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FALLING ILL AND FINDING FRIENDS
By Michael Matthews

"Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles" --George Eliot

July 21, 2011 -- Someone once said that if you could add up your friends on one hand you were a lucky person. I am a lucky person.

I have never really had an army of friends. Even during my tortuous school years, my closest friends numbered less than the magical five. Through my adult years, there have always been friends, but not so many as to exceed the magical five. Certainly, I've had a pile of friendly acquaintances, many still in contact 30 or 40 years later.

Then I got this damned problem. As word leaked out, I started to hear from people all over the globe. People I thought had just been acquaintances. Business "friends." Colleagues from various companies that I had sweated for a nickel. Old neighbors. Even a forgotten bank manager got in touch.

This column brought dozens of supportive E-mails, all wishing me luck and giving heartfelt advice. Many have graciously followed up to see how I'm doing. I've added you all to my new pile of friends.

So I'm not being funny when I say: If you want friends, fall ill. The support that you get is better than any medicine. That's certainly true in my case because I'm no fan of the bloody chemo poison pumping through my body every two weeks.

Where do we stand? First off, the penis extension is running fine. And to those of you who took the under, you lost. So far, no ticket. The Porsche 911 Carrera's a beauty, sporting vanity plates reading BUKLIST. That's bucket list, in case you missed the reference.

Now to the health. The team at the radiation clinic stopped radiating me after 42 sessions. I have a burnt back and chest to show for it.

They gave me a certificate after the last session proving that I had successfully survived. Its one of the few certificates I've been awarded and it is proudly mounted alongside my darling wife's Doctorate of Jurisprudence. Beat that.

After the awards ceremony, the radiation team mournfully admitted that my steady supply of fattening croissants would be sorely missed. Thank god that bit of the treatment is over, but more on that latter.

The chemo keeps going. I have just finished week five. It's four days of poison being pumped into you over a four-hour period each day. While lying on the chemo couch, I read a lot, sleep a lot and pray they will not tune to The Price is Right on the communal television. But they inevitably do. Still, there's an upside: Now I know how much a packet of Oreo cookies cost!

Following the latest chemo session, for the first time, I got pretty sick. I have one more session to go in early August, then it's on to the next stage. It's not for the squeamish.

They want to radiate my brain. There's nothing there, so it makes absolutely no sense to me at all. But it appears to be a pretty smart thing to do. Ten sessions with no immediate pain.

The idea, they tell me, is to build up a "nuclear" barrier around your brain so small-cell carcinoma can't get past it. As far as I can tell, it's a massive condom around your brain. Frankly, if one doesn't do it and the small cells get up there, it's toes up time pretty fast.

There is a downside to the treatment: loss of memory, headaches, confusion (Did I come to the store for cereal or dog food?) and other assorted things. They claim that only happens in about three percent of cases. We're probably going to go for it, but I'm dreading a return to the radiation unit. Do I really need another certificate? Or is it just that the folks on the radiation team will do anything for croissants?

Back to friends, however. There was an amazing occurrence two weekends ago: A trio of colleagues from my old company came from across the country for the weekend. Their excuse? They came "just to see how you're doing." We had a lovely time reminiscing about the good and the bad.

But when you stop and think about it, what they did was far beyond any call of duty. And I did well up when they left. It was a kindness that you can't describe with words. Others telephone or E-mail every week. Some call daily and say they are "just checking in."

People are amazing and the support it gives me can't be explained. To all of you, I say thanks.

And I've forgotten about being able to count your friends on one hand. I'm well past two hands and two sets of toes now. And a memo to Ms. Eliot: I've got no wrinkles.

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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

This column is Copyright 2011 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.