Wednesday, April 15, 2009

For Jackie

This is a day that changed the lives of many.

Yes, it's tax day. But more importantly to me, it's the day Jackie Robinson changed society. Today in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first man of color to play baseball in the Major Leagues. And while he was a great athlete, the way he handled himself and what he stood for was even greater. He was soft spoken, yet powerful. He actually did more during and after his playing career ended in 1956.

He was Director of Community Activities for WNBC and WNBT. He starred in a movie about his life in 1950. And after his playing days with the Dodgers, he became the first African-American executive of a major corporation, Chock Full O' Nuts. He served on the Board of Directors of the NAACP. He built houses for low income families through the Jackie Robinson Construction Company. So what is this, a history lesson? A biography report? What does Jackie Robinson have to do with cancer?

Have you ever been the object of different treatment? Been the only one of your race (or gender) at a party, concert or in a classroom? It's a strange and uneasy feeling. I would get those feelings after I was diagnosed with cancer. People didn't know what to say to me. Some people didn't talk to me anymore. Others would tell me about their friend or relative who had cancer and tell me they know how I feel. Really?

I will never know what it is to be a black man. I will never know what it's like to be a woman. I do know that everything I thought I knew about cancer before I had it, was totally wrong. You cannot truly understand what having cancer is like unless you've survived it or are living with it now. In many ways, it's indescribable. You're body goes through so many changes. The chemo––Erbitux, in my case––gave me blisters all over my face and scrambled my brain. The radiation burned my skin and zapped my energy. My emotions came to the surface. My emotions were buried. My soul ached. Does this even compare to Jackie went through? Does this compare to what people who are different from others have to go through every day? Probably not. But if Jackie Robinson, a player from my favorite team––the Dodgers––could face a lifetime of hate, ignorance and prejudice with class, grace and dignity then I could endure the pain of cancer for however long it will be. A baseball player having that kind of effect on me?

No. A man like Jackie can. And does.

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