Monday, October 11, 2010

I Am Not Michael Douglas

I wrote the following as an op-ed piece, but faced with the reality that I’ll be unable to write anything else for awhile, I’ve decided to post it here.

I’m not on the cover of “People.” You won’t see me on “The Letterman Show.” No one will create a “We all want you to make it, and beat the dam disease” fan page for me on “Facebook.” (Whew!)

I am not Michael Douglas, but I am faced with the same health threat, treatment and odds of success he is—I, and 25,000 new cases of head and neck cancer in The United States (as of 2009) and a growing number of people being treated for throat cancer.

Michael Douglas chose to go public, very public, with his disease. I have no issue with that. What he is doing is bold and informative. He will be the Rock Hudson of his day, doing for throat cancer awareness what Hudson did for AIDS and other high-profile people are doing to destigmatize breast cancer, testicular cancer, Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s. If it takes an actor to build public awareness, so be it. It might be the most genuinely productive thing to come out of Hollywood since “Birth of a Nation.”

I have wrestled for weeks with how to deal with this unexpected turning point of my life. By initial instinct, the last thing I wanted to do was to go public, and for me, publishing on this page is as public as it gets. Good news about me isn’t on anyone’s lips, blog or newsstand—I don’t have a film, play, book or really anything new to herald or promote—but any routinely random greeting these days uncomfortably reminds me how fast bad news travels, and I worry about mine catching up with me.

Everyday questions take on new meaning. “How are you?” and “How are you feeling?” have me puzzling for an answer, wondering: Does he know? Does she really want to know? Should I tell a friend what my doorman already knows? The auto-bounce-back, “Fine,” is not a viable answer.

What came to my lips at first was, “I’ve been better,” deluding myself I could ease past the moment and on to something else—the ever-handy weather, last night’s Yankee game, you!... let’s talk about you! Contrary to being a game-changer or a stopper, I learned “I’ve been better” opened more doors than it closed. Someone would let me off the hook only to wait until I was out of earshot to ask my wife or daughters what was up.

Several days ago, my reply became, “I’m all right, thank you,” followed by my walking away feeling false and awful, all the while concerned that my unsteadiness (self-perceived) would give me away and I would stumble over my own falsehood. The deceit wears on me. Doctors, advice-givers and well-wishers keep telling me how important it is for me to relax, to avoid stress, to live in the moment. But until this cathartic account, I’ve been finding the pressure of whom to tell, and when to tell if I tell, mounting and onerous. No doctor, advice-giver or well-wisher thus far has been able to tell me how “this” is done.

I haven’t made it easier on myself by demanding it be done tastefully, tactfully and (most improbably of all) sotto voce. I tell one friend not to tell anybody for now, another to let so-and-so know, please, still another that I trust his good judgment. At the end of the day, I don’t remember who knows what, and don’t care.

If Michael Douglas is a public role model, it’s fair for me to ask how he is playing this role I’m still grappling with. Is the hero of this story outwardly plucky-but-humbled, while inwardly as frightened as anyone with cancer? Did he, too, have to tell a grandchild what Poppy has is not catching? Does he have to convince more than those who know and truly love him, “I’m going to beat this!”?

Those who learn about my condition say much the same thing to me Letterman said to Douglas—“But you look great, and you don’t sound like you have throat cancer.” Only one of us could answer, “Because I am on stage,” and follow it by flashing that unmistakable Douglas father/son smile. I would have to say: Dave, I didn’t live like Michael Douglas, I didn’t smoke (for four decades), ever drink to excess, or take drugs. I would lean closer to Dave and softly add: And I didn’t have all his women.

How am I? When I was a child, I read an old saying that put life in lifelong perspective for me, its words so profound they made it impossible for me ever to feel sorry for myself: I cried because I had no shoes; then I saw a man who had no feet. Michael Douglas, 25,000 other throat cancer patients and I can beat this! Those who put a face on conditions like these make it easier for me and others to talk about it.


  1. Very inspirational. ~ a friend of Lauren

  2. “In time of sickness the soul collects itself anew” - Latin Proverb.

    I'm pulling for you.

