The Beast Of Cancer Attacks
What happens when you wake up one morning feeling ill, walk up the stairs and collapse, you're rushed to the hospital and find out you have Cancer?   It's a startling, frightening feeling, one that calls upon all your resources of Vigilance, demands you face Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.  Then you find out that the worst Cancer of all is the one that eats at your Courage, Conviction and Right actions.  This is my day, my anniversary to remember the Beast of Cancer's attack.


Saturday--January 18, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 493
The Day The Beast of Cancer Attacked and Terrorized Me

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZERO, New York City, Jan. 18- It was eight years ago yesterday that I awoke feeling ill.  I had been seeing my doctor for malaise.  My body was aching, tired.  He put me on iron pills and diagnosed me as anemic.
       I dragged myself everywhere, my energy depleted.  I was sucking on Siberian ginseng trying to rally my body to energize itself.   I sat in my office with a dull look to the future.  My body wanted only to stay in the chair, to not move as the world turned around me, constantly demanding action and response I was unable to muster.

The Terror of Fatigue

     My stomach growled.  I thought I had a peptic ulcer.   I asked the doctor repeatedly for a second diagnosis. My instincts told me  there was something strange going on inside me.  It felt as though I was carrying a lead weight on my shoulders and my legs were mushy as I tried to move my six-foot four-inch frame.
      My brain was numbed.  It no longer fired with  its usual imaginative activity.   I wanted to just lie down and not move.  I pretend to be okay, that I was just low on iron, and that this feeling would pass.
     Then it happened.  I climbed the stairs in my home in Laguna Niguel, California.   There are thirteen steps, the standard number in a two-story colonial.  The thirteen steps are home-builders salute to the original colonies, a reminder of liberty and freedom.   I often thought of that as I climbed them, wondering how many people knew that piece of trivia.
      On this day, however, the thirteen steps seemed like the staircase to the Statue of Liberty torch.   Each one was a hurdle.  I could barely lift my legs.  Sweat dripped from my forehead.  I grunted.  My stomach roared and I began to belch.  A burning sensation raged through my gut. 
       I clutched the banister, hauling myself up to the top landing where I suddenly collapsed, my knees Jell-O. The room spun wildly.  I thought of Marlon Brando's final scene in The Godfather, seeing him falling like a bull in the tomato patch, trying to clutch to the spindly vines as he crashed down toward the earth from which all things sprout and all things finally come to rest.
       I let out a feeble cry, a mournful whimper.   I thought of Voltaire in his death bed denying God's existence.  My fingers tried to grab the banister but were so sweaty and weak they slid off, unable to pull my trembling body up so that I might right myself.  
       I saw myself as a little boy with my sister Patty at Canon Beach in Oregon.  We were five and six, dressed in cold weather clothing, standing on the sand as the waves crashed, commanding the ocean to go back and racing up so the waves didn't touch our feet, laughing at our inability to change the ebb and flood of the great sea before us.
       My wife and children's faces flashed before me. Scenes of my life snapped into view as though on some rapid-fire slide show.  Each image burned quickly before my inner eyes.  It was as though I were viewing  the credits to a film of my life, and I was the only person in the audience.   Then a blackness swirled about me, a semi-consciousness where I was aware of my surroundings while my body had become weightless, a feather in time, suspended in a dark blanket.

I  was in a black pit and couldn't get out

        "Help!" I choked out the plea for help.  I saw bullets flying over my head, and flashes of my buddies in Vietnam lying wounded in rice paddies, some with their hands reaching up as though expecting the teacher to notice them so they could be excused to go to the bathroom.  I heard  their Voices crying for the corpsman, saw blood oozing from their guts where the V.C. bullets had torn their innards so that they might die the slow painful death of a gunshot.  "Help!" I repeated.
       My wife rushed to my side.
       My heart thundered.   Slowly, she helped me down the stairs and into the car.  We rushed to my doctor's office next to the Mission Viejo Regional Hospital.  He took my blood and then called the hospital and ordered an emergency colonoscopy.  My hemoglobin was critical.  I was bleeding to death.

