Friday, April 24, 2009

Thank You Daily Star

A couple weeks ago I was walking out of work with a colleague.
"You know," the person said, "If someone in our newsroom got sick, nobody would help out, nobody would visit that person. It's not like the police or firemen who take care of their own. It's just not like that here."
Right now the daily newspaper industry is going through seismic changes. Storied newspapers that have served communities for decades, sometimes more than a century, have gone under. The reasons why are complicated and I don't want to write a treatise on the demise of daily newspapers. Save it for the media fellows in institutions and universities across the country.
We had another round of layoffs this week. The fourth, maybe fifth, round since I arrived.
It's been hard on everyone. Unified is not a word I would use to describe my newsroom.
Nearly two years ago I discovered the tumor in my testicle. Before we could conclusively say I had cancer, I had to go into the hospital to remove my testicle and wait for the results of the biopsy. The surgery had me laid out for two weeks.
At the time I had barely reached my eligibility for health care at the Arizona Daily Star. After all, I had been there about nine months. I didn't have much time accrued for sick days off.
So my colleagues -- reporters, editors, staff and even the publisher -- pooled their resources together and helped me out. People donated their sick days. The human resources staff tweaked my paperwork to make sure everything was covered by health care. People called. People wrote. People visited me. Gifts were sent.
Everyone helped me. There's a lot of people I still need to thank in person. There are people to which I will forever be grateful. Words will never be enough.
With all the changes in this industry and all the desperation at the Daily News, I started thinking about my friends at the Daily Star.
Thank you. Sincerely.
Thanks for helping me. And thank you, years later, for being an example of a newsroom that helps its own.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Back...sort of

My hands are filthy. They look old...dry, worn, cracked, old. Im tired. I'm having some strawberry thingy at a starsmucks. My bike broke down and im waiting for a ride. Ive put this off for awhile now...i figured this time is as good as any. My hands hurts though. More and more i see my hands taking shape of the grips off my bike...curled, doted with spots of dryed on grease and dead bugs. My hands are really filthy. Back in mid November, my Grandfather died. It was called complications of cancer. I dont know what that means. The night he died, his potassium dropped and he crashed. I knew right away cause i heard the phone ring...followed by screams and tears.

I dont talk about it much. I dont know why. I figured, thats the way he would have wanted it. Don't worry about...would something he'd say. I try not to. Following David's death, I spoke at this funeral. I didnt hold back...I said God Damn in church. Thats how david was...God Damn this and God damn that. Made me smile when i told a story how he used that little phrase for just about everything. Thats who he was. As happy as i was to see my grandpa pass on...let me back up a bit and clarify. When he went into the hospital, I sort of knew he wasnt coming back home. And he didint. He spent the last few weeks of his life in a hospital and a convalescent home. He kept asking when am i coming home. I knew, well, i figured, he just wanted to come home and die. I was happy because he didnt have to deal with all the god damn things anymore. He was at peace...

I wish i can say all is well. But with a death of a family figure head often leads to the down fall of ones family. Mine is no different. Slowly it seems, the fam has said f it all. And im in a agreement. Death often brings out the worse in folks, allowing them to say and do things that they normally wouldnt fathom. I stopped paying attention. Since my grandfather's death, ive done whatever normal person does...dives into work. Since November ive been working none stop. Ive volunteered for every project that has come up...sending me to the more seedier sides of LA County, Las Vegas, the IE, and i think SF...soon. Working damn near 12 plus hours a day...with zero end in stop. Life has been one thing after another...Since ive started writing this, (see first sentence), worked till 9 or so, grew more grey hair, sat in a at least 15 meetings, nodded off a few times, and asked some guy if he was a federalie...He have me an odd look.

In the end of it all...ive seem to have found Lety. My friend Josh Levy said, "you look happy." Brook and Omar say, I glow. I do. She makes me happy...and ive fallen in love. I dont want to sound like...all buttercups and hearts and shit. I'll end this here...

More to come...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Remembering Consuelo

Since I left Tucson, I have been meaning to gather some of the stories and memories of Consuelo committed to ink and computer code.

Here's a special one from Roberto Rodriguez.

Something from Neto Portillo, Jr., a friend and fellow reporter from the Arizona Daily Star.

And lastly this one by Olga Briseno, who remembers Consuelo alongside Cesar Chavez and Lorraine Lee.

I have to be honest. It still shakes me to come across virtual altars or memorials to her in social networking sites like myspace and facebook.

We all carry her forward in our own way.