  3. I am holding you in my prayers and thoughts. Much love and light to you...

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. You are Ray Errol Fox, a special person, that has touched my life; and' I am proud to call you,"friend".

    You will beat this monster.

    You must know that you are not alone.

    Thoughts and Prayers from all of those that you have inspired with your kindness, friendship, and soulful writings, will surround you and your family as you fight this monster.

    May G'd Bless You and Keep you
    May G'd be Gracious unto you
    May G'd Grant you his most precious gift, Peace

    May it be His Will to Grant you this Threefold Blessing.

    Here is a true and powerful story about "Beating a Monster".

    About 14 months ago, my best friend from Ohio, Mike was told that he "had" the most severest case of T1 Lymphasetic Leukemia and was told by his doctor that he wouldn't live very long. Mike had been very healthy and active. Mike had a rash and wasn't feeling well when he went that day to see the doctor that told him that he may not live for very long.
    His wife, Pam, that I introduced him to about 30 years ago, and Mike looked at each and just cried.
    Mike was determined to beat it and do whatever it took to fight it.
    There was no candidate that would be found for him as a match for bone marrow. My wife and I are both on the list.
    The Cleveland Clinic would not consider any other alternative.
    However, University Hospital, across the street from the Cleveland Clinic told Mike and his wife, Pam, about Chord Blood Transfer.
    Dr. Lazarus oversaw the entire treatment. On the day that Mike was to receive the Chord Blood from two different children, two rainbows appeared that extended from his hospital bed to the room that his wife, Pam, and her mom, Golda, were staying
    nearby. Pam showed me the pictures when we met her and Mike last week in Mansfield, Ohio.
    There were some set backs after the transfer that occurred a year ago the 21st of October.
    Mike is in remission and is cancer free as I write this to you.
    Our dearest friend, Ed, that we met when we moved to Murrieta, Ca. was diagnosed with a rare cancer as well a few years ago and is now cancer free.

    What did the two men that never met have in common?

    The love and support of their family and friends, their will to live, their strength to do whatever was needed to beat this monster, their faith in G'd, a doctor that was determined to fight for them, and a positive outlook on life to understand to accept that this monster was not their fault or the fault of others. They took life one day at a time.
    Each day of living was a miracle in itself.

    On the day that Mike and Pam left the hospital, they were met by a man in the elevator. He was mumbling words, bending like a twig, never directly looking at Mike or Pam. As the elevator doors opened, the man said to them both that he was a Rabbi and said to Mike as he stared directly into his eyes-"Be Well".
    There was moment in both the non-Jewish friends of mine, Mike and Pam, that they will remember for the rest of their lives, they were not alone, G'd was watching over them.

    Ray, you are not alone, my friend, G'd will be watching over you and your loved ones as you fight and win over this monster.

    With Loving Friendship,
    Barry and Carol

  6. Kate McGregor-StewartOctober 12, 2010 at 2:47 AM

    Dear Ray,
    What a truly wonderful blog. So authentic and articulate and poignant. Like you, I wonder what to say that won't cause more distress (if I say you will "beat this", for example, might you feel that I am betting on you to win and now you are burdened to fulfill MY expectation?). And like you, I am deciding to just speak the simple truth: I love you; I will vigilantly visualize you in perfect health, in order to crowd out and destroy any fear-based thoughts of you in decline; and I will tell you that Chloe's boyfriend's mother just beat this last year. Keep blogging and try to remember that many forces and souls are rooting, protecting and praying for you. xoxoxo Kate McGregor-Stewart

  7. This post is living, breathing. To read it is to look into such a sensitive part of your life.

    I... I don't know what to say.


    There, I said it.

    Get well Ray.

  8. Not "you can beat this"

    You WILL beat this.

  9. Oh Ray. I'm sorry you've been bearing multiple burdens with this. I'll promise you the only thing I can- that one burden you do not have to bear is that of lonliness. You are well loved, not least of all by me. You will not want for support when you need it, and hopefully it will not manifest itself as an intrusion.
    We love you, and I know you're not one to take crap lying down.