Surgery at Mission Viejo Regional Hospital

     I don't remember much after that.   I was in a haze as they performed the colon pathology and then wheeled me into a hospital room..   That afternoon I awoke and glanced at my wife who was sitting in the hospital room next to me sobbing.  I was startled because above me was a bag of blood dripping down into a tube stuck in my vein.
     I couldn't understand why I was getting blood when I thought I had a peptic ulcer.  I had convinced myself on the stairs that my stomach had a hole in it.  A peptic ulcer would be a Red Badge of Courage, a sign of my   importance as a man who worried about the world and its problems and how I might solve them.  
      "What's the matter," I said dumbly.  "It's just a peptic ulcer."
      "No," she said, "You have Cancer. Didn't you hear the doctor?"
      I didn't accept the words at first.  They ricocheted off my walls of denial.  "No.  I can't have Cancer."
      "You were bleeding to death.  They're giving you five pints of blood and then going to operate."
      I fought the statement.  "Cancer!  Me!  No! " 
      Then the doctor who had performed the colonoscopy came in the room.  He showed me pictures of the tumor in my colon, a big fist of gnarled flesh, hardened like an avocado in my cecum, an appendage at the end of the large intestine.   I was stunned and angry at the same time.  
         For months I had wanted another opinion, and now I was looking at it.  It wasn't iron deficiency, it was Cancer--an invasion in my body by the Beast of Health.  Cancer, the creature most of us want to sidestep, to avoid at all costs, had taken over my body.

Cancer - the Beast of Health

      Cancer is death, I thought.  Cancer is all enemies bound in one ball, the sum of all venom that eats at your insides as though some alien from outer space had crawled up your nose and taken charge of your body, consuming all life as Black Holes eat all light, depriving the host of its élan vital.  I lay back feeling helpless, powerless, defeated.
        The rest of the day was a blur.   People came in with sad, doggy eyes to offer their support.   I thought of the man slipping on the ice and falling, and everyone hysterically laughing not at him, but in some pathetic way at the fact they were glad it wasn't they who had fallen.   I thought of the rubber-neckers at an auto accident, slowing down, eyes searching the disaster to see what death looked like and, in a morbid way,  being thankful the mangled bodies weren't they.  I was a bug speared in a display case so others could pass by and look at me and say, "Glad it's you and not me, buddy."   I tried to shake those feelings.  I wanted to believe the best but the worst of thoughts strangled my thinking.
        I fought to be grateful for the visits and support and cards as I lay there watching someone else's blood dripping into my arm, wondering whose it was, hoping the blood bank had checked it for AIDS, crossmatched it properly.   They said I was so low on blood it was critical.   The tumor had burst through the walls of my stomach, causing the bleeding that was masked in my stool by the iron pills.  Over the past six months I had been bleeding to death and didn't know it neither did my doctor.
        I couldn't keep my eyes off the dripping blood.  It was my Life's hour glass, dripping like tiny grains of crimson  sand into my veins, building up my strength so I could face the moment of reckoning when I would go under the knife and the degree of the Cancer would be exposed to the surgeon.

