This I Believe

Larry - Houston, Texas
Entered on April 19, 2006

Becoming “One of those people”

When I was a small child, every Saturday morning, my parents would take me and my other siblings shopping with them at a strip mall about five miles from where we lived in Houston’s Northside neighborhood. Every Saturday in front of a Woolworth’s store, there was a blind man playing hymns on an accordion. He had a monkey with a small cup who collected tips for him. I was both fascinated and sadden by this man, his accordion music, and his monkey. Like any curious kid, I would stare at his blank eyes and become overcome by this strange feeling of melancholy. The hymns he played, though familiar to me, seemed sad and ominous. I wondered what life was like for him being that he couldn’t see. Who took care of him? To me, he was “one of those people” you just stared at and felt pity and sadness for them.

Fast-forward about thirty years. I am a forty-three yr-old man with a successful business career and a happy home life. By then, I too, had learned how to play the accordion. It is a somewhat difficult instrument to play. The instrument itself is heavy. There are chord buttons to push and a keyboard to play (at the same time) while maintaining a smooth, steady flow of air from the wind chest. You can’t actually see the chord buttons while you are playing them. You have to learn to “feel” where they are located. You are, in a sense, playing blindly.

Soon after having two major colon surgeries in 1996 and 1997, I began to have nose bleeds. Every doctor I went to see practically said the same thing: “You have weak blood vessels in your nose caused from them not healing correctly after your previous surgeries”. Soon the nose bleeds became a daily occurrence, so one of the doctors sent me to an imaging company for a cat scan. My main doctor told me that I had a very rare cancer called Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma (ACC). He immediately referred me to a Head and Neck surgeon at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Clinic. The surgeon, who was famous nationally, told me that I had an incurable cancer and that I would have to have my nose removed. I felt hopeless and devastated.

On May 10, 1999 I had the surgery to remove my nose and I became “one of those people”. I had to wear a gauze bandage for six months over the spot where my nose used to be. I finally had a prosthesis made. People would often stare at me and asked what happened to my nose. I just told them the truth. It wasn’t an easy thing to do at first. I have had three other occurrences of ACC since my initial surgery. Like the blind accordion player, I learned that life goes on and you just have to “go with the flow” in order to survive. I now tell people that having a disfiguring facial surgery has taught me to deal with life’s difficulties by just keeping on striving to live a normal life. I am still working and I am an organist at a small country church in the Hill Country. When people tell me that they probably couldn’t deal with a cancer like I have, I tell them that they under-estimate the power of the human spirit to live. My mission in this life then is to give them hope, encouragement, and direction should they ever become like me, “one of those people”. This I believe.