I don’t really know you,” he said, “but I just found out I have cancer.”

All it took was that brief declaration to alter a reality and a relationship. With such an intimate reveal Andy no longer became that bitchy Facebook acquaintance. Subsequent intense conversations introduced me to a more layered and complex man than I previously gave credit. His austere facial expressions now expose a stoicism. Like a truffle, his tough exterior gives way to a soft and sweet soul. He endures a hardship not readily apparent in his appearance. He’s a man you have to question to get to know. If you quickly judge him you’re sure to be mistaken. Now faced with #death, I wanted to learn more about what makes this intriguing man tick.

Here’s what I found:

Me:  How old were you when you were diagnosed with testicular #cancer?

Andy:  I was 32 years old. Three months after I had come back to #Poland, after having lived in the U.S. for 13 years. I didn’t come back because I was sick. It was all a huge surprise.

(He pauses to light a cigarette.)

I came back to Poland the first day of April 2013. Healthy. By August I felt something wrong with my ball. A week later I had my ball removed.

Me: Damn, that’s rough! What felt wrong?

Andy: One of my balls had gotten swollen, to the size twice as big as the other one.

I had just gotten accepted to a medical school.

Me: Wow. Medical school?

That’s kind of ironic to learn of that as you are about to study #medicine.

Andy: Yeah I know.

And I didn’t want to go exercise with all the other boys that were half my age. So I wanted an excuse not to go to my gym class.

Me: Wait, you wanted to see the doctor just to cut gym class?

(laughing fit ensues.)

Andy:  I never thought it was gonna be a big deal.

I felt one of my balls feel heavier than the other one, because I used to do too much jerking off. Sorry for the TMI! But that’s what I thought.

Me:  That’s hysterical! You thought you caused that from too much masturbating?

Andy: Yup. I am Polish after all.

Me: Imagine that could happen? Men would be terrified everywhere!

So what was the very first thought that popped into your head when you learned it was cancer?

Andy: I thought, I can deal with it, but I was worried about my parents.

Can I tell you a little short story about when I first found out about it?

Me: Sure!

Andy: My mother, who doesn’t go to church by the way, had given me a chain with you know–holy Mother Mary … Basically, I had to wear it because it was a gift. So I did. When I went to the hospital to get my ball checked if it was cancer, the second I get there before they give an ultrasound, the chain breaks and the Mother of Jesus/made up bitch/Madonna wannabe, falls off my chain.

And I swear I knew I had cancer.

Me: Wow. That’s such an interesting omen. So you felt like it was a sign?

Andy: I did somehow. Not for me, but because my Polish family is so religious I felt it meant something.

As soon as that happened I was like, ‘OK, I have cancer.’

If my necklace had the REAL #Madonna hanging off my chest I wouldn’t have cancer. So #religion is bad. Believe in whores who like what they do, instead of made up people.

Me: You’re a nut!

Andy: Is that nuts? Not really.

Me: How did you emotionally prepare yourself to tell your parents? What did you say? How did they handle it?

Andy: Well the doctor told me there’s a 99% chance that it is cancer. I called my mom and said, ‘They found a growth on my ball and it’s probably nothing, so they have to examine it,’ and not to worry.

But I knew it was cancer because he told me.

Me: Oh man.

Andy: He asked about my age and everything and he said, ‘Yeah … prepare yourself.’

Me: He said that?

Andy: Yes.

Me: Even without knowing for sure?

Andy: Yeah. I went for that checkup on Tuesday. Thursday morning they were taking my ball out.

He said they were gonna take out my ball and they wouldn’t know for sure until they get the results that take like two weeks, but he said, ‘Get ready, you have cancer.’

This hospital bed won't kill his vibe!

This hospital bed won’t kill his vibe!

Me: Damn!

Andy: He told me they were gonna take it out and I was gonna be fine. He didn’t mention #chemo. Actually I called my sister first and told her not to tell our parents, because I didn’t want to worry them. My sister told me I have to tell them what’s going on. That’s when I called my mom. I thought, ‘No one has to know.’

Me: The phone call no mom wants to hear.