The Beast was devouring me

        What little I knew about the disease was enough to frighten me.  If it had reached a certain stage it would have spread all through my body, consuming all my organs.  I imagined the tiny Beasts of Terror disguised as cancer cells with gnarly teeth and ravenous appetites chasing down my good cells, surrounding them, ripping and tearing at them like hyenas on a feeding frenzy.   Cancer was the ultimate human Terrorist, voraciously turning healthy cells into crippled maimed ones, attacking them as rats in a sewer might a wounded pigeon.
       I studied each ounce of blood dripping, flowing into my arm. I felt like a condemned man being prepared for a death penalty, strapped into place, watching the potassium chloride drop down into his arm.   I tried to keep my mind off the operation but it was a fruitless battle.   I imagined the doctors cutting into my gut and then recoiling as the actors in the movie Alien when the creature burst out of the engineer's belly and shot across the room.  Surely, once they cut me open and saw the ravages they would just sew me up and tell me to take care of my final arrangements.
       I feigned humor and confidence, but deep down the Beast of Terror had me in his claws.   All I could see were the Cancer cells raging through me, attacking, ambushing all my healthy ones.  I was just a body lying in a bed with a war being fought inside me.  My red cells were screaming for reinforcements.  The fresh  packed red blood cells  dripping in me was my only hope.  
       Finally, after five pints of blood, my hemoglobin was high enough to withstand the operation.   My wife and children were there with me.   The operation was scheduled for 9 p.m.  My wife was asked to go wait downstairs.
        I was strapped on a gurney with a blanket over me, waiting for the call to be wheeled down to the operating room.  Time passed slowly.   I stared at the ceiling, trying to clear my mind, trying not to think about what might happen when they cut me open and took a look at my insides.
       There were complications the nurse said in the operating room.  My scheduled time had been set back.  I tried not to think of the doctor being tired, operating on me at the end of the day when his hands weren't as steady, or his brain not as sharp.  My wife worked in a hospital and often related stories of surgeons tiring at the end of the day.  "Be the first gurney in line for the OR and your survival is upgraded,"  she  forewarned.
        The clock ticked.  It was approaching 11 p.m.  I was alone, frightened.

The Grim Reaper was coming for me

     The sweat of death oozed out my pores.  I could feel the Grim Reaper's cold clammy hand on my flesh.  I shivered even though I was covered with a warm blanket.   Fear, Intimidation and Complacency whirled through my mind.   I suddenly became more afraid than any time in my life.  Even those 100 combat operations in Vietnam could not match the Fear that clutched at my heart and soul.    I began to shake as I thought these were my last moments, lying alone on a gurney in the hall of a hospital, strapped down, attacked by some miniscule cells inside my body eating me alive.  As the Fear mounted I decided I must act, must counter the suffocation I was feeling.
       As my nurse passed by I asked:  "Can I make a call?"
        "Please, it's important..."
        She wheeled the gurney back into my room.  I gave her the number.  She dialed.  On the other end of the line was an ancient old man, a friend of mine named Leon.   He was in his mid-eighties, a tough old guy who reminded me a lot of my Irish grandfather.  He had been through countless operations and stood tall through each, including an experimental spinal fusion with coral which grew into the bone and fused his back. Leon was part of a men's club I attended.  He was the wise one, the man who had traveled many roads.
        "Leon," I said, "This is Cliff.  I'm about to go down and get operated on for colon cancer. And I'm scared as hell. Scared I'm going to die.  Help."
        I remember Leon laughing at me.   "Boy," he said, "I thought you were a tough Marine.  You're just like everybody else.   Just a scared little boy."
       "You got it, Leon.   Give me some words of wisdom."
       Leon told me his story, one I've never forgotten.  In 1965 he was in Elko, Nevada, a small out-of-the way town and the last place you would want to be stricken ill at for its resources were bare in all respects, especially in the medical arena.   Leon's raspy, gruff Voice rang loudly in my ear as he told me how he had fallen victim to colon Cancer in Elko in a similar way as I.   In those days, he said, over 80 percent of colon Cancer victims died.  As far as he was concerned, he was looking down the barrel of a smoking gun.
       He was rushed into the local hospital, sure he was going to die, if not from the Cancer, from some local butcher doctor who had no idea what he was doing.   When he awoke, he was alive and well. The Cancer was gone, the operation had been a success.    He told me it was fate.
       The two leading surgeons for colon Cancer from John's Hopkins University had retired to Elko just a year before.   They were summoned that day to operate on him.  He reminded me that Fate played a big hand in things, and that I was facing Fear with no justification.  He asked me to have the Courage to have Faith in Fate.
       "Hell, boy, you're in the finest Regional Hospital on the West Coast. You've got one of the best surgeons.  Medicine has advanced.  People live through colon Cancer like they do if they have the flu.  And look at me, Cliff.  If an old man like me can live as long as I have after colon Cancer, you've got ten times the chances I had. Now, stop being afraid and smile, boy.  Smile.  You're a lucky guy."
       That was it.   I gave the nurse the phone back and suddenly the Fear, Intimidation and Complacency was gone.

