In 1950, my first year of life, mom had TB. Ten years later she had breast cancer. Ten years later dad had cancer and died. I am no stranger to illness. I watched one of my children fight back from the brink of death. I’ve had cancer twice and bypass surgery and live in part on dozens of pills a day. I remember much of this in detail. And I remember my school friend recovering from back surgery.
Growing up in the 50s and 60s many of us fell ill at some time or another. There was measles, mumps, and scarlet fever. I had them all. We received the oral polio vaccine in school.
I had the mumps on one side and gave them to my father on both sides. I recall no understanding of the potential danger to an adult male. Just that I looked peculiar and he looked worse.
The scarlet fever was expensive. I got it in ninth grade. I missed two weeks of school and lost ten points on my algebra grade. It was one of my all time favorite school subjects and I still consciously use it today. Miss D was amazing; she could hit a misbehaver in the back row in the head with an eraser from the blackboard in the front of the room. I sat in the front row and loved the class and her so much I actually threw it back.
Pictured above is Doctors Hospital where I was born.
My friend who had back surgery, I don’t know for what, was confined at home. I remember two things about visiting, pushing her around a large west side apartment on a gurney is one. The other was when we arrived in the living room and found her mother sitting on the couch speaking with a friend. That friend had been Miss America and this lad understood why at first glance.* The West Side was an amazing place.
My mom survived radical surgery and continued to smoke until her nursing home confinement. She lived more than 30 years after her cancer. Dad was not so lucky. Diagnosed by the family’s Park Avenue physician with a sore throat and sent home in April 1970, he was re-diagnosed with cancer of the throat in July and died in August.
It was a horrid summer for all of us that year, particularly for him. There’s more to this story, of course. I’ll save it for another post.
* I don’t name names here but if you want to know who this was, please feel free to ask in a private message, not a comment.