by Joe Badalamente
A “standing eight count” is an eight-second “time out” that a referee affords a boxer who may be in serious trouble. It is a chance for the referee to assess if there is any real damage and gives the fighter some time to catch his breath and continue fighting. In that spirit, this column will feature law enforcement officers or their family members who have overcome serious challenges in their lives, detailing their own eight circumstances and how they lived to fight on.
“Before I tell you, promise not to call it that well kind,” she warned, “because I swear the next person who uses that term will get punched in the throat.”
I held the phone; my silence was my oath.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; not necessarily a death sentence, but not exactly high tea at the Plaza.
The diagnosis had come less than two years into retirement after 20 years of distinguished service.
When we met in person, she had already undergone a few treatments. Still, she looked fit and strong, her eyes burning with resilience.
“I’m a class-A control freak. I mean, most cops are, right? Law and order. But that’s been the worst part, the feeling of zero power over my body. I mean, I hadn’t good but you don’t expect to hear cancer maybe they should call it prior denial?”
The waiter took our orders and refilled our mugs and glasses.
“Of course I’m scared,” she admitted, sipping decaf. “I’d be mad not to be. They say anger comes after denial. I felt them at the same time. But what good does it do me? And I’ll tell you what; I could write a book about how you come better with your child. Immediately my daughter and I stopped the arguing, a total turnaround. I mean really? You never seem to read that in ‘How to make friends with your teenager!’ books, do you? Just come down with something really scary, and joila; instant best!”
I asked her about the anger and if she struggled with bitterness.
“No,” she said with a laugh. “I refuse to give it that satisfaction. I have too many trips planned.”
After a long drink of water she continued. “I have always had a strong dose of wanderlust. Before the diagnosis, most of my adventures had been domestic or an occasional weekend in the Caribbean or Cancun. Since cancer I have tried to expand my horizons; Israel, Greece, Egypt, Iceland and then, after the shutdowns, Scandinavia, Thailand and Korea. I’ve learned that it helps tremendously if you have something to look forward to. I have always loved to travel, so as long as the good Lord allows me to, I will be going somewhere. That anticipation of ‘What’s next?’ has carried me through some bad moments.”
I asked if faith played any part in her struggle.
“A thousand percent. I mean, I’ve never doubted; I’ve always felt his presence strongly. But when you’re raising kids, the chaos of life, sometimes you just kind of go, you know? That expression, ‘dark night of the soul?’ Whoever said that knew what they were talking about.”
Siri told us it was John of the Cross, a 16–century Spanish mystic.
“Interesting,” she said. “We’re off to Spain and Portugal in a few weeks. I’ll definitely be looking for him.”
Along with her treatments, she had severely limited her alcohol intake, cut out caffeine, hardly ever touched red meat or fried food, exercised and got plenty of sleep; a walking, talking advertisement for the American Cancer Society. Then, on an impossibly beautiful morning last May, a scan revealed a malignancy in her right lung.
“They’re pretty sure it hasn’t metastasized, but they might have to take half of it,” she said nonchalantly, as if telling me it might rain the next day.
“Another gift from the lymphoma,” she continued.
My eyebrows rose in response.
“I’m serious. If I didn’t have regular scans, they wouldn’t have found this until it was too late.”
Knowing that she had spent a long time down at Ground Zero, I asked if she felt any anger towards the perpetrators.
She stared out the window at a school yard across the street. Children of all shapes and sizes chased each other, jumped rope, shot hoops. After a long pause she simply said “I’m not going there.”
Since both diagnoses had come after retirement, I wondered if she felt any sense of alienation from her clan, the camaraderie and level of support that comes from being with other officers on a daily basis.
“No, not at all. I’m still with the people I worked with. I’m trying to do all the get-togethers, the holiday parties. Everyone’s been great; calls, texts, emails, social media. It really helps.” Holding her phone up, she continued, “For all we complain about these things being addictive, the ability to stay in touch so easily has been a plus.”
In early September, I called to ask if we could talk again for some follow-up questions. The day before we were supposed to meet, she called to tell me she had to reschedule; the lymphoma was back.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “If you want to cancel the interview…”
“Hell no!” she interrupted. “You know the saying,”The same hot water makes potatoes soft and eggs hard?’“
“That’s great,” I laughed.
“Well, call me hardboiled!”
NEXT: Standing Eight Count: Sensei
About the author
Joe Badalamente was a police officer in the NYPD from 1985-2005. His short story partner won the AKC Gazette’s 24th Annual Fiction Contest. His first novel, “The King & Me; A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” can be ordered from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.