I have a friend—insomuch as a 70-year-old man might consider me a “friend.” We’ll call my friend Greg.
A few years back, when Greg was a spry, mid-60s shithead—and I say that with the utmost reverence—we’d do battle in Wednesday morning 1-on-1 hoops at the YMCA. That’s no hyperbole or purple prose. Greg would, very simply, beat the snot out of me. Despite my being three decades younger, five inches taller and a good 150 pounds heavier—or probably because of it—Greg made it his personal mission to fuck me up every week. He’d throw his entire being at me, repeatedly, foul me as a matter of course, talk smack endlessly and never let me get away with anything soft or easy.
I loved it.
I looked forward to seeing Greg every week, and I think he kinda felt the same about me. But at some point, work changed my schedule and I found a full-court morning game at a YMCA closer to home. I ran into Greg now and then at the other gym (where he put in part-time hours) when I would pop in for a workout. But my occasional rides across town became rarer over time, and I didn’t see Greg for a couple years.
Two months ago, he showed at my now-regular morning-hoops spot. I ducked in, still sleepy-eyed, and initially didn’t recognize him. When Greg strode over during a dead ball to stick his hand out and throw his other arm around me, he seemed much smaller than I remembered. Hunched. Sunken. I asked how he was doing.
“Well, I’ve got cancer.”
I stared at him blankly.
Greg casually threw me a few details, told me he was undergoing treatment. What makes cancer such a rotten bitch isn’t the disease, but the cure. Chemotherapy is, in the most naked sense, doctor-administered poison. Radiation? The semi-strategic detonation of tiny atom bombs inside the patient’s body. If, somehow, cancer doesn’t kill you, it only makes you weaker.
But Greg didn’t seem much interested in talking about cancer or treatment or, really, much of anything. He was busy.
“So,” I blurted, reaching for some inane nicety. “You’re out here playing?”
He clearly was.
“Hell, yes,” he said, throwing me a scowl. “They’re gonna have to fucking drag me off the court.”
They haven’t had to yet. I saw Greg again Monday. My usual game didn’t materialize, so I schlepped to the other Y to see what was what. About 15 guys, enough to rotate teams of five. Greg had next, so I greeted him, asked how he was and learned that he was expecting the results of his PT scan later that same the day. “Coming up on two years now,” he said. He seemed OK. But how can anyone—even a friend—really be sure?
The basketball was terrible, but I’ve never been so pleased to play in such an abysmal game. I wound up running with Greg’s crew, and although he needed a runway to get off his 3 and was occasionally knocked backwards when I shot him a pass, he cut hard and set screens and wouldn’t dream of letting anyone go soft or easy on him.
I loved it.
If anyone is going to fuck up cancer, it’s my friend Greg.