Monday, March 2, 2009

El Brujo de Lujo

Francisco "on stage" at the Brujo's home. The woman to his right is trained opera singer and the dude with the guitar played a handful of huapangos (argueably). That's Rafa on bass guitar.

brujo [broo'-ho], m. Sorcerer, conjurer, wizard, warlock, a male witch, (LAm.) Medicine mn.

lujo [loo'-ho] m. Profuseness, extravagance or excess in pomp, dresses, far, etc.: superfluity. luxury, finery. Vivir en el lujo, to live in luxury.
from Velazquez Spanish and English Dictionary
"Disculpame, pero, como aprender a ser un brujo," I asked the man sitting to my right.
He just looked me in the eyes, stood up and walked away.
In my broken Spanish I asked the brujo de lujo how he became a witch doctor.
I guess the answer wasn't mine to know -- maybe not yet -- but I asked.
We met on my second day in Mexico City in the afternoon following my morning visit to El Tepeyac.
Just the day before, Francisco, Nacho and Rafa were telling me about the Brujo. Francisco wanted the guy to see me.
"He's also a cancer survivor, so he understands," Francisco added during our meal at Don Chon's.
So an appointment was made.
We took the metro and then walked into what seemed like an upper class neighborhood. It was a gated-community. Amid clusters of apartment buildings that could have been in any city, we entered the lobby of his practice.
There were about 50 people sitting in a waiting room that was more comfortable than any waiting room created by Kaiser Permanente. Most people were watching television on one of the multiple plasma screens. A friendly woman took us back into a small, private waiting room.
Nacho joked saying it was for "veeps."
It was a smaller lounge. About five people -- what looked like immediate relatives -- were already waiting there. There were couches and magazines. Art of western scenes and photographs of indigenous ceremonies hung from the wall. It was very comfortable. In fact, from the waiting room, we had access to a small outside patio, or garden, where one could retreat for a smoke.
While we waited, I grabbed a brochure and looked closely. In Spanish the text offered answers to frequent questions from customers.
It said the brujo only worked three days a week because the work was tiring. It also explained that people with grave illness or visitors from the country-side, or in my case, outside of the country, were given preference to other visitors that day, even if there is an appointment.
When my name was called, I entered a small office -- no more than 56 square feet. Inside was just a desk and three seats.
I met a man wearing grey silk slacks, a sweater and a collared shirt. His skin was cafe colored and his eyes were brown. His hair was cut short. In all honesty, he had the appearance of banker dressed in business casual attire.
For this occasion, Francisco served as my translator, though I understood some of the brujo's questions and was able to respond.
He already knew I was a cancer survivor. He asked what I did for a living?
"Soy un reportero, un periodista," I responded.
Then he shut off the lights and the office plunged into total darkness. To my left, a handheld light, like a maglight, went on, and suddenly was infront of my right eye.
El Brujo was examining my iris. Then he did the same with the other.
He offered an explanation as to why my cancer appeared. He warned if I didn't take care, it could return. Then he prescribed a diet and regimen of teas that I would have to take for two months. I am a cancer survivor, he told me, and I would need to take care of myself for the rest of my life.
The following evening, we went to a party at his home.
As we arrived, it seemed like the Brujo did well for himself. The garage was capable of housing five cars comfortably. His home had another garden patio, though much larger -- the size of a yard in a small southern californian suburban home.
The party was held in honor of Francisco. But it became clear pretty quickly that Francisco was a captive of his own party as he was expected to play and entertain.
As we ascended the stairs from the garage into a small room, we found four folding chairs up against a wall, each with a microphone and mic-boom stand in front of it. The mics were run into a p.a. system.
The p.a. didn't make any sense as the room was small -- no more than 200 square feet, including a small kitchen.
In front of the mics, with about three feet distance, were two video cameras. Another camera was set up in an adjacent hallway. Actually, it wasn't just a camera. It was a camera boom that extended about ten feet.
Francisco just sighed at the site. We had arrived late to this and there wasn't even any food available. I laughed in delight, saying I'd end up in the footnote of some award-winning documentary that draws hundreds of thousands to theaters across Western Europe. He just smiled.
About 45 minutes later, Francisco, Miguel and I sat down together to perform about four son jarocho songs -- El Pajaro Cu, El Jarabe Loco con decimas, La Indita and El Colas.
"So this is what it takes to play with you?" I joked. "Get out of the country."
Across from us -- the entertainment -- sat about six people in benches and chairs with soft cushions. El Brujo was one of them. He just sat and stared as we played.
While we played, the "stage" was "dressed." In the middle of our first song, some one placed a crystal vase of towering water lillies in front of us. Then speaker towers were placed to our right and left, to act as columns to support more vases of more flowers.
Two photographers snapped away while the video cameras ran.
I couldn't help from laughing at the obsurdity of the whole situation.
Some time after midnight, I found myself next to El Brujo. I told him he had a nice home and he said to me visitors weren't allowed in the library. Then I posed my question, hoping to learn about his training. He looked into my eyes, stood up and walked away.
Later I saw him speaking with Francisco.
As the party came to an end sometime after one a.m., we embraced goodbye. El Brujo looked at me and said in Spanish we would speak in two months.
The next day Francisco said he asked the Brujo about me.
"He said you were in much better health than he expected. He said what ever you're doing is great and to continue," Francisco recalled.