Leon caused the sunlight of the spirit to return similar to the sunrises that heightened my spirit post-battle in Vietnam

       Leon had become my Sentinel of Vigilance.  In his crusty, old grouchy-man way, he wiped the Beast of Terror's face away as a windshield wiper  clears a fouled windshield.    I began to see Courage, Conviction and Right Actions forming ahead.   The dark ominous clouds parted.  The Grim Reaper standing next to the gurney with his scythe hissing over my head made a dash down the hall.  

       I remind myself on this date that Fear, Intimidation and Complacency are states of mind.   Some researches  suggest that Cancer is triggered by the Triad of Terrorism--by Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.  They say a person can bring about disease by their state of mind, but no one knows that for sure.   There have even been cases of spontaneous remission, where terminally ill patients have laughed themselves to health, driving the Cancer from their body with a lust for life that is a powerful counteracting agent to the Complacency of disease.
       I have learned the Beast of Terror is nothing more than Cancer of the Mind.  Like a perverted cell turned carnivorous, the Beast gnaws at our Courage, Conviction and Right Actions whenever we let up on believing in ourselves, in others, in the future of our evolution as proud, dignified, responsible people.  
       It doesn't take much sometimes to fall into the Beast of Terror's quagmire. Sometimes we can feel like Losers, Failures, Victims of Life.   We can berate ourselves and wallow in our defects, thrashing about in a sea of guilt and shame over what we didn't do, or have done that failed ourselves or others.
        Old Leon used to tell everyone not to "buy green bananas."  His theory was to live each day as though it were your last day--to make it full of joy and adventure, to squeeze the magic out of every moment.   People who bought green bananas, he said, were fatalists, they were the ones who waited for life to happen instead of making life happen.   They made a horrible mistake counting on the future to unfold their treasures while passing by the riches of today.
        I thought of his words:  "Never buy green bananas."

