Standing eight count: The enemy within
The diagnosis had come less than two years into retirement after 20 years of distinguished service
By Joe Badalamente
A "standing eight count" is an eight-second "time out" that a referee can afford a boxer who may find themselves in serious trouble. It's a chance for the ref to assess if there's any real damage and gives the fighter some time to catch their breath and continue to fight on. 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 standing eight counts, and how they lived to fight on.
“Before I tell you, promise not to call it the good kind,” she warned, “Because I swear the next person who uses that term is going to 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.
By the time we met in person, she had already endured a few treatments. Yet 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 been feeling great, but you don’t expect to hear cancer. Maybe they should call that pre-denial?”
The waiter took our orders, refilling our mugs and glasses.
“Of course, I’m scared,” she admitted, sipping decaf. “I’d have to be insane not to be. They say the anger comes after the denial. I felt them at the same time. But what good is it going to do me? And I’ll tell you what; I could write a book on how to get along better with your kid. Immediately, my daughter and I have stopped the bickering, a total turnaround. I mean, really? You never seem to read that in the ‘How to Befriend Your Teenager!’ books, do you? Just come down with something really scary sounding, and joila; instant besties!”
I asked her about the anger, and whether she battled with bitterness.
“Nope,” she said with a laugh. “I refuse to give it the satisfaction. I’ve got too many trips planned.”
After a long drink of water, she continued. “I’ve always had a strong dose of wanderlust. Prior to the diagnosis most of my adventures had been domestic, or an occasional weekend in the Caribbean or Cancun. Since the cancer I’ve been trying to expand my horizons; Israel, Greece, Egypt, Iceland, and then, after the lockdowns, Scandinavia, Thailand and Korea. I’ve learned it helps immensely if you’ve got something to look forward to. I’ve always loved to travel, so as long as the good Lord allows me to, I’m going to be headed somewhere. That anticipation of ‘What’s next?’ has carried me through some bad moments.”
I questioned whether faith played any part in her fight.
“A thousand percent. I mean, I never doubted; I’ve always felt His presence strongly. But raising the kids, the chaos of life, sometimes you just kind of go through the motions, you know? That expression, ‘the dark night of the soul?’ Whoever said that knew what they were talking about.”
Siri told us it was St. John of the Cross, a 16th-century Spanish mystic.
“Interesting,” she said. “We’re headed to Spain and Portugal in a few weeks. I’ll be sure to look him up.”
In concert with her treatments, she’d severely restricted her alcohol intake, cut out caffeine, almost never touched red meat or fried foods, 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 may need to take half of it,” she said, off-handedly, as if telling me it might rain the next day.
“Another gift from the lymphoma,” she continued.
My eyebrows went up in response.
“I’m serious. If I wasn’t going for scans on a regular basis, they wouldn’t have found this until it was too late.”
Knowing she’d spent considerable time down at Ground Zero, I asked if she felt any resentment toward the perpetrators.
She gazed out the window at a schoolyard across the street. Kids of all shapes and sizes chased each other, jumping ropes, shooting hoops. After a long pause, she simply said “I don’t go there.”
As both diagnoses had come after retirement, I wondered if she felt any sense of estrangement from her clan, that camaraderie and level of support that stems from being around fellow officers on a daily basis.
“No, not at all. I still get together with the folks I worked with. I try to make all the get-togethers, the holiday parties. Everyone has been great; calling, texting, emails, social media. It really helps.” Holding up her phone she continued “For all we complain about these things being addicting, the ability to stay in touch so easily has definitely 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 to meet, she called to tell me she needed 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 chuckled.
“Well, call me hardboiled!”
NEXT: Standing eight count: The sensei
About the author
Joe Badalamente was a police officer with the NYPD from 1985-2005. His short story Partner won the AKC Gazette's 24th Annual Fiction competition. His first novel, "The King & Me; A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" is available to order from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.