I have a cup of the Brujo's tea sitting next to my laptop right now.

El Brujo de Lujo, Federico Cruz

Report from Mexico, D.F.

Here I am, on the hill of El Tepeyac, about 18 months after completing chemotherapy. Last time I was here, I was just starting to sprout little hairs on my body again.

My trip to D.F. was specifically to hold up my end of the manda Francisco made while I was in chemotherapy.

This photo was taken by Francisco Gonzalez on Feb. 13. That morning we rose early -- around 7 a.m. -- and marched from Calle Nezahualcoyotl to the metro station in the distrito historico to a stop just outside the basilica. We walked the route that is in the middle of the boulevard, a green pedestrian walk-way created to accomodate those making mandas and pilgrimages to la Virgen.

When we arrived, there were less than 40 people inside the basilica. After praying in the pews, I went down below to the floor below the tilma which displays the image of La Virgen that appeared to Juan Diego hundreds of years ago. To prevent lines backing up into the church auditorium, a moving floor -- like those moving walk-ways in airports -- is in place in front of the tilma.

After about 20 minutes riding back and forth on the moving floor to get a close look at La Tilma, we left. At the basilica gift shop, I paid for two masses: one to be said in the name of my father and another in Consuelo's name.

Then Francisco and I ascended the hill of Tepeyac. On our descent, we prayed at the Antigua Parroquia de Indios, the old chapel on the property. There, we prayed a full rosary to La Virgen.
That afternoon, I visited a brujo.

La Virgencita en la Tilma.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Services Monday and Tuesday

Services for Consuelo Aguilar will be held in Tucson this Monday night and Tuesday morning.
All I can recall is that Tuesday's service is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the cathedral -- St. Augustine's.
more to follow.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Your Thoughts and Prayers for Consuelo and the Aguilar Family

Consuelo passed away today.

Nate took this photo at Latino Fest in Whittier. She was in radiation treatment at the time.

Monday, February 16, 2009

headed back to Tucson

I was in Mexico City for about six hours by the time Francisco and I arrived to Chon's, a restaurant famous for its pre-columbian food located in the centro historico. The meal was a celebration of my birthday and my arrival, which was to pay thanks to La Virgen for her support during chemotherapy.

I'm not sure how it came up, but at some point Francisco told me that Consuelo is in a coma. I was shocked.

Suddenly I understood why I hadn't from heard from her. I'd sent text messages and called her throughout January and early February but I haven't heard from Consuelo since the holidays -- I think New Years Day, to be precise.

Last week, when Nate and I were having dinner, I asked if he had heard from her. It was the same with him.

When Francisco told me, I fought the urge to cry at the table. He knew how I'd take it and didn't want to be the one to break the news.

The next morning we rose around 7 a.m. and made our way to the basilica to make good on our manda, thank la Virgen and offer up new prayers.

When I returned to the United States on Sunday night, Nate picked me up at LAX. I told him what I'd learned almost immediately. He placed a call to Tucson and was told what I had learned a few nights earlier.

So we're headed to Tucson this weekend to see Consuelo.

In the meantime, a mass at the basilica in Mexico City will be said in her name. And from my trip to thank La Virgen, I brought back something for Consuelo's recovery.

Hopefully next year Consuelo and I will head to Mexico City to thank La Virgen for the recovery of another cancer survivor.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Stopped Reading "It's Not About the Bike"

I put down Armstrong's book late last week.

At the moment, I couldn't explain myself, but the reading was very unsettling.

I quit about 100 pages in, not long after the beginning of chapter five "Conversations with Cancer."

Armstrong and I went through the same treatment for testicular cancer: bleomycin, etoposide and cisplatin.

Here's how he (and his ghost writer) describe the drugs that comprised our treatment: "...they were so toxic that the nurses wore radioactive protection when handling them."

Reading that line triggered memories of plastics gloves over soft white flesh as I received slow, ten-minute injections of bleo, memories of the chemical cocktail arriving every session via a large, clear plastic bag. I recall how, to ensure I was receiving the right meds on the right day, nurses would ask my name, type of cancer and date of birth before each round. Nurses new to me were always a little startled at my age.

The nurses kept strict notes. Down to the minute the injections began.

I never asked about the toxicity of my meds, though one surgeon, hoping to convince me to go with a proposed invasive surgery, told me that the long-term side effects of chemotherapy is just now being discovered. Doctors say the darndest things...