Color your bananas with Vigilance

      I had bought them when I realized I had Cancer.  I fell hard into a ship full of green bananas.  The Beast of Terror had me thinking into the future, had me digging my grave, had me shoveling the dirt into it, had me reading my own eulogy instead of screwing up the Courage, Conviction and taking the Right Actions to fight the Cancer.
        I was lucky enough to have the energy to reach out and call Leon.   The Fear had consumed me so much I couldn't stand it.   It drove me to action.  
      So I called Leon--my Sentinel of Vigilance--my Courage mentor, my Conviction mentor, my Right Action mentor.
      To most people, Leon was a grumpy old man.  But I knew beneath his leathered skin and tough outward exterior was a warm, loving man who would reach out his hand to anyone if they asked.
      I believe the Sentinels of Vigilance helped me make a call that night.  They gave me the Courage to ask another person for help, and to admit my Fear.
      I believe I braved it through the operation in part because I went into without the rages of Fear that were strangling me as I lay on the gurney alone.    Leon had linked me with a Faith in Life I had lost for a moment as death tried to suck the life out of me. 
       I survived the operation and a year of chemotherapy.
       Sometimes, I think there is one of those Cancer cells left, bouncing around inside me, waiting to leap out when I least expect it.   But then I think of Leon.  I think of the green bananas.  And I laugh.
       When I'm down and out, I can hear his gravely Voice reminding me to stand up and fight.   He didn't use the words Courage, Conviction and Right Action.  He didn't tell me to unsheathe the Sword of Vigilance or to hoist my Shield of Vigilance in defense to the Beast of Terror.   He knew I had done all that by reaching for the phone, by admitting my Fear, by humbling myself to the fact that all humans are fallible, that we all stumble and fall in our Faith in ourselves and others, and the world in general.
        Today, when my life seems to be in the toilet, when everything around me seems to be working against my dreams and ambitions, when I feel I am a nail and everyone is a hammer, I conjure up Leon and his green banana story.  
       I'm convinced that victimization--where we blame everyone else for our ills--is just another form of Cancer.   Its an Emotional Cancer that eats at our soul.  It chews us down in size and stature, turning us into ants and the world into giant feet bent on smashing us.  We retaliate and spew anger at the world for being its doormat.  We look at everyone else as being lucky and we the misfortunate, oppressed, the slaves of humanity.
       This is Green Banana Thinking.
       I have to fight against those kinds of thoughts.  They are Cancerous.  They will eat away my will to live, gnaw at my self-worth, cripple my dreams and passions for living life just for today, as though there was no tomorrow.
       That's why I believe it is vital that each of us read the Pledge of Vigilance each and every day.   The Pledge is a reconfirmation of our battle with the Beast of Terror.  It is our chemotherapy against the Cancer of Terrorism that seeks to turn our day into a onerous collection of leaden minutes and exhaust us so that at the end of it we feel tired and burdened that we have to face another one just like it when we wake up.
        This is Green Banana Thinking.

        Ripe Banana Thinking is just the opposite.   It involves us facing our Fears with Courage, our Intimidations with Convictions, and our Complacencies with Right Actions.
        It means we must rededicate ourselves each day to something bigger than our selves.  The Pledge does that.  It reminds us we are working for our Children's Children's Children, and, if we have no children, we're working toward our Loved One's Children's Children's Children--our cousins, nieces, nephews.
        As I lay on the gurney I forgot to have Faith in the Future.  I forgot my mission on earth is to leave this place just a little better than before.   It took Leon to remind me that was my job, whether I'm rich or poor, famous or just a grain of sand on a big beach--I have something to give anyone who asks for it--I have Courage, Conviction and Right Actions.
        Leon isn't a rich, powerful man in worldly terms.   He struggles as most to survive each day.   But he carries with him a backpack full of experience and wisdom.  When I called Leon a number of years ago, I asked him for the treasures he posses.  I asked him to help me believe in myself and the world.
        Everyone in the world should have a Sentinel of Vigilance such as Leon in their lives.
       Everyone should seek a mentor who has great riches of the self, someone who believes you should never buy green bananas so that when the Beast of Terror attacks, and it will, you can pick up the phone and say, "I'm afraid," and then listen to the wisdom of ages on the other end of the line.
        We all need to have someone we can tell the truth to, even if that truth is painful.  I sought Leon because I knew he would tell me the truth.
        Each of us can be the Truth bearer to ourselves and our children and Loved Ones if we work on it.   Someone out there may need us to tell them we were once afraid, we were once consumed by the Beast of Terror and how we overcame his wrath.  Leon did that for me.  You can do that for someone else if you think of yourself as a Sentinel of Vigilance.

 Remain Vigilant - Reach for ripe bananas

         While we are not perfect, we are human.  We all have overcome many Cancers of the Mind and Soul.   While we may not consider our trials in life beneficial, they may be precious treasures to a child struck with a Fear, or a friend suffering terminal Intimidation.
           If we keep our hands outstretched, and our eyes focused on the ripe not green bananas, we can serve as Sentinels of Vigilance to countless others.
         Don't think you're a victim of anything. Don't let the Beast of Terror be your cancer of mind of soul.  Fight back.  Take the Pledge of Vigilance.  It's your daily chemotherapy as it is mine against Green Banana Thinking.


Jan. 17 -- U.S. Terrorism Strategy Falls Short

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