[Editor's Note: Longtime concert photographer Andrew Youssef found out two years ago that he had stage IV colon cancer. In that time, he has continued to shoot tons of music events for outlets including our sister paper OC Weekly, on top of his day job at a hospital, of all places. As he continues to fight for his life, this column, called Last Shot, gives him a platform to tell his story in his own words.]
It has been two years and three months since I was initially diagnosed. The shock of hearing my gastroenterologist telling me I had cancer crippled me as much as the disease itself. The doctor dropping the bomb on me with both of my parents in the room was hard enough. The next difficult task would be to tell all my friends about my diagnosis.
Another unique aspect of collapsing at the hospital I work at was that all my co-workers and colleagues would constantly check on me and ask me how I was doing. It was traumatic to have to re-tell how I had a tumor obstructing my colon and I needed surgery right away. Over and over again.
My CT scan gave a detailed report of how I had a large tumor in my colon and that it had spread diffusely into my liver. I soon got the wise idea of handing my fellow pharmacists and nurses the actual CT scan report so they would fully understand the scope of my diagnosis and prognosis. My parents were great enough to disclose my situation to my immediate family members and relatives. All that was left for me to do was inform my close friends.
How do tell your friends you have cancer? I wasn't about to post a message on Facebook: “Hey, everyone! I've got Stage IV colon cancer. Gonna be out of it for a little while.”
I texted my friend Melissa and asked if she was driving before I told her. It was probably chicken to text and email friends about my diagnosis, but I thought I was checking out soon, so it didn't matter.
I emailed my editors at OC Weekly and Stereogum to say that it was a pleasure working for them and that I wouldn't be able to fulfill my upcoming assignments. I even posted a notice on my website Amateur Chemist that I would be going on an “indefinite hiatus.” Soon word spread amongst my friends and colleagues but I still tried to contain the information about my diagnosis as much as possible.
It took nearly two years for me to be comfortable admitting that I have cancer. This column has helped me to finally inform all friends and acquaintances of my situation. Fortunately, the amount of positive feedback I've received from these weekly musings and from those close to me make me regret that I didn't do this earlier. I've also received a host of emails from people I know who have beat cancer, with no idea that some battled it in the first place.
While I fully understand the shame and guilt of telling friends and loved ones you have cancer, it has been liberating to come to terms with my diagnosis. It has helped in the healing process, both physically and mentally. Out of all the possible types to get, colon cancer may be one of the more embarrassing to admit. But as I have learned with inconveniences like the horrible acne rash from my chemotherapy medications, you learn to let go of things like vanity and humility. I am thankful that I'm still alive to this day fighting the disease.