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Six

January 7, 2009
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I’m not much for things like birthdays and anniversaries, but I can’t help but realize that what I learned on this date six years ago is in some strange way responsible for me sitting here in Las Vegas typing up this post.

Yup, six years ago today is when I heard those three fateful words: “You’ve got cancer.”

While hearing the diagnosis was like a kick in the crotch (not quite literally, but almost), it didn’t come as a complete surprise. In fact, I kind of expected it. I mean, the fact that my left nut had grown rather large and uncomfortable over the preceding weeks was kind of a tip off, even if I tried to ignore it. But when my then girlfriend asked “What’s this?” while we were in bed one night, I decided that procrastination was no longer a viable option.

So, on this date six years ago, I met my urologist, Dr. Sachs. And really, is there a better name for a urologist than Dr. Sachs? After a brief physical and an ultrasound, he came back with the bad news. My left nut had gone, well, it had gone nuts. Cells were multiplying in weird and crazy ways and the resulting tumor had to go, along with Lefty. Surgery was scheduled then and there, and a week later I’d be under the knife. Oh joy!

I don’t remember much of the rest of that day, other than stopping on Mulholland Drive on my way home and thinking about how I’d break the news to my friends and family as I sat overlooking the sprawl of the San Fernando Valley. In the end, I decided the direct route was best so, fortified with a drink (or many), I began making calls. The responses ran the gamut from shock to concern and sheer disbelief and, to a person, there wasn’t anyone who didn’t volunteer to jump on a plane right then and there and head to LA from whatever part of the country they were in. I couldn’t have asked for more.

The next week was a strange blend of normalcy and complete weirdness as I travelled across the city having various tests, scans and other pre-surgery necessities performed by a variety of medical professionals. The days passed in a blur and before I knew it, I was walking into Cedars Sinai and the start of my year-long ordeal. The surgery itself was uneventful and fairly fast – the whole procedure took about 90 minutes and I went home the same day. Or at least, most of me did. Even recovery from the operation wasn’t bad, though seeing my crotch swollen and purple like a ripe eggplant was not the prettiest site in the world.

No, things didn’t get bad until April and the start of the preventative treatments, A.K.A., chemotherapy. Yup, even though my Doctor Sachs assured me that the surgery had removed the entire tumor, there was still a chance that some stray cells had migrated through my lymphatic system and were slowly taking root in other parts of my body. So, to be safe, we had to kill any potential malcontents before they had a chance to kill me.

Now, if you’ve never had the pleasure of chemo, let me tell you that when they say the cure is worse than the disease, this is what they’re talking about. My treatments took a total of about four months on three-week cycles where I’d go to the treatment center for four to six hours a day, five days a week, and then get a weekly shot for the next two weeks. In a word, the whole thing sucked.

First of all, the chemicals work fast. Within two days of my first treatment, I was already exhausted and just walking around the very flat block near my apartment tired me out. Within two weeks, the hair started falling out and I quickly opted for the Mr. Clean look. And, if you’ve ever wondered, yes, I am an ugly bald guy. Still things didn’t really get shitty until the second round when, because of my lowered immune system, I developed a lovely hacking cough that still occasionally haunts me to this day. I mean this cough was bad. Like, you’d cough so much that you’d eventually find yourself puking over the toilet bad. And sure, I had medical marijuana to help with symptoms, but because of the cough, I couldn’t enjoy it. My friends however… well, that’s another story.

So, how does this long and winding mess of a story lead me to Vegas? Well, because I was so wiped out and couldn’t really stand to leave my hole of an apartment, I found myself spending a lot of time on the computer where I discovered the joy and pain of online poker. I played for fun, mostly, but quickly found myself hooked on the game. It diverted my attention from the metallic taste in my mouth, the cough, and general sense of malaise that the drugs put me into. It kept my mind occupied for as long as I could stand to stare at the screen, and I loved it.

After chemo ended, I continued to play during my recovery. Small games and tournaments. I began reading poker blogs and learning about the characters of the game – Doyle, Howard, Ivey, Jesus, Stuey. I loved the action, the history, and the sheer possibility that on any given day, any player can become a champion. Of course, I know better now. I mean yes, it’s still possible for an unknown to get lucky from time to time, but there’s a reason why guys like Allen Cunningham and Erik Seidel own all those bracelets.

Still, my fascination with the game continued and one afternoon after coming home from my new day job of selling Mini Coopers, I had a message from the man who would become my next boss. I had never heard his name before, but the message intrigued me: “Hi, I’m David and I’m calling for Jon. I’m the Vice President of Online Marketing for an online poker company here in LA, and I found your resume. I’d like to talk to you about a job as a copy writer. Please call me back if you’re interested.”

Interested? I was on the phone the first thing the next morning and in the office for an interview the following day. The company was small at the time. Only about 40 people, scattered on a couple of floors of a non-descript Westwood office building. My interviews were conducted in a hallway and in an “office” that was really nothing more than an old utility closet. I met more people than I could remember and walked out thinking, I really wanted this job. When David called me with an offer the next day, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Soon, I was travelling to Westwood every day and spending countless hours sitting in a windowless room teaching the world about the joys and thrills of Full Tilt Poker. I couldn’t have been happier. Now, three years, two countries, and countless meetings and promotions later, I am ex-Tilter living in Las Vegas while spending my days in and around this city’s many varied card rooms. And I couldn’t be happier. And, in some strange way, I feel that none of what’s happened over the past few years would have occurred had I not had that fateful conversation with Dr. Sachs six years ago today.

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