You know, there were times this year when yours truly didn’t think making it to a year-end issue was in the cards. Times when the “Exit” sign was flashing its neon in a rather up-close and personal way.
That’s life, right?
And each and every one of us will experience it.
And since it’s been my life over the course of 2007, my Seven Days editors suggested I write about it in “Inside Track’s Year-in-Review” column.
But to properly begin, I must go back to May 2006. That’s when this lifelong news junkie simply couldn’t take it any longer and stopped watching the TV network news. Couldn’t take the somber, depressing reports that, night after night, led with how many soldiers or innocent civilians had been blown up in the Iraq war that the good ol’ USA had launched under false pretenses!
Cheer up, you say?
And then there were the ongoing reports of the rapid changes in Mother Earth’s climate. Changes accelerated by the burning of fossil fuels to run our factories, heat our buildings and homes, and power our automobiles. Our civilization comes with a price. And global warming has emerged as more than “inconvenient.” It comes with some rather frightening effects.
Indeed, one year ago at this time, the outlook was rather bleak. The light that had always been visible at the end of my tunnel was nowhere to be seen.
So, almost instinctively, I decided to visit my only sister in Santa Fe, whom I had not seen in almost 20 years. Like me, Maureen, who is 8 years older, lives by herself. A marvelous painter and a struggling artist is she. I felt like I wanted to see her “one last time.”
And it was on New Year’s night in Santa Fe, laying in bed at the El Rey Inn, that I first noticed it — the sore little lump below my breastbone.
And I knew.
I knew that it was my body’s way of answering my soul’s order to head for the exit. I’d been everywhere I’d wanted, done everything I’d wanted, and had never imagined reaching the ripe old age of 58, anyway. It sure felt like my final chapter was beginning.
Santa Fe was getting snowed in with 2 feet of the white stuff. I had to wait four days to get a flight back to Vermont from Albuquerque. The “lump” got bigger.
Regular readers know the story. That lump was a rapidly growing cancer — large B-cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma, to be exact. But once I made it back to home plate, the People’s Republic of Burlington, I was in some very good hands.
Several friends wanted to steer me to one of those “legendary” medical centers in New York or Boston. But I wasn’t going for the “brand-name” stuff. Vermont is my brand. Works just fine, thank you. And there’s even that controversial, new underground parking garage up at hospital. You know, the one that former Mary Fanny CEO Bill Boettcher went to prison for?
Built for a reason, eh?
Might as well use it.
And then there was the blog!
“Freyne Land” started up in the summer of 2006, part of the expanding Seven Days blogosphere. And it provided yours truly the opportunity to “come out of the closet” on a subject that has been even more hush-hush in our society than homosexuality was for decades: cancer.
But, as regular readers know, yours truly is not the hush-hush type.
Once the cancer diagnosis was handed down, it was like the proverbial light going off in one’s head. The tingling around the eyes.
I knew right away that I was fundamentally responsible for bringing on my cancer in the first place. That it was my “exit strategy” from this game of life.
But things had changed a bit in the intervening months. The party that had controlled Congress with an iron fist, protecting the interests of the corrupt and dishonest Bush administration, had taken a whupping in the November election. As the 2007 New Year rolled in, the Republican majorities rolled out of both sides of the U.S. Capitol. Finally, the American people were reaching the breaking point. Close to home, Democrat Peter Welch won Vermont’s open U.S. House seat. And Independent Bernie Sanders joined Patrick Leahy in the United States Senate.
Things were changing, the pendulum swinging, and for a couple post-diagnosis days in January, I pondered the fundamental question: Did I still wish to keep heading for the exit?
No way, Jose. The light at the end of the tunnel is back.
Plus, I’m a writer — so I could write about it!
The treatment program consisted of all-day chemotherapy sessions — in which a host of different drugs were pumped intravenously into my body. There were eight sessions over the course of almost six months. The stuff that’s pumped in kills the cancer cells, but also good cells, healthy cells, new cells. That’s why the ol’ hair falls out. Plus, there were more pills to take as well as PET scans, CAT Scans, MRIs and spinal taps, too!
And the folks working up there on Hospital Hill were kind, caring and competent. Always felt in very good hands.
I was introduced to what is now a very common part of our world: cancer treatment. Fletcher Allen’s Oncology Center is a busy place. Ran into a few familiar faces in the waiting room.
At year’s end I’m still kicking, in more ways than one. Go in for a scan every three months. On last look, the cancer was continuing to shrink — just a few centimeters remain — and I can’t go anywhere these days without being told how good I look!
Another very special part of it all was the response from readers. An absolute avalanche of emails and cards and notes arrived — from friend and foe alike!
All those good vibes and best wishes meant a lot more than I’d ever imagined they could.
Thank you, one and all, from the bottom of my heart.
Back Tracking 2007 — Key to winning the 2007 cancer battle for this columnist was staying active. Not giving in. Not “acting” like one may think a cancer patient ought to act. Only missed one column due to medical issues. And there was plenty to cover on Vermont’s political beat this year, wasn’t there?
Looking back at the year gone by, these are the stories and people that stand out as “Inside Track” favorites.
