If ever there was a wacky, “How I discovered I had cancer story,” author and film producer Michael Solomon has lived it.
With colon cancer running in his family, his father had always prodded him to get a colonoscopy at age 40, something the documentary film producer says he feared and dreaded and postponed.
“When my doctor wrote out the prescription for the colonoscopy, he said, almost as an afterthought, ‘And you should get a chest x-ray while you’re at it.’ ”
Solomon promptly took those prescriptions and filed them on his desk, where they stayed for several weeks.
“I figured if I put them on my desk, I’d have to get around to cleaning my desk eventually and I’d have to go for the appointment,” he recalls.
The long-feared colonoscopy turned up nothing of any significance. The chest x-ray was a different matter entirely.
Solomon received an evening phone call at home from his doctor – always an ominous sign – saying there appeared to be something on his left lung that should be explored further. This led to CAT Scans and sonograms that determined – surprise! – his left lung was fine, but the right one had lymphoma.
‘Everyone is a product of the story and narrative they tell themselves every morning when they wake up.’ – Michael Solomon
If all of this sounds bleak, when Solomon recounts the events of the last decade, it isn’t.
He has now used his cancer diagnosis as material for a new book, “Now It’s Funny: How I Survived Cancer, Divorce, and Other Looming Disasters,” which was self-published earlier this year. Naturally, the book recounts his diagnosis and treatment, but it also traces the possible root cause of his cancer and the possibility that Solomon is part of a California “cancer cluster” among former students from Beverly Hills High School.
“It turns out that Erin Brockovich, the environmental activist, had taken an interest in looking at this,” Solomon said. “And I mean the real Erin Brockovich, not the Erin Brockovich as portrayed by Julia Roberts. Erin Brockovich and this woman who had attended Beverly Hills High School, who had thyroid cancer, found that there were all these alums from Beverly Hills High School who had developed cancer. Although I grew up here on the East Coast, for a couple of years my family lived in Los Angeles and I wound up going to Beverly Hills High School. I played football and I ran track. Everyone who ever went to Beverly Hills High School knew that there was oil drilling there,” said Solomon, who now lives in Jersey City with his family near Hamilton Park.
“You could see these two ‘crickets’ that have pumps that go down into the ground. What we didn’t know is that there’s something called directional drilling. They would drill down and then they would drill out. So, we would only see these two pumps above ground. But there were actually several oil wells underground.”
Solomon says “the jury’s still out” as to whether the cancer diagnoses among the school’s former students are a true cancer cluster, but he did a lot investigating into the matter for his book.
“In the end, I draw my own conclusion,” said Solomon. “No matter how you look at it, it’s not a good idea to put a football field on top of an oil field.”
Fear, and survival
Essentially a memoir, “Now It’s Funny” refuses to be maudlin or self-pitying. But that’s not to say the author glosses over the ugly side of a serious medical diagnosis. Throughout the book Solomon often recounts feelings of fear and anger as he is facing his disease, surgery, and treatment options.
And despite the humorous title, he says the book is not a prescription of humor.
“There is sometimes a tendency to over-exaggerate the importance of one’s attitude,” Solomon said. “Attitude is really important. But attitude can’t conquer a disease. A tumor doesn’t really care what your attitude is.”
“The book is about how I survived,” he continues. “I managed to get back on my feet again. I managed to complete a film I was working on at the time of my diagnosis. I even managed to start dating again and fall in love.”
Now remarried, Solomon and his second wife, who is also a documentary filmmaker, have adopted a child together. Solomon also has a son from his first marriage who was six at the time he was diagnosed.
“I think everyone is a product of the story and narrative they tell themselves every morning when they wake up,” he noted. “Is my life going well? Am I achieving the goals and dreams that I’ve set out for myself? Am I rich? Am I poor? Am I rich in non-material things in my life? I think everyday we wake up and we have to tell ourselves a story about ourselves in order to face the day. There are only two certainties in life. One is that things will change and the other is we’re all going to die.”
“Now It’s Funny” can be purchased on Amazon.com for $9.99. Electronic copies for the Kindle, Nook, and iPad can be purchased for $2.99.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.