It happened overnight. Like a group of insurgents gathering for a raid at daybreak.
Only in this case the insurgents were the people who know me best and the battlefield was the Internet.
One of the most nerve-racking features of Facebook is the ability for friends to tag you in photos. Once your tagged, the photo shows up on your homepage, where it can be viewed by everyone in your network.
Typically, your “friends” will tag you in photos where you are not at your best, while they, of course, appear flawless. Whether it’s a night on the town or a house party stretching into the small hours of morning, you never know what might show up online.
So you can imagine my surprise when I woke up on Sunday morning to find my inbox full of emails saying “(so-and-so) tagged you in a photo.”
I thought, “That’s strange. I haven’t done anything ridiculous or foolish or embarrassing since I was in college. What could this possibly be about?”
Unbeknownst to me, several good friends undertook a coordinated effort to dig up old photos of me and use one as their profile picture. It was a sign of support and solidarity ahead of my first session of chemotherapy on Monday morning to treat my Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. They tagged me so I would see it on my homepage. Most of the tagged posts came with this message: “I’m with Boom Boom.”
To appreciate this, you must understand two phenomena. First, Boom Boom is a nickname I earned while playing upright bass in an Irish drinking band (which is redundant, I know). Secondly, the “I’m with …” formulation was extremely popular when Conan O’Brien was at loggerheads with NBC, which wanted to bring Jay Leno back to late night. “Team Coco” and “I’m with Coco” were the rallying cries of the O’Brien faithful.
My friends and family have been extremely supportive of my wife and I since my cancer diagnosis. Everyone is practically falling all over themselves to help, a reaction, I suppose, to the helplessness people feel when faced with cancer.
As much as I love apple pies, having my lawn mowed and rides to the doctor, I have to say that this simple Facebook gesture did more good that anything else. Not only did it make me realize that so many people are pulling for me, but it also added some much-needed levity to an otherwise anxious day before beginning my treatment – a day that could have easily been spent drowning in a sea of uncertainty, doubt and self-pity, thinking that my life, as I knew it, was about to change in ways that I could not even yet imagine.
By levity, I mean my friends came up with some doozies. Wedding photos were followed by hunting photos of me in my blaze orange. A shot of me hoisting a box of Crown Royal whiskey and many mug shots in which I was most certainly in my “happy place.” Then, there was that rather curious pose with a bandmate wearing a yellow dish glove and another one of me posing with Jesus.
There is a childhood photo of me, my brother and two cousins, all posing in front of the Christmas tree wearing our new sweat suits – yes, pants and hoodless zippered tops, most likely from JC Penney. (Our grandmother always bought us new sweat suits for Christmas, from infancy up through high school. It became a running joke among us kids and we all did our best to act surprised when we opened our presents.)
Then, there was the sudden apparition of the “Randy is going to kick cancer’s ass” fan page on Facebook. I am, of course, a fan.
So, it is with those images and gestures from friends and family that I take my first steps down a very long path to becoming a cancer survivor.