Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wednesday, September 2: The power of pity....

Ever been given the pity look? It's one of the strangest things about having Cancer - tons of pity from just about everyone you meet who finds out about your disease. Looking back, I'm sure I did the same thing to folks who I met who told me they had Cancer. You try your best, but sometimes it's unavoidable.

I want to take this chance to give props to all of my co-workers at BurkettDesign, who have managed to hide any internal 'pity' they have - everyone at the office has been awesome, and is treating me just the same as before. That is, except everyone holds doors open for me when I travel across the hall or to the can. That's actually been a nice perk. Thanks guys - it means a lot to me to have one part of my life where I feel like things haven't changed.
But from time to time, pity look does have some advantages. Take getting a seat in a restaurant......

A couple of weeks back, our friend Craig came to visit from Ohio and we went down to Capitol Hill in Denver to Steubens, a pretty popular dinner place on 17th Avenue ( When I called ahead, there was a 1 hour wait to get a seat. We got there a few minutes later. Craig was going to put our name in to get a table, and I had a 'eureka' moment and waived him off, and went through the crowd in my dual-crutch baldheadedness to the hostess and put our name in for a table. Before you know it - BAM. We're sitting on the prime outdoor seating spot on the Avenue. Thank you sickly cancer look.

And I didn't even have to tell her I was sick - the crutches give me that extra unspoken 'edge'. Bald middle aged white guy, do the math. When I get done with this disease, ditch the crutches, and have hair again I'm gonna have to hire Mr. T to force the pity on others....I pity the fool who messes with B.A. Baracus under my employ.
Lately in my professional world I've been meeting some new clients and people who didn't know me with hair and sans crutches. It's pretty interesting to see how people react. Typically, if it's the first time I've met them and they ask what's up with my hip (they think I'm just a sexy-bald dude, and don't know me w/hair) I'll say that I've got a mountain biking injury - torn labrum. Since we're in Denver, that excuse is pretty much par for the course. There have got to be more back and sports med doctors here per capita than anywhere in the US. After a couple of meetings and there is a comfort level, I'll let them know the 'full' extent of my issues. They've all been pretty cool, as well.
But sometimes, if I'm in a non-professional situation or feeling a bit ornery I'll just tell someone who asks the 100% Gods-honest truth. It's interesting to see people's reactions if I get on an elevator and someone asks. Here's a typical situation I've experienced several times in the elevators downtown at the office or in the parking garage:
  • Elevator opens
  • The people inside move out of my way like Moses parting the Red Sea.
  • I smile, make eye contact (I most always do-if any of my new elevator mates are murderers they'll take pity on me).
  • Door closes, begin our ascent/descent.
  • Someone asks "oh, what's happened to your leg?".
  • "Cancer" I add.
  • Cricket-laden silence.
  • Nervous twitching by those who are thinking "sh*t, get me out of here"
  • "Uh....oh.....I'm so sorry." answers the nice lady (99% of the time the questioner is female)
  • "No worries, I'm making it my bitch." (OK, I say some other disarming quote, but I AM going to do it one of these days."
  • Chuckles. Visible expressions of relief by my new friends.
  • One of the guys will give me a pat on the back and say "keep it up" or "good job". Seriously, it's happened.

Don't get me wrong, I have no animosity towards anyone who asks, appears uncomfortable, gives me an expression of pity, or visually shows any other awkwardness. It's really OK - I'm cool with it. I'm sure I've had the same reaction towards someone with an obvious disease or condition in my life. We all fall short, you know.

The reality of having a potentially (but not in MY case) terminal illness really is a great way to not sweat the little stuff - and your tolerance for awkward behavior or being offended goes WAY up. I'm generally happy for human interaction, with little expectations.

What's the moral of this posting? If you, a friend, or a loved one gets Cancer or another serious/terminal illness just go ahead and treat them like a normal human- it means a LOT to them, trust me. I now have a window into the 'other side' of the world, and have a new found appreciation for those who aren't part of the 'normal' crowd.


  • Tomorrow is 'Make cancer my bitch Thursday' round #5. Should be done by 4 pm Mountain - send a good word to the man upstairs, or enlist your clubhouse to put in a good word on my behalf.

Carpe diem.



  1. Bill, I must say that I pittied your Mother In Law more when she was trying to "casually" tell me the name of this blog. LOL!! I have gotta say that I never ever thought I would hear Mrs. Fritz say "Cancer can suck it!".

    You have the best attitude in the WORLD and have a wonderful wife and family - you will get through this!!!

  2. Pity? I feel pity for the people you screw with. I didn't think it was possible for architects to take advantage of other people like that -- I thought that was something they only taught us in law school. Of course, you always have been an overachiever. Well, on the bright side, you're getting doors held open for you now -- I know how long you've longed to be treated like a lady (given your star turn in West Side Story and all). Now, how's that for pity? Now, go put on your slanket and dred locks and scare the neighbors.

    With loving sarcasm, your cousin.

  3. Bill,

    Larry Tureaud (Mr. T.) is a past client and friend of mine. He, too, is a cancer survivor. Oddly enough, he was just coming out of his recovery from T-cell lymphoma when I met him in 1998. He and I designed an oncology treatment center in the "skid row" area of Los Angeles to treat the poor who have cancer.

    When I got my first round of prostate cancer in 2004, I was alone working in California as Linda was back in Indiana taking care of her ailing mother. T came to my apartment in Ontario, CA. and sat with me after a radiation treatment. I was so shocked that a guy like him would even consider helping a guy like me.

    After that, we saw each other at least once a month through my treatment period. If you are looking for an inspirational story of cancer survival, his is an incredible one. I'll have to tell you sometime when we talk by phone.

    I did not have the crutches, but I did walk with a cane both times that I had cancer. The doctor tried to give me one of those four pronged grandma looking cane, but I went out and bought a flashy looking one and wore a fedora with it.

    People would look and stare at me similar to what you are experiencing. I would just tell them that, "I make cancer look good." It was an instant ice-breaker.

    Keep up the good fight!

  4. Nice work Baker! This post made me laugh out loud. Like, LOL for real. I miss you and Mander. Hope all is well.