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GROUND ZERO PLUS 1223 DAYS,--New York, NY, Monday, January 17, 2005--Certain dates stick out in everyone's mind for a variety of reasons.

Where were and what were you doing when John F. Kennedy was shot?

How about when John Lennon was shot?

Where were you when Martin Luther King was shot?

Where were you when the Terrorists attacked the Word Trade Center?

How about the South Asia tsunami?

I connect Martin Luther King Day to finding out I was dying of cancer. On that day, I was within a few heartbeats of kissing life goodbye, so Dr. King and I have a special relationship.

It was close to a decade ago. I lived in Laguna Niguel, California in a spacious, grand home with cathedral ceilings and a beautiful staircase winding its way to our upper level. The home, located in Kite Hill, was a prized possession, for it was the center of our family events. We had a beautiful swimming pool decorated with flagstone and appointed with a pond that flowed over a spillway into the pool.

One might call the respite a sort of luxurious and material heaven, and, quite frankly its 3,800 square feet of space plus a three-car garage was exactly that.

On the third Monday of January 1996 I wasn't feeling well. I kept belching and my stomach was upset.

After many medical tests, my doctor informed me I was suffering from iron deficiency so I was loading myself up with spinach and fast iron supplements I could get my hands on. Nevertheless, my energy level was ten tons below average so when I climbed the thirteen steps from the lower level of my home to the upper it felt as though I was carrying a few rucksacks full of lead.

"Cliff has severe anemia"

I'm a big, strong guy, standing 6-4 and weighing at the time around 235 pounds. But when each step made me feel like my shoes were stuck in cement, I began to wonder when, if ever, my iron level would get back to normal and thus regain my energy.

I started up the stairs that day. I didn't make it to the top. I collapsed.

I thought I had a peptic ulcer because the roiling in my gut seemed as though Mt. St. Helens was belching out lava from within. I had little choice about being rushed to my doctor's office because my wife and daughters insisted.

It took about three blinks of an eye to read out my problem. I was bleeding to death. My hemoglobin--the gauge of both iron and blood content--was dangerously low.

I needed an emergency colonoscopy

They rushed me to the hospital and did an immediate colonoscopy. That was about 10:00 in the morning. Later that afternoon, close to 4:00 p.m., I came out of a denial daze. I had been awake after the colonoscopy but my mind had shut down. I had no idea what was going on.

My wife was sitting next to my bed crying. I looked at her a bit startled and confused and said: "Why are you crying?"

"You've got cancer," she sobbed. "We've been talking about it all day."

"No way," I retorted. "I've got a peptic ulcer."

"No, you've got colon cancer. When you get enough blood in you, there's going to operate."

I looked up. A crimson plastic bag hung from stainless steel pole next to my bed. I saw the drops of blood from someone else's body dripping into a tube that snaked its way to a shunt in my wrist.

"You need four pints. You were bleeding to death."

Before the operation I needed a tranfusion of 4 pints of blood

I took deep, long breaths.

Invincibility is one of the fatal flaws of all humans. It allows us to take risks that drive us to places our imaginations cannot fathom.

I was invincible to cancer, just as millions of others are. One of four people get sometime of cancer in his or her lives but those of us who don't have cancer believes we are going to get it. Maybe someone else will, but not us.

Perhaps it is a protective device we cloak about our beings to keep us from being paranoid and never doing anything. If we bought into all the hype about cancer we wouldn't breathe any air, eat any processed foods, and go live in the far distant woods were we would probably die quickly of lyme disease or get tetanus or become a meal for a wolf pack.

Instead, we choose to live in human herds, sucking in the clogged air of commerce, eating the quick, fast foods of an industrialized nation on the fast track, paying little heed to the dangers of disease because we think we can dial 911 and go to any emergency room and get a quick fix of some antibiotic that will put us back on our feet in virtual seconds.

I had some additional ammunition to support my invincibility. In Vietnam I survived some 100 combat missions without a scratch even though others around me were often maimed and murdered by the flack of war. I was an adventurer of sorts, high diving off rocks in Mexico into shallow pools, driving recklessly along mountain roads in a Jeep with worn out steering gear, rock climbing hundreds of feet above craggy granite teeth waiting to impale those who lost their grip or nerve.

When you survive many times in many different risk-related events you mind isn't logical. You don't start thinking "my luck is running out." In defiance, you think: "I'm invincible."

I thought I was invincible

At least, that's how I felt.

Hearing my wife tell me I had cancer was like being slammed on the head with a two-by-four. I reeled as the words settled in. The blood dripping into my arm helped evidence the fact something was wrong--big time.

When I went for the operation I sucked in a deep breath. In most of my high-risk moments in life I had no time to be afraid. If there was any fear, it was suppressed by arrogance or adrenalin. Any chills that might occur came after I had done something and looked back at it and said: "Wow, did I do that. I musta been crazy!" But, during the act, I was fearless or, as some put it, just plain stupid.

Facing cancer, however, is different.

You know you have it.

You lay on the gurney waiting to be rolled into the operating room with a dud thud resounding inside your soul. No matter how many hugs and words of encouragement given by loved ones or doctors, you wonder if you'll come out from under the knife alive or dead.

And, if you survive the knife, will they have carved out all the cancer cells? What if they miss one or two? What if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body?

Horror stories run rampant about people being cut open and the doctors take one look and sew them back up.

