Monday, September 06, 2004

Cancer: Compelling and Personal

A long time ago in a city far, far away, I worked at an FM radio station now known as Mix96 (back in the good old days, stations simply used their call letters: CJFM.) I was associate producer of a now-defunct noontime news and public affairs program called Hour Montreal Magazine. It was some of the most challenging, rewarding work I've done in broadcast media. And I got to do it during and immediately following journalism school. It was the ultimate trial by fire, and it helped shape many of the edges that define my writing - and my life - to this day.

Along the way, I crossed paths with an eclectic mix of people. Some were broadcast professionals. Others were wannabes. Some were simply sad little people. I learned something from all of them, including one whose love and knowledge of international music convinced me there was room in radioland for more than the programmed-to-death sound that typifies so many stations today.

I didn't know Daniel Feist all that well - bumped into him in the hallway every week or so and chatted with him whenever I could. But he always impressed me as someone completely devoted to his craft. I was a young journalist in my first major media job, and he left an impression on me as one who wouldn't succumb to the cookie-cutter machine.

Fast forward to now and news from home was not good: he was diagnosed with cancer. He has decided to write about it for Montreal's daily paper, The Gazette. Click here for the unfolding series - as poignant a piece of first-person writing as you are ever likely to see. Thank you, Daniel, and rest assured my prayers are with you as you fight this fight.

In a similar vein, Jerry Gladman, who passed away this past June from ALS, wrote this award-winning series on his own battle with an unfathomable illness. I was honored enough to have my name appear on the same Canoe columnists home page as his. I'll be lucky if some of his wisdom rubs off on me.

Why do I care? Simple: everyone has been touched by cancer in some way. Our daughter is named for my wife's uncle, who suffered from brain cancer in the final years of his life. I just have to believe that good comes from tragedy. Sometimes, it comes in the form of great writing.

3 comments:

Jenny said...

An old boyfriend of mine is a photojournalist. He lost a brother to AIDS, after documenting his struggle and the brutal indignities of the disease. In the end, he felt it was too personal, too raw to share with the general public, but it was incredibly moving.

Anonymous said...

I love when people share stuff that's so personal, it's almost hard to look at, read, etc.
When we were in NYC a couple of years ago, we walked through a photography exhibit of the world trade center towers burning, people falling from windows, firefighters, etc. Only when we got to the end did we see the most powerful installation -- the photographer's camera, vest, glasses, film, shoes and more covered in soot and ashes, probably some of his own. His family thought it was important to share his images, especially since they were the last ones he ever took. It was overwhelming.

Tara

carmilevy said...

I was always taught to write what you know. And what - or who - do I know better than myself? It doesn't mean we should all spend our lives exclusively focusing on ourselves. But sometimes, turning the lens inward can result in some unbelievably poignant results.

It was my decision to write about a difficult time in my family's history that prompted my return to the writing fold and a complete directional change in my career. If I hadn't done that, I doubt I would have realized just how powerful the written word can be, and how good it feels to be the one making that impact on people.