• Leahy vs. Gonzales — With the Democrats winning back the majorities in both House and Senate in the November 2006 Election, Vermont’s Patrick J. Leahy became the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Since the Bush-Cheney team took the White House in 2001, there had been six years of Republican Party control in both House and Senate. As a result, Congress completely abandoned its oversight role. Questions were not being asked.
That changed in January 2007. There was never any doubt that St. Patrick’s target would be Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
We recall the sarcastic remarks of Leahy critics last summer who suggested St. Patrick would be no match for the mighty Bushies.
But we’ll never forget the morning of July 24 on CNN, when an incredulous Chairman Leahy looked across the Judiciary Committee’s hearing room, directly into the eyes of the committee’s witness, AG Gonzales, and told him point-blank, “I don’t trust you.”
The one-eyed skinhead from Vermont made it perfectly clear to the Bush loyalist that he had “lost the confidence of Congress and the American people.”
One month later, on August 27, Gonzales announced at a hastily called press conference that he was resigning. He gave no reason, but everybody knows.
• The Doctor of Reform — Montpelier resident Deb Richter M.D., founder of Vermont Health Care for All — http://www.vthca.org — doesn’t mince words. America’s health-care system needs help. Bad.
We asked the good doctor during a summer interview, “What’s the fundamental problem?”
The fundamental problem is, we don’t have a health-care system, meaning we don’t have everybody in. We don’t pay for everybody’s care and we have no way of controlling the costs. And the only way we can do that — here it is in a nutshell: We need to pay for health care through taxes instead of through premiums.
Because then everybody has an involvement. You get sick, I pay for you. I get sick, you pay for me. And you pay based on your ability to pay. That’s it in a nutshell!
We will get costs under control when we finally pay for health care through taxes, because whenever the public pays for something, they scrutinize the spending. They look at it under a microscope, and I doubt very much that they would be paying CEOs $800,000 salaries. The public would get the job done for less — maybe only $300,000.
Good point, eh?
Dr. Deb also spent many of her spare hours last summer traveling the Green Mountains to host showings of the powerful, insightful and to-the-point film Sicko by Michael Moore.
Good medicine, indeed.
• Mr. Sandman — Windsor County State’s Attorney Bobby Sand became something of a household word in Vermont in 2007. The distinguished and thoughtful son of a federal judge became a familiar figure at year’s end with the controversy that erupted over his decision to grant court-diversion to a 61-year-old female attorney who was caught with a couple pounds of marijuana and some plants in the ground. It was her first offense.
What turned it into a very big deal was Gov. Jim Douglas’ decision to intervene. Douglas issued an edict that henceforth first-time pot offenders busted by state police would be prosecuted by the state attorney general’s office, not by State’s Attorney Sand’s office.
Sand cried foul and noted an Orange County marijuana case in which the Republican state’s attorney had granted diversion to a first-time defendant with even more weed than was handled in Windsor County.
Last summer, in a June “Inside Track,” yours truly noted:
The “myth,” according to Sand, is that marijuana is a dangerous Schedule 1 drug that belongs right up there with heroin and cocaine.
“The reality,” wrote Sand, “is that marijuana is not a criminal justice menace. Police do not respond to pot-induced domestic assaults — alcohol-induced, yes, but not marijuana.”
Prosecutor Sand thinks it’s time for the Vermont Legislature to take a closer look at where it wants the people’s law-enforcement dollars spent. After all, what has 40 years of the War on Drugs actually accomplished?
“Until our elected officials are prepared to shed the hypocrisy,” says Sand, “we are doomed to more dangerous communities, lost revenue, and misdirected police efforts.”
“Backbone” is the word heard most frequently in conversations about Bobby Sand this year.
And earlier this month, Gov. Jim Douglas himself backed down and withdrew his ridiculous edict about steering low-level pot busts to the attorney general’s office.
Sand for governor?
Media Notes — The changes kept on coming in the Vermont media during 2007. WCAX Statehouse reporter and dairy farmer Anson Tebbetts departed Ch. 3 for a nice position as deputy secretary of development with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. Yours truly’s been an Anson fan since his days on WDEV radio in the 1980s.
Bureau Chief Darren Allen left the Vermont Press Bureau, which serves the Rutland Herald and Times Argus, to join the Agency of Natural Resources in January. He left there in August for a job at the Vermont office of the National Education Association.
And Ross Sneyd, a veteran Associated Press Statehouse reporter in Montpeculiar, departed for the upscaling Vermont Public Radio news operation.
Best wishes, gentlemen.
And, sad news: The weekly Vermont Guardian folded after a two-and-a-half-year run.
Nothing lasts forever, right?
Other developments in the Vermont media this year included the introduction of a Fox 44 local news program each night at 10 o’clock. It’s been almost four years since Vermont’s had three local TV news operations.
And as summer rolled in, the hardworking folks at Gannett’s Burlington Free Press got the rather bad news: no more free parking.
And to cap it all off, as autumn appeared, longtime Freeps Publisher Jim Carey was replaced.
Apparently, no one is irreplaceable, eh?