I wondered if I would survive the knife

So I was lying on my gurney in a pool of anticipatory fear. If there is a Beast of Terror, we know he exists by the stench of his breath in moments such as waiting to be carved upon in hopes the cancer in you can be cut out.

I began to sweat. Chills coursed through me, for I began to see one Terror Cancer Cell hiding from the doctors, sneaking into a hiding place where that one cell would escape detection and then, when I thought I was all cured, would begin to breed, snowballing into an even more deadly generation than what I already had.

I recovered. I underwent chemotherapy for a year. I get frequent colonoscopies to check up on my health and well being in that part of my body.

But, I don't think for a moment that the Terror Cancer Cell has left me.

To do so, would be foolish.

That's why Martin Luther King Day is an important day for me. It reminds me how quickly the Cancer of Terror can attack.

Martin Luther King walked into the Belly of the Beast

In Martin Luther King's life, he walked into the Belly of the Beast. He put himself in the cross hairs of the Beast of Terror. I find it hard to believe that he didn't think he was a marked man, and, that at some precise, planned moment one of his many detractors wouldn't burst out of nowhere and remove him from this earth.

In a way, he's a much braver man that I. The cancer of bigotry, prejudice and hatred swarmed about him. He was diagnosed with have Cultural Cancer by many who opposed him and they surgically removed his cancer in hopes his message would die with the body.

They were wrong.

Freedom knows no color or cultural boundaries.

In Iraq, it is easy to think of the citizens of that country as the opponents to Martin Luther King thought of him. They are of another color and culture and don't deserve "equal freedoms" the rest of the world enjoys because of "who they are" and "where they come from." After all, the critics say, the Iraqis believe in a totally different god, speak a strange language, smell and look different. Why should we let them drink from the same "freedom water fountains" we do?
Why should they ride in the front of the "freedom bus" with us?

Cancerous thoughts ate at the core of America during the Civil Rights Movement

Of course, the biggest concern: "Why should our American lives be sacrificed for the Iraqi's rights to freedom when they have no concept of it and will probably abuse it."

Many people forget that millions of white people thought the American black people were not capable of enjoying equal freedoms as the whites, and that they would abuse that power if given it.

These cancerous thoughts ate at the core of America during the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King became the symbol of such Racial Cancerous Growth.

The Beast of Terror tried to cut the threat of the Blacks having equal rights out of the fabric of American freedom. He failed.

He's trying to do the same in Iraq. Insurgents threatening the lives of people who vote and killing the leaders of the Iraqi "Civil Rights Movement" are finding that for every one they kill, others step up to fill the vacancy. The old tricks of Fear, Intimidation and Complacency have little impact.

Today, we see Courage, Conviction and Right Actions for future generations replacing those who once cowered in the shadow of the Beast of Terror.

That's why I respect my cancer cells today rather than ignore them.

I know that within me bounces that one cancer cell that can, given the right breeding ground, metastisize itself into a gnarled, sickly knot seeking to destroy my vital organs.

Inside all of us are the seeds of prejudice, bigotry, hatred for others who don't fit our molds, our way of thinking, our economic structures, our social or political views, our educations backgrounds. We tend to layer human beings from high to low for a wide range of reasons.

In the end, such compartmentalization is cancerous. When we think we are less than or better than others for any reason, we become cancer. We infect either ourselves or others with denigration of the self or of some other person or group for reasons that are often not justified.

Take the Right to Freedom. Do the Iraqis have a Right to Freedom?

Do we, Americans, have a duty and responsibility to help them exercise that Right?

Or, should we hog it? Turn our backs on them?

Each day, 1,300 Americans die of cancer. That's the total number of Americans who have died in Iraq to give the people of that land the right to be free.

Each day 1300 Americans die of cancer
1300 Americans have died in the Iraqi war

If America is about standing up and fighting injustice, then cancer, which takes 563,700 lives each year in this nation, needs more attention than our rush to fund Tsunami Aid or the beating of "No War" drums urging the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

Martin Luther King walked into the face of all his critics. He did what was right, not what was safe.

America's position in Iraq is a lot like Martin Luther King's in America. We stand up in the face of both our internal and external critics, doing what is right and not safe.

We are helping spur the Iraqi Civil Rights Movement, and our blood is being spilled along with theirs.

Today, the cancer in my body is a reminder that life is short and precious. It means I cannot afford to forget that I must stand up each day for what I believe to be true.

To measure that truth's validity, I must look not at what is right and just for me, or my family, or even just my nation--but for my children's children's children's and the world's children's children's children.

What is right for them is to recognize that the Beast of Terror is within us all, waiting to grow and prosper if we fertilize him with Fear, Intimidation and Complacency. We owe it to our children to teach them the antidote to the Triad of Terrorism is Courage, Conviction and Right Actions.

With the Principles of Vigilance--Courage, Conviction and Right Actions--we can keep the cancer of the Beast of Terror in check.

Martin Luther King knew that truth. He knew that he was not risking his life at all, but giving it in behalf of the future of all the children's children's children.

That's a wonderful gift.

Martin Luther King lived the Pledge of Vigilance

Today, my cancer, diagnosed on Martin Luther King Day, is my reminder that we never have to fear what is right. What is right is what is right for all the children of all lands all the time.

If you want to support the Principles of Vigilance, take the Pledge of Vigilance.

I know Martin Luther King would have. He lived the pledge long before it was written.


Go To January 14 Story: "The Price Of An Iraqi Vote: 12 Drops Of American Blood"



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