"Breathe in God, breathe out cancer," I prayed with as much conviction as I could muster.
Gary Stromberg co-founded GIBSON & STROMBERG, a large and influential music public relations firm of the sixties and seventies. The company represented such luminaries as The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Muhammad Ali, Barbra Streisand, Boyz II Men, Neil Diamond, Ray Charles, The Doors, Earth, Wind & Fire, Elton John, Three Dog Night and Crosby, Stills, & Nash. He also spent time in the film business co-producing movies such as Car Wash (Universal Studios) and The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh (Lorimar/United Artists). Stromberg has also written three books, The Harder They Fall (Hazelden - 2007) and Feeding the Fame (Hazelden - 2009) and a third book for McGraw-Hill Publishing, entitled Second Chances, which was published in 2011. He's currently working on a fourth book, She's Come Undone, for HCI Publishing, which will come out next spring.
The canals in Venice Beach shimmer at sundown. The low-hanging sun casts long shadows, which make the water appear colder than I suspect it is. The ducks that line the banks now seem to like this time of day, as they are more active than when the sun is high overhead. Maybe it's their last chance to scrounge the canal bottom, looking for duck delicacies before darkness sets in.
The gravel path near my house parallels the canals for quite a distance. I love taking walks at the end of the day, especially when the tide from the ocean a few blocks away is high, and the canals are full. This is my private sanctuary, the place I go to check in.
Breathing in the smells of sulfur and various types of algae that line the bottom, my breath settles into a natural rhythm. I think back to the days, not very long ago, when a walk like I'm taking this afternoon was a sizable effort. Having just come home from almost three months in the hospital, I was encouraged to start walking as soon as I could, to start building up my badly depleted body. Each inhale was a challenge. "Breathe in God, breathe out cancer." I would recite this to myself as I shuffled along the path in my fur lined moccasins, my feet too swollen to wear shoes. I would repeat it over and over again.
"Breathe in God, breathe out cancer," I prayed with as much conviction as I could muster. I so wanted to believe this was taking place in the shell that was once me. Day by day, I'd walk the canals, trying to go a bit farther each outing. "Breathe in God, breathe out cancer." This is going to work, I know it.
While hospitalized for my bone marrow transplant a few years ago I'd get messages on Facebook from people around the world who were praying for me. Literally, hundreds of them. I could hardly move in my bed, but I felt the prayers deep in my bones. I was being healed. Energy from those who loved me was coursing through my sick body. All I needed to do was accept it. Sounds simple, but the truth is I've always been the caregiver, not the recipient. If you're in trouble, I'll be right over, but needing help and accepting it with grace and dignity were beyond the scope of my experience.
"Breathe in God, breathe out cancer." I said it a thousand times. The pathway between the synapses in my brain that carried this message were well worn. My heart was also determined to get into the action. It wasn't about to let my head fight this battle alone. I was being loved, loved at a deep level, the deepest level I'd ever experienced.
My 24-year-old son came to visit me as often as he could. He was really frightened at the possibility of losing me. One day, he sat down on the edge of my bed, held my hand and said, "Dad, you're not going to die. You can't. I won't let you." Holding back tears, I looked back at him and smiled. "You're right, son. I've got too much to live for, and I don't think God is finished with me yet."