This is the story of Francisco, “Frandu”, as told by Dana Sitar.
I was out of my house, lost my family and my wife of twenty years. And the doctor had just informed me that I have about six years left to live. That was one year ago.
About four years ago, I went to my doctor to tell him that I thought I had cancer. I was exhausted all the time, had no energy, I was irritable, depressed. I was working a job that shouldn’t have exhausted me every day, yet I was coming home exhausted. I didn’t want to discuss bills with my wife, or spend time with my kids. I didn’t want to be bothered by anything. It just became annoying. And I thought it was cancer. The doctor didn’t believe me. But he took some tests anyway, just to appease me, and found nothing.
A year later, my company, which does health surveys around the country, was asking for volunteers to test a pilot program, and I volunteered. They checked my blood for prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a common test to detect prostate cancer, and my PSA was high, so I went back to the doctor — a new doctor. I told him my PSA was high, and he gave me other examinations, and it all turned out positive. I definitely had cancer, but they said it was contained in my prostate.
I had an operation to remove my prostate. But my cancer is healthy. It likes me! It was spreading, even though the prostate was removed. And they gave me female hormones, because cancer thrives on testosterone. I gained weight and started to get hot flashes from the estrogen. I still get hot flashes.
I told the doctor, “If you’re going to make me into a woman, make me a young woman! No one wants an old hag!” Except maybe the old men, but I’m an old man, and I don’t want someone like me!
After I had my prostate removed, it was about a year before I began radiation. It should have been sooner, but my doctors seemed to think it was okay to wait.
I went to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion, and was told, “You have the radiation RIGHT NOW.” It should have been 3-4 months after the operation. My other doctors knew that, but they didn’t do anything. Maybe it was a misunderstanding, miscommunication, whatever; but I got the radiation very late.
The worst news that I got was that I was going to die within six years. The doctor told me that, and I began to think things like, “What am I going to do with it?”
By that time, my wife was filing divorce papers. Around the first time that I went to the doctor, before I was diagnosed, we were having problems. She said we had to go to marriage counseling, or we had to split up. But by this time, two years later, she was ready to leave. So she filed for divorce, and I lost my house and was only seeing my kids on the weekends. I was feeling really lousy, and I was running out of money — living in an apartment alone, still paying the mortgage and child support.
After the doctor gave me that news, I went across the street to a bar, and I asked the lady for a strong drink. She made me an Irish Car Bomb — I’d never had that before. I drank that, and then another. It was good!
I have always been a social creature — we all are; we need a confidant — and I always wanted to meet new people and connect with people. It made me feel good to be around people and get to know them. But I had put walls up my whole life. I took a path that closed me off from that, and I made excuses: I had a wife, a family, a job. So I didn’t go out and connect with people as much as I wanted to. I always wrote poetry, and I would go out once in a while and recite, but not like I knew deep down I wanted to.
So, when I was living alone, I finally had this freedom to go out and do that. One day on my way home to my apartment, I stopped at a neighborhood bar. I just needed to be with people, to talk to people. And it was great; I had fun. When the bar closed, I went out back where people were gathered and smoking, and I went up to a little group, and I was my jovial self. I started cracking jokes and telling stories.
While I was talking to that group, I overheard a guy in another circle say about me, “I don’t know; he’s just some little guy who just came in. Everybody likes him; he’s pretty cool.”
That felt so good. I had this camaraderie I had sought, and the freedom I needed to be myself. When I heard the guy say that, I just turned around, and I slammed a poem for them. Right there, on the spot, I wrote a poem to share this feeling, these emotions, with them. I let them know how wonderful they had been and what a great connection we had. Thanked them, showed how much I appreciated them.
And then I said, “If you want to see me again, there’s an open mic at the Comedy Club. I can go sign up next week, and I’ll talk to you again!”
I had never gone to the open mic, but I wanted to try it, and I told them, “You guys come watch me. I’ll get on stage, and I’ll say ‘Boo!’, and you say back ‘Boo hoo!’, and that’s how I’ll know you’re there. And I’ll know I have to be VERY good!”
So I went to the Comedy Club the first time that next week, and it was the best thing that ever happened! There were so many people signing up that I didn’t think I would get to go on, but I did, and it was great! I didn’t say Boo! because I forgot, but that was for the best. I found out when I talked to these guys later that they didn’t come, anyway. No one thought I would really do it. But I had that motivation to get up, because I told them I would.
This comedy thing has given me LIFE, really. It’s uplifting, it’s creative, it’s motivational. It’s a form of expression. It forms a community. That first time I went up and got laughs was so great. But more than that, they liked me. Not just what I did on stage, but ME. They wanted to know me, and let me into the community.
The thing is, you have a desire to do something, an emotion, an inclination, and you have to go for it. When you’re a kid, that’s what you do. But then you go to school, you graduate, you have a career, and you put up these walls. In the back of your mind is always the reminder that you didn’t do want you really wanted to do. And you make excuses. I made excuses for myself my whole life: “I have a wife, a family,” etc.
So you have this thing you really love, and you do it when you can. You steal time to do it. I would work all day starting at eight a.m., then go out of town at night sometimes to recite poetry at a mic. I would escape my wife and kids. And if that’s satisfying, okay. You can live. You can work for money, and you can do what you love when you can.
But it’s so easy to fall in love with that life, to become infatuated with materialistic things and the lifestyle you’re living. What keeps you from doing what you love, really, is fear. You’re afraid to try something new, to lose these things. You get hooked into that life, and you never leave it.
I realized you have to have fun with life. Have fun with life! Enjoy what you do. And if you’re not enjoying what you do, then… say hello to a stranger, because that will bring something new to you. Do something good. If someone hates you, or you hate them, think good things about them. Think about what they do that’s good — maybe that’s why you hate them! Maybe you can’t do what they do, and you want to.
Maybe I am driven now by this idea that I was told I will die in six years. Maybe the freedom from the divorce? But, probably neither. I think I was going to find this freedom in my life anyway, and those things are just part of it at this time. I’m an old man — relatively speaking. Of course, relatively speaking, I’m a young guy! Ask me that when I’m eighty.