In 1996, on Martin Luther King Day, I was diagnosed with colon cancer.
Ironically, three years later, my wife underwent breast cancer surgery
on Martin Luther King Day. What is the message in
these two events? What did we learn from Martin
Luther King that has helped us become Sentinels of Vigilance, and can
help anyone free themselves from the bonds of the Beast of Terror?
January 19, 2004—Ground Zero Plus 859
Martin Luther King Day Is The Beast of Cancer Day For Us
GROUND ZER0, New York, N.Y.--Jan. 19, 2004 --
While millions celebrate Martin Luther King Day (MLKD) as a symbol of
freedom from a long history of prejudice and bigotry, my wife and I
are forced to see it as the Day of the Beast of Cancer.
Luther King Day, 1996, I met the Beast of Cancer
In 1996, on MLKD, I
collapsed climbing my stairs at my then home in Laguna Niguel,
California. My body was so weak I was unable to lift one
foot after the other. My wife rushed me to our
family doctor who had been treating me for anemia.
Unfortunately, my doctor had missed the most obvious problem for my
pallor--I was bleeding internally.
I was rushed to the hospital and pumped with blood,
then wheeled down to have my colon inspected. A huge
cancerous growth had ruptured and I was put on the surgery schedule.
Nobody wants to think they have cancer even when they
have it. I entered the hospital early in the morning and
was in a daze as my body went through the diagnostic process.
Groggy, I noticed my wife sitting at the edge of my hospital bed
crying. I pushed myself up on one elbow and asked her why
she was so upset.
In my mind, I had a peptic ulcer or something.
I had not heard, or deflected, or simply ignored the "C"-word being
whispered about me over the past hours where nurses and doctors probed
and pricked me with their tools of medical Vigilance, seeking to
affirm the exact nature of my problem.
"You've got cancer, Cliff," my wife sobbed.
"No," I retorted. "I've got a peptic ulcer
"No," she said wiping a tear, "it's colon cancer."
I hadn't heard
the "C-word" during the diagnostic procedures or surgery
I lay in the bed
frozen, mummified. Cancer? It couldn't be.
Not me. I'd survived 100 combat operations in Vietnam, and
thought I was a healthy, vibrant person. There was no
history of cancer in my family. How could I be singled out of
the morass of humanity to be victimized by the great, Terroristic
Beast of Cancer?
"They have to operate, just as soon as you have
I looked up at the plastic sack dripping blood
into my arm. It was the fourth pint I was receiving.
I wondered whose blood was flowing in my veins. I
wondered why the Beast of Cancer had snuck up on me, attacked when I
least expected, and, especially why the Beast picked Martin Luther
Was it because I was a conservative Republican, a
resident of Orange County, California? Was I being singled
out for any prejudice or bigotry I might have expressed over my life?
Had I violated some trust with the universe? Had I
besmirched the world of karma and whatever "sins" I had committed were
now racing back at me like a mad locomotive heading toward my body
tied to the railroad tracks?
I was trapped
similar to the times I'd been pinned down in Vietnam
I was trapped.
I'd been pinned down a number of times in Vietnam, with bullets
snapping and cracking past my ears like thunderbolts. I'd felt
the heat of them and watched the earth explode around me as the lead
chewed closer and closer, threatening to end my life or mortally wound
In those cases there is no time for Fear.
The body automatically engages Shields of Vigilance and banishes Fear,
Intimidation and Complacency. Every muscle coils and you
return fire, shout orders, grit your teeth and attack with abandon.
But strapped in a hospital bed with tubes feeding
you blood and oxygen shoved up your nostrils, all you feel is Fear.
The Beast of Terror holds your bedpan. He grins and hisses and
hovers over you, tickling your imagination with horror thoughts that
render you helpless.
I have to admit that of all the moments in my
life, the most frightened I've ever been was just prior to surgery.
All the Beast of Terror's power seemed to descend upon me as I lay on
the gurney, waiting for the nurse to wheel me down to the operating
room. Would they be able to cut it out? Would
I awaken from the operation or die on the table? Would I
live a life of constant Terror that the cancer would return?
I believed I
had offended Martin Luther King - I asked him for some of the same
courage he had mustered
Oh, Martin Luther King, what I have done to
offend thee? I thought.
It was a moment with my maker. I
remember lying there in the hallway. The nurses were busy with
other patients as I awaited my turn in the operating room.
I tried with all my power to shed the Fear, Intimidation and
Complacency (helplessness) that smothered my thoughts. I
must be brave, I thought. I must be strong.
Tears slid down the corners of my eyes as I thought of never seeing my
wife or children again. Then I sucked in a deep breath.
I thought of Martin Luther King. I
asked him to help me have courage, the same courage he must have
mustered on his marches into the jaws of death. He must
have known there was big target on his chest. He must have
chosen to face death without remorse. I would borrow
from his courage, I thought. Yes, perhaps the whole idea
of facing cancer this day was not some payment for past sins, but a
time to use the courage of another man to face one's own mortality.
