Cancer Will Never Make Me Famous

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This is a story about male breast cancer. But before I can tell it I have a confession to make.

I’ve always wanted to be famous.

When I was a twelve year old boy, I read my first book about the great escape artist and magician Harry Houdini.   Actually, his name was Eric Weiss but by changing his name, he added a little more drama to his life. And that was the point after all. He wanted to stand out. And so did I.

I made a decision after reading about him, that stage magic was to be my life-long vocation. And though I did what a lot of young performers do when just starting out, which is to “borrow” the style and manner of other entertainers they admire, inside I wanted to find my own, unique way of becoming the world’s next famous magician. All entertainers are selling themselves after all. We become a commodity and our job requires that we get noticed to get hired. Famous performers on the other hand, don’t have to work so hard.

I’ve always loved my job. Along the road I’ve visited many countries, invented a few stunning stage illusions, received an Emmy Award for a short-lived television show, made a decent living and had a ball doing it until finally slowing the schedule down dramatically in 2013 when I was old enough to draw some Social Security and catch my breath. And I was lucky to perform for a few famous people along the way too.

Elizabeth Taylor. Peter o’Toole. David Copperfield. Cary Grant.

But I was never famous.  

And then, just over a year ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. A wizard-of-a-surgeon in Honolulu made a magical appearance in my life, put me under her compassionate spell, and when I awakened my left breast had vanished. And hopefully my cancer as well.

The odds of contracting male breast cancer are 1000 to 1. In the first days of my recovery, someone said to me, “Breast cancer in men is exceedingly rare. You’re famous! “  

“Wait a minute”, I thought, “This is definitely NOT what I had in mind!”

The irony of that moment for me was as stirring as any performance I could ever hope to deliver and it revealed the important need to bring this disease of mine out into the open. I understood at once that men needed to know more about this, and women too of course.

The scarcity of male breast cancer has made it nearly invisible. And the unwanted but unique nature of my diagnosis made it mandatory that I speak up.

Invisibility is a great thing in a magic act, but very bad for the unsuspecting men who have the chance, however slight it may be, to have cancer of the breast. The truth is, according to some recent research, most men still don’t know that it’s even possible for them to have cancer in their breasts. And because of this it often goes undetected, and consequently the mortality rates are significantly higher due to the late stage in which it’s discovered.

So, after all these years, I’ve given up on being famous, and it feels alright.   When you look at the statistical studies, the chance of being a recognized movie star is 1 in 1,505,000. Your chance to win an Olympic medal is 662,000 to 1. Your chance to become President is 10,000,000 to 1.

And so it’s clear that these 1000 to 1 breast cancer odds of mine aren’t so very important after all. As someone pointed out to me recently, when you are that guy with breast cancer the odds suddenly jump to 1 in 1.  So, forget fame.   After all, what’s in a name?   Or a number?

Instead of signing autographs, I’ll just continue working at being a respectable magician, but much more importantly, my aim now is to get really good at helping myself and others in the fine art of surviving cancer.



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