Wow…it’s been a long time, lots of changes…as you can see from the above two shots, many extrinsic, but actually more emotionally, an iceberg of depression that plunged like a dagger deep into the pith of my soul.
The first picture I’m 172lbs, slightly pudgy (more so maybe), with the ridiculous iconic “Travis Bickle” haircut. This is a few days before I started treatment back in October, some four months ago. I didn’t know what hell awaited me behind those doors, but I was going to be ready for battle, just like the character in the blood-splattered finale of my favorite film.
The Second picture, I’m about 118lbs, was not allowed to shave…this was two weeks ago after being released from the hospital (after my third trip back inside) this time for acute GVHD (graft vs. host disease) a common side-effect for those with unrelated bone marrow transplants. I had lost more weight and this was really the hardest thing for me…to go back into the hospital after being out for a month. I’m proud to say that now I’m on day +93 and am doing much better, but it has been a long road, many compare it to Heart Break Hill in the Boston Marathon and I definitely crawled up on all fours and then rolled down.
I’ve pondered these pictures for so long and contemplated how different they are from each other, I’m not the same person anymore that’s for sure…the mohawk and sunglasses look so buffoonish, I started to wonder about Paul Schrader’s motivation for writing this in the TAXI DRIVER script. Then I remember an interview with him talking about WWII soldiers who would adapt this haircut before they were going into a battle…a battle where the odds were not going to be in their favor, a “suicide mission”. The custom actually went way back to the Native Americans and war raids. My mind continued to click (as the steroids I’m currently on really don’t allot for much sleep and leave me feeling like a meth addict part of the time, organizing sock drawers, talking way too fast, and thinking about epic topics for hours on end). This specific night it was an old family story about my Great Uncle Meb, a WWII POW in the Bataan Death March who probably looked much like I do now when he was finally released from Japanese captivity.
Here’s his courageous tale, one of enduring odds, a credo that no matter what is happening around you to keep moving forward, always MARCHING FORWARD…it was inspirational to me while I was in the hospital and although he hardly ever spoke of the war, last summer during a visit to his home town in Pennsylvania with my Grandmother and Great Uncle Leroy (the only two surviving members left of the original 10 sibling family), they recounted the one thing he told them about the BATAAN DEATH MARCH.
THE BATANN DEATH MARCH took place in 1942 in the Philippines after the three-month battle of Bataan when the Japanese overran the island. The march involved the forcible transfer of 75,000 American and Filipino POWs captured from the Bataan Peninsula. Since there was no space in the prison camps to accommodate this high number of prisoners, the Japanese marched the captured soldiers for nearly a week back and forth in the tropical heat with no food and or water. Beheadings, cut throats, and casual shootings were the more common and merciful actions – compared to bayonet stabbings, rapes, disembowelments, and numerous rifle butt beatings. Falling down on the trail was a death sentence and 1 in 4 did not make it, nearly 20,000 died in the 5-6 day trek. The story my Uncle Meb told is what I’ve titled this blog…
He remembers an American soldier a few paces in front of him and a whistle. The G.I. looked up into the jungle just off the marching trail and a Filipino bolted out and threw the soldier a cabbage…a kind free sole who had escaped capture and was trying to help the others. A Japanese soldier saw this all take place. He shot the Filipino in the Jungle who had thrown the nourishment, then shot the American who had caught the cabbage as well. I’m sure my Great Uncle saw worse than this…but he kept his strength, he kept MARCHING FORWARD, he survived.
This story was one of the straws that I’ve grasped at through my whole 4-month hospital stay, through the bouts of chemo, the radiation, through the hardest times. I realize it’s a gritty story, but sometimes it’s the grit that gets you through. They tell me next week on day +100 I will technically be called a “survivor” too…
Thanks everyone for reading, for the love and support, the prayers, comments, cards, and well wishes!
I love you all!