I survived the operation, and have,
luckily, survived any recurrence of cancer to date. But that's
not the end of the story.
Luther King Day three years later, my wife was operated on for
Three years later my lovely
wife, Lori, was diagnosed with breast cancer. We
were all shocked. There was no history of cancer in
her family either. It seemed to come out of the blue.
Ironically, her surgery was scheduled on
the same day as mine--Martin Luther King Day, 36 months to the day
from my surgery.
It was a double whammy of sorts.
We began to laugh.
Both of us stricken with cancer. Both of us having our
operations on Martin Luther King Day. It was far too
ironic to be mere chance. There must be some
message, some reason for this statistic anomaly. A
husband and wife from Orange County, California, both conservative
republicans, each stricken with cancer and having their operations on
Now, I was assured there was
some reason, some message for us.
We began to focus on our lives,
and how we lived our lives. We reevaluated our values, as
people do when they face the mortality of death itself. We
each, in our private and personal ways, examined the worth of time,
and the most precious assets we enjoyed.
Martin Luther King fought for
personal freedom, for the right of each individual to seek and enjoy
the fruits of freedom. Freedom means that one is able to
counter his or her Fears, Intimidations and Complacencies and replace
them with Courage, Conviction and Right Actions that benefit future
There can be little question
that under this formula, Martin Luther King was a Sentinel of
Vigilance. He set an example of non-violent revolution for
those oppressed by not just the color of their skin, but for those
oppressed by the Beast of Terror regardless of race, color or creed.
He reminded us all, also, that
life itself is fragile. One can be walking down the street one
minute and dead the next. The sad assassination of Mr.
King was the result of the Cancer of Humanity. It
was the symbol of the Beast of Terror attacking a Sentinel of
Vigilance, fighting non-violence with violence, but in the end, losing
my wife and me to re-think our lives
My wife and I viewed our cancer as symbols
of bullets fired at us, wounding but not killing us.
It forced us to re-think our lives.
As a result of our cancer, we elected
to move from Orange County, California to New York City where our two
children and grandchildren lived. We made the decision as
Grandparents of Vigilance.
Cancer had shoved reality into our
faces. If we had only today, why spend it away from our
children and grandchildren? Why not be near them so we could
share with our offspring and their offspring, the joys of life?
In a way, we broke the chains of
being bound to living one way of life. Our crusty outlooks
formed after thirty years of living in Orange County, California were
sorely tested when we moved to liberal New York City, where the
population is a mixture of every race, color and creed imaginable.
We assimilated. We
began to see the world with different eyes, for our focus was not just
on our selves or our way of life, but upon our children and
grandchildren. New York City was the heart of what
Martin Luther King sought for all nooks and crannies of the world.
equal in New York City
Everyone is equal in New York City.
There are so many diverse people that any differences between one's
race, color, creed, ethnicity, sexual preference, religious or
political outlooks melt into one pot of humanity. It
is live and let live. It is coexist with one another in a
peaceful, amicably, respectful culture.
We have enjoyed four Martin Luther King
Days here in New York City.
Our lives have changed dramatically.
We see the world not through eyes of the
cancer victim, but through the eyes of grandparents, citizens of a
world dedicated to the future of the children.
In many ways, we owe our more universal
outlook to Martin Luther King. We have changed as
human beings do when they face their own mortality and realize that
the world is not so much about what you believe in, but what is
important for a child to believe in.
King fought for the rights of the children of the world to be free
from tyranny and oppression
Martin Luther King was
fighting for the rights of the children of the world to be free from
tyranny and oppression. In his way, he was fighting
for the rights of the children of Iraq as well as for the children in
America. He was fighting the Beast of Terror, trying to
carve out the cancer in human beings that denigrate others because of
He taught my wife and me a lesson in
Vigilance. He reminded us that the Courage to change, the
Conviction that change was possible, and that change only comes when
one takes the Right Actions that benefit the Children's Children's
Children was a worthy goal.
King reminds my wife and me that we will not give up on our dream that
everyone will one day be a Sentinel of Vigilance
Beast of Cancer may have attacked us on Martin Luther King Day, the
Beast was overpowered by the Sentinels of Vigilance. We
have learned to share with others how to cut out the Cancer of the
Beast with the Scalpel of Vigilance, and to treat that cancer with the
chemotherapy of the Principles of Vigilance.
And we owe Martin Luther King a
debt of gratitude. For he reminds us that our mission is
to not give up on our dream, the dream that one day everyone will
become a Parent, Grandparent, Loved One or Citizen of Vigilance.
We march the same path. The one
lined with dreams.
Jan 18--Banishing Those Who Dance With The Beast