  10. You have fought many battles in your life. Slay this monster!

  11. Ray,
    I am guessing that you will be blogging the more poignant and ironic parts of this twist in the road in no time. Lots of material there.
    All the best,
    Jeff Degan

  12. My dear Ray -- I am so sorry you are being tested in this way -- how I wish it weren't so. I cannot think of a better crew than the one you have in your three girls. As for me, I have found that Catholic prayers work just fine for the Jews, and so, you have mine, deeply, and with long time love. JANE

  13. <3 hurry up and beat this, so I can make you some more organic tea :) <3
    - dottie

  14. I do not send prayers. I do not believe in prayers. I do, however, subscribe to the two "h"s: Hope and humor. And you have an abundance of both. And surround yourself with those who do.
    You ARE on the cover of "People." You ARE the lead story in the Sunday Magazine section. In our hearts. And that's all that really matters.

  15. You're in my thoughts. Love and light to you.


  16. what a moving piece, thank you. prayes for your recovery. YOU CAN DO IT!!! -- a friend of Lauren's.

  17. My mother has Cancer, too. Stay strong and positive and let your family help you. I will be thinking of you and wishing you all the best.
    Julie Stevens

  18. Dear Ray

    Without Fear there would be no Courage!!!

    Half of the fight is the Mind healing the body... BELIEVE you can do it
    Eliminate all lots of Buckwheat

    Let's have lunch when you feel up to it
    You are in my thoughts and prayers

  19. Dearest Ray,

    I was one of those who asked Jean, when you were less than forthcoming, and have been thinking of you and sending unsolicited advice, and healing energy, and love, since.

    I'll continue to do so, minus the advice, and can only agree with Jane about the three graces in your life.

    Much love, Enid


  21. You do not have to tell anyone. Live in the world you create with your loved ones and let them communicate to the world for you. Find beauty in the smallest things and put everything (and everyone) else out of your mind. Breathe. Take in only what you want. And most importantly, know you are loved......lisa st john

  22. Good post, Ray. It says it and covers it and leaves us -- but mostly you, of course -- to deal with it. We're all behind you, though a certain few, fortunately, are beside you.

  23. James Patrick UpdikeOctober 18, 2010 at 3:03 PM

    Dear Ray,

    I read this days ago and have not known how to respond. A lot of people offer prayers, but being an Atheist that would be disingenuous. Of course I wish the best and hope for a full and speedy recovery. I do hope your faith offers you comfort and solace. I am curious as to why you won't be blogging for awhile, but I'm sure it is a personal decision that you have decided is the best one for you. I would call, but don't want to pester you, but feel free to call me anytime. I look forward to hearing from you and reading your posts again whenever you feel it is right for you.

    P.S. I wasn't sure if I should stop writing to avoid being morbid and upsetting, but I decided to say what is in my heart. In reference to your quote, "I write to live longer than I can live life", Feel comfort in knowing you have accomplished that. I feel those same sentiments very deeply and struggle with the thought that I have not yet left an indelible impression that will live on past my days. I hope everything works out for the best and that you will be with us for a long time to come, but no matter what you have achieved the kind of immortality that comes from having produced words that will continue to touch people after you are gone . . . Many an artist's main, true goal.

    Best wishes. James

  24. My best advice is to give this Dybbuk no quarter. Continue writing. Write about the possession of this Dybbuk and write about your brave struggle to dispose of it. It will strengthen your resolve, your character and your spirit! A spirit is a spirit and by fearing a negative force we all give it power. Be strong, do not fear this spirit after all it was once were here on earth as well.
    Get all your friends together ( I will be glad to play the mythical "tenth man") for a "Dybbuk tzeh tzeh" (out dybbuk out) party. Mocking the evil spirit is a sure way to deny it continued life.
    With best hopes for a speedy exorcism. Steve Eskow

  25. I'm pulling for you, Ray! I haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting you face to face, but you've been nothing but a friend to me. All the best through these rough times and the good times that lie ahead...

  26. Ray,

    You are the best. I ran into Lauren the other night at the Algonquin, a place you first took me to see Andrea some 15+ years ago.

    Thinking of you and Jean!

    Jonathan Cohen

  27. Sending you love and healing energy, Ray. Thank you for sharing this with us. You are so beautifully articulate and gracious. It's a blessing to know you. Hugs, Mrs. Jolson