Andy: Not at all. And I felt bad because I had lived in NY for almost 14 years against my parents will and then finally I come back and they are happy and then I have to be like, ‘Just kidding, I have cancer!’

Me: Oof.

Andy: That was not on my agenda at all. It was supposed to be a happy ending.

Me: So you told your mom and dad. How did that go?

Andy: I told my mom when she was driving her car.

Me: Bad timing!

Andy: She almost crashed.

But she’s tough. She told my dad and he has been crying ever since.

Me: Awe! I love sensitive men.

Andy: Yeah, he’s an #angel.

Me: You said you knew you could deal with it. Have you been dealing with it? Have you been coping? Is it possible to cope?

Andy: Give me 10 seconds. I’m getting a bear.

OMG! Beer! Not a bear!

Me: I don’t know what you’re into! I didn’t want to ask.

Andy: Not bears. This is like being on #Oprah, girl.

Me: So you said you could deal with this. Have you been coping well? How the f*ck do you cope with this?

Andy: I went in denial, really. I worried about my #family. The oh-so-dramatic family I was born into.

Me: I’m sure they’ll love to read that part.

Andy: They don’t speak #English so they won’t. We’re good.

The only thing I thought about was if I could deal with death.

Me: What conclusion did you come to?

Andy: That I am 100% sure there is something after this #Earth, that there is a different dimension to all of this. Just like there is life on different planets. It would be really arrogant to assume that you don’t go anywhere after you die. The #universe is, what’s the word I’m looking for?, infinite! I had thought that way before I got cancer, so to me it wasn’t as scary.

Me: So this thinking comforts you then?

Andy: For sure. And it’s not to say I want to die tomorrow and I don’t care, I want to live for as long as I can because I want to leave something behind, and I don’t think I have done that. But I don’t believe for one second that when your life on Earth ends that is it. And I can’t believe anyone can think that. I think that’s rude.

Me: What do you want to leave behind?

Andy:  Wow. You’re really going there.

I mean, I don’t have the power that famous people do. Haha! Obviously! But I do believe in a sense of #humor and I believe that is THE most important thing in the world.

Me: I agree. We need it in this world of ours.

Andy: I believe that a person without a sense of humor is a potential serial killer.

Me: Not sure about the serial killer part, though.

So what mistakes of yours do you want people to learn from?

Andy: So you really are the white lesbian Oprah.

I can be your Gay-le!

Me: I. Just. Died.

Andy: Ok, my mistakes. Well, let’s just say I did coke for 10 years straight like it was water. And I will say that I have had the most amazing experiences doing coke. I have also hit the lowest of the low and I would say to someone who has never tried it, don’t ever do it!

It creeps up on you and it’s not worth it. If I could go back to the time before I did my first bump I would have never done it.

I can’t believe I’m saying this.

So when is your talk show happening?

Me: I love the #honesty.

What else?

Andy:  Don’t take no for an answer. No matter what you do. It’s better to be rejected than boring.

You will never make the entire world #love you.

Concentrate on what you do.

Me: What do you want for yourself? And is it different now after having had cancer?

Andy: I’m worse now. I #drink more and #smoke more. So no, don’t do what I do. That’s my advice.

Me: Oh no. Why are you worse? If you are worse than are you secretly not dealing well?

Andy: I’m worse because death became so close that it was almost palpable and I wasn’t scared. So now I’m just like, ‘F*ck it! Let’s see who wins,’ which is not good.

Me: Wow.

Andy: Wow. I have never been more honest, ever.

Me: That’s honest!

So you feel invincible?

Andy: Noooooo, not at all. I like the fight and I don’t believe that if I die that’s gonna be the end of me, but I am scared of that, too. I don’t wanna die without leaving a mark behind me, but maybe this interview will be it, so maybe after this I will give up.

Me: If liking that fight, that challenge, of almost chasing death doesn’t that mean you are sort of giving up on your life now? Being the best you can be now?

Andy: I want to be the best I can, but it’s easier said than done.


#death, #life, #spirituality, #purpose, #cancer, #testicularcancer, #Poland, #chemo, #universe, #world, #gay, #lesbian, #cocaine, #mortality,