It took me about six days to figure why Armstrong's book started to bother me. I realized it was a line I read on page 13.

This line: "...testicular cancer was a rare disease - only about 7,000 cases occur annually in the U.S."

Something about being part of such a small club bothered me, about being stricken with something rare. But I couldn't tell why, at least not for a few days. I always knew the numbers of those with the disease was small.

Then I started to unravel. I've recently acknowledged the severity of what I went through, in no small part through the pushing of my therapist.

The shock wasn't the number. I already knew that. It wasn't that I was part of small circle of people. I knew that too.

What was shocking, for the first time, is that the things that have become normal to me -- the memories, the scars, the mutilation, the tests, the questions, the fear with every pain near my genitalia, constant thoughts about cancer, cancer, cancer-- uh, it shocked me to realize that what has become normal to me isn't so for most other young men.

That my worry about setting up another blood test soon, because it felt like it had been too long, is a worry Matt and Armando don't have. That this wasn't just a rite of passage, like hazing in boy scouts or drinking in college.

That nearly two years later, none of this will go away. ever.

That in fact my experience and my thoughts are exclusive to a small group.

Reading, a year and a half later, that I am part of a minority of young men stricken with this didn't make any sense. It doesn't.

None what so ever.

It's not a poor me sentiment. Far from it.

Am I making sense?

The only way for me to move forward through this trauma is to rationalize it as "normal." As a survivor, I accepted the situation without questions and moved forward accepting what is, unwilling to look back on what was.

Now I am looking back and am frankly shocked at where I am.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

no more beef with Lance Armstrong

i have to admit it on this blog: throughout the course of my cancer-survivorship, I stayed away from all things Lance Armstrong.
I wasn't interested in hearing about a super-star athlete and his triumphant journey from the face of death back to his bicycle seat. I openly question the amount of money going to his foundation and count myself as part of the anti-pink people who wonder aloud about the money going to maintain cancer foundations versus actual research.
I could not relate to a man with the resources at Armstrong's disposal when I got sick. I still can't.
Sorry, I didn't meet anyway at the clinic that dated Sheryl Crow.
But my therapist, an avid cyclist, has referred to Armstrong's book, "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life," quite a few times since our sessions began.
So a few weeks ago, I found myself in the $1 bookstore in downtown Burbank.
I found Armstrong's book on the shelf. Last night, I finished the first section of Bolano's 2666.
This morning I decided to read Armstrong instead of move forward with Bolano. Out of curiosity, I suppose.
I found this passage on page 3:
"I've read that I flew up the hills and mountains of France. But you don't fly up a hill. You struggle slowly and painfully, and maybe, if you work very hard, you get to the top ahead of everybody else.
Cancer is like that, too."
Damn. Damn that's real.
Writing is like that. Playing an instrument is like that. And chemotherapy was very much like that.
I am always surprised by peoples reactions to my treatment and the attitude I took during those two and a half months of chemotherapy.
There was nothing heroic about my actions.
It was what you do to survive. Everyone in the clinic had the same attitude.
In fact, some more so than others.
I'll never forget that old guy with lung cancer. He didn't like to take his chemo. sitting down, so he'd hang his meds on a mobile I.V. stand and wheel around the clinic. A few times he checked on me.
That man is one of my heros. I can relate to him. Not Armstrong.
But that doesn't mean I can't learn from Armstrong's book.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


It came out of my mouth.
I was talking about other survivors.
but I used the word victim.
All at once I was surprised, embarrassed, angry and disappointed.
It came about during my third visit with my therapist (a discussion for another blog entry).
In someways, it didn't come as a surprise. Whenever i feel a pain in my genital area, I sense fear. I am afraid it will be cancer. For a long time, i was afraid to touch my testicle. Afraid i would find something. Doctors warn of the two percent chance that my testicle will develop cancer.
Then there are the warnings of health complications from chemo as i get older. The likelihood that my asthma will get worse because of the bleo. the unknown side effects that accompany the growing legion of young folks who fight cancer.
Then there is the sense of waiting for the five year mark to celebrate passage out of treatment.
And the question of whether or not I will be able to have kids. The question of how the chemicals affected my fertility.
All of this hangs over my head, weighing me down; unconsciously causing me to question if I am healthy.
Silently thinking of myself as damaged goods. and never sharing it with anyone.
During treatment, I never, ever allowed myself to think this way; to worry. I couldn't. I was operating on a survival instinct. Day to day, appointment to appointment. With a clear goal = finishing treatment with my health.
But since then i've experienced these thoughts I once forbid.
It is good to discover this. to get it out. now I must address it.
My therapist said i should learn the difference between victim and survivor.