Monthly Archives: November 2015
If you are under thirty years old, the name Carl Sagan may not ring a bell. But if you watched the 1980 original Cosmos TV series hosted and co-written by Dr. Sagan, you would likely remember him as America’s premiere astronomer, astrophysicist and popular science author of the seventies, eighties and into the 1990’s. I met Dr. Sagan several years before his untimely death in 1996. One thing I’m pretty sure of, that meeting would never have happened if I didn’t have a camera with me.
In the mid-1980’s my wife, Joanne, made plans to attend a conference where Dr. Sagan was the keynote speaker. As a long-time Carl Sagan fan, I begged to tag along, Joanne agreed and we made our way to St. Louis. I was thrilled with the opportunity to hear Dr. Sagan speak. As it turned out, so were a couple thousand other people who got to the auditorium before us. We got in, but just barely. Our balcony seats were in the very last row.
Dr. Sagan spoke for about forty-five minutes. He told stories of NASA, how he helped Apollo astronauts prepare for extended space flight and, of course, the Cosmos as in the universe around us and his TV series. It was great.
After the talk most people filed out and headed to meetings. A few dozen moved to the edge of the stage where Dr. Sagan took questions. Joanne headed to her next meeting and I headed to the stage floor. It took several minutes, but I made it to the stage area where Dr. Sagan was still on the stage talking.
But, I was at the back of the pack, barely able to hear his comments. The crowd had grown in numbers and my prospects of getting closer were not likely to improve. To my right at the side of the theater, I spotted steps that led onto the stage and I got an idea. As I headed for the steps, I pulled my Minolta XD-11 from my camera bag. Bounding up the steps I flicked on the camera and walked out onto the stage. Just like I knew what I was doing.
At the center of the stage, crouched on one knee, was Dr. Sagan. I walked to within five feet of him and also dropped down. He looked at me, apparently thought nothing of it and continued his conversation with the people below us on the auditorium floor. From my new vantage point I could see and hear Dr. Sagan much better.
Unfortunately, the stage lights had been turned off, the auditorium lights were dim and my camera was loaded with Kodachrome 64 slide film. Not a good combination. I knew my prospects for a good picture in such low light were slim, so I faked it. I raised the camera to my eye, framed, focused, steadied the camera as best I could and began taking his picture. At any moment, I expected a beefy stage hand would grab me by the collar, haul me backstage and deposit me in a trash bin. It was a risk worth taking, because there I was on the stage with Carl Sagan.
To my surprise, nobody tried to haul me away. After about five minutes, a woman walked out on stage. She also ignored me and instead told Dr. Sagan it was time for him to leave. The crowd on the auditorium floor gave a collective groan as Sagan stood. He gave an apologetic shrug and turned to walk off stage… in my direction. I stood, began to walk with Dr. Sagan and asked him a question about his speech. Unbelievably, he gave me an answer. At the side of the stage a security person joined our walk. He directed Sagan, and me, out the stage door and into a hallway that led to Sagan’s car.
It was thirty feet or so down the hallway and I knew that short walk was all the time I had left. Quickly, I asked another question and Sagan gave me an answer. It was like we were two pals in a regular conversation. (I wish remembered my questions and his answers, but I have no recollection. I’m sure we were both great.)
A few steps from the door, I dropped my photojournalist shtick and blurted out how much I enjoyed his Cosmos TV show and books. Then, like the Sagan junkie I was, I pulled a small notebook from my back pocket, flipped it to a blank page and asked for his autograph. His escort, in full security mode, scowled.
Dr. Sagan stopped, signed the page, handed back my notebook, then reached out and shook my hand. The escort stepped ahead and opened the door to the outside. Sagan walked toward the door. Waived off by the security officer, I stopped. When Sagan reached the door, he turned back toward, raisied his hand said, “I wish you good luck.”
Those last seconds are crystal clear in my mind. The light in the hallway was much better than the light on the stage and there was Carl Sagan smiling and waving at me. A really good photographer would have seized the moment and snapped off a couple of shots. Instead, I smiled and waved back.
(I rummaged through several old photo boxes to find the “best” bad shot I took that day. Dr. Sagan’s autograph is framed and kept on the bookshelf next to my desk.)
November 5, 2015
I have been thinking about getting back to this blog for a few weeks. This morning I woke up with the Willie Nelson song, “Funny How Time Slips Away” rolling around in my head. I figured something inside me was saying “Get busy!” So here I am again.
It’s not like I have been lazy, procrastinating or easily distracted. (All which, in my case, are good possibilities.) The reason has been “health issues.” I use that term because I haven’t considered myself sick, but in a long state of recovery. Let me give you the short version. (Trust me, you don’t want the long version.)
In November of last year I had a colonoscopy. (Yup. It’s one of those stories.) A tumor was discovered and in mid-December I had surgery that removed the tumor and the cancer cells it contained. After the operation my surgeon stopped to tell me how well the surgery went and that I was, to the best of his ability, cancer free. We talked for a while and just before he left he said. “While I was in there, I saw something on your pancreas that you need to have checked.” So I did.
It took a few months and several trips to meet with a surgical oncologist in Detroit before a second surgery was performed in June to remove a growth on my pancreas. The arduous surgery removed the lesion along with a third of the pancreas. The ducts that supply insulin and enzymes to the small intestine were also removed and subsequently rebuilt. The abnormal cells growing in the lesion turned out to be pre-cancerous. In layman’s term, that means the lesion wasn’t cancerous… yet. Given a couple years or so to fester it would have become pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is generally asymptomatic and not often detected until long term survival is unlikely.
I had been told to expect a long and difficult recovery from the second surgery, but it turned out to be much more