Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Surviving Cancer, Fifty years Later…by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Bewilderment,Depression and Hope,Life & Death,My Own Personal Hell — Bob at 8:40 am on Thursday, December 20, 2018

by Robert M. Katzman © December 20, 2018

Fifty years ago, on December 20th, 1968, early in the morning when I was 18, I had cancer surgery on the left side of my face at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois. I was unaware of what my prospects were and what my surgeon, Dr. Danely Slaughter, had in mind to do. 

I awoke in the Intensive Care Unit, or the ICU, to discover that my head was bandaged like a soccer ball. When Dr. Slaughter came to visit me and explain why they removed my left jaw, he said he was 95% certain that they had caught all the cancer cells. Being me, I asked, very slowly, why not 100%? The doctor gruffly replied, “I think 95% is close enough”.

My father Israel was selling life insurance then, but told me, through his tears, that I would remain uninsurable for five years. To the insurance companies, he said, I was a bad risk, fifty years ago.

Two years later, in April 1970, Dr. Slaughter died of heart disease at the age of 58. I was 20 then, but turned 58 a decade ago. I think about him. Often.

Twenty-five years ago on this date in 1993, I mailed a typed note about this anniversary to three of my four children (Sarah wasn’t born yet), my sister, father, mother, last grandparent from Poland, aunts, uncles and my closest relationships. My wife Joyce already knew. Two of them, Ron Buzil and Stephen Golber whom I went to kindergarten with met me for dinner and gave me a golden Chai, which looks like an “H” but is the symbol of life in Judaism. Meant a lot to me. I treasure it, and the meaning of it.

Today, a quarter century later, this email is going out to friends and strangers with no paper, envelope, or stamp to communicate my amazement at my continuing survival, and the accuracy of Dr. Slaughter’s opinion. I did still type it, however. But, there is a loneliness to these 2nd twenty-five years.

My parents, sister, grandmother, aunts, uncles…even Joyce…and a number of my friends have died since then. The fiftieth anniversary of graduating high school has come and gone, too. Surviving can be very, very quiet.

Yet I linger, like I have something to do. I don’t know. No one left instructions for me. 

In two weeks, I will be meeting again with Ron Buzil and Stephen Golber to not so much celebrate the day as to marvel that we three are all still here. I don’t need a symbol of their friendship and caring for me. They themselves are quite enough. I wanted to be in their company.

Twenty-five years from today, it will be 2043, and I don’t expect to be here, not after 40 surgeries. Being rejected from the US Army on December 20th 1969, exactly one year after the surgery, because of the surgery, was gift enough from Fate to stop me from feeling too sorry for myself. I have learned to pay attention to what hasn’t happened. A strange way, I know, for me to live.

I have learned to appreciate each sunrise, each relationship, not to overlook doing little kindnesses, and as much as possible, not saying angry words which will linger in someone’s memory, simmering there, hurting them, even if I am not still existing.

I sometimes cry watching movies when the Cavalry comes to save the day, but also when the Cavalry doesn’t. Surviving has been emotionally complicated.

My adopting a very small eleven-year-old dog, Max, last Sunday was, I suppose, an act of faith on my part that we will both be here for each other for the next few years. No reason to plan longer than that. Max sleeps next to me while I type this. He has proven to be very comforting.

Lastly, each year, for the past fifty, I remember Dr. Slaughter’s confident words, that “95% was close enough”.

Yes, it was. Thank you, Doctor.

Be seeing you, some day.


Postscript: As expected, then this happened. The latest addition to my notes from my annual updating of my medical history which I carry with me in case I have to meet a new doctor for some reason, or in the ER:

Dec. 2018-Jan. 2019: Small piece of excess skin, called a “barnacle” because of its shape removed by my new Dermatologist, Dr. Dana Griffin in Racine, Wis. from area behind right ear, on a crease in a scar from 1995 benign tumor surgery. Two weeks later, the biopsy found a range of unusual cells at the base of the area and the reporting clinic recommended surgery to remove all of them. A second biopsy was done Jan. 8th, with the results to be forwarded to Dr. James Lahti in Northbrook, Ill, who performed the surgery to remove a base nodule on the left ear in March 2018.What to do will be determined after the results of the 2ndbiopsy are received by my two doctors in Wisconsin And Illinois.

January 29, 2018–Well, cancer free! Skin amount removed was more than thought of at first, quarter-sized instead of nickel-sized. So there would be no stitches at all. Too much scar tissue from the 1995 operation in the same area. Doctor said that granulation will occur–the spontaneous recreation of skin where it is missing in a minor wound. Doc also said stitches would have been much more painful because of the prior surgery. Will take twice as long to heal, about one month.

My 41st surgery.

Publishing News! 

Bob Katzman’s two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
Vol. One: A Savage Heart  and Vol. Two: Fighting Words

Gritty, violent, friendship, classic American entrepreneurship love, death, heartbreak and the real dirt about surviving in a completely corrupt major city under the Chicago Machine. More history and about one man’s life than a person may imagine.

Please visit my new website: https://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
If a person doesn’t want to use PayPaI, I also have a PO Box & I ship anywhere in America.

Send me a money order with your return and contact info.
I will get your books to you within ten days.
Here’s complete information on how to buy my books:

Vol 1: A Savage Heart and Vol. 2: Fighting Words
My books weigh almost 2 pounds each, with about 525 pages each and there are a total together of 79 stories and story/poems.

Robert M. Katzman
Don’t Go Quietly Press
PO Box 44287
Racine, Wis. 53404-9998                                                                                                                    (262)752-3333, 8AM–7PM

Books cost $29.95 each, plus shipping

For: (1)$3.95; (2)$5.95; (3)$7.95; (4)$8.95 (5)$9.95;(6) $10.95

(7) $11.95; (8) $12.95; (9)$13.95 (10)$15.95 (15)$19.95

Shipping by air to most of Europe, due to the weight of my books is $99.00

I am also for hire if anyone wants me to read my work and answer questions in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Schools should call me for quantity discounts for 30 or more books. Also: businesses, bookstores, private organizations or churches and so on.

My Fighting Words Publishing Co. four original books, published between 2004 and 2007 are now out-of-print. I still have some left and will periodically offer them for sale on my new website.  My hour-long story reading at WGTD 91.1 NPR Kenosha, Wis is now a podcast. The interview and story can be heard here:

Speaking of Our Words June 30th, 2017 With special guest star and featured writer Bob Katzman. Bob reads his memoir, “Audrey, Pink Bunny Slippers, Her Cat and the God’s Eye” and talks about his life.   Your comments are welcome, below, and please tell others I can be found here as a writer. I can also be hired as a speaker for organizations, etc, both here and in Europe. Seeking an agent. robertmkatzman@gmail.com Poet & Storyteller for hire for organizations, schools or private events   www.DifferentSlants.com to view recent and older examples of my work

847.274.1474     Attachments area  

Preview YouTube video Speaking of Our Words – June 30th, 2017

Speaking of Our Words – June 30th, 2017  


Comment by Brian Novak

December 20, 2018 @ 9:36 am

Thx for continuing to share your story. Glad to hear Max is keeping you company!

Comment by brad dechter

December 20, 2018 @ 10:33 am

Heartfelt reflections Bob! (Unfortunately, I probably won’t be visiting with you and the Doctor. Wherever you’re going, I don’t think I’m going to such a nice place. The sins of the past.)
As for the comfort of dogs, and the love they bring out in you, there’s no doubt about it. Great therapy as my two little doggies will attest to.
Happy Holidays to you, and let’s hope we can still email each other for years to come.

Comment by sue ellen burckhart

February 1, 2019 @ 2:00 pm

So glad to know the whole story. I think about being here too when so many family members and friends are gone. Maybe just so we can write about life. I enjoy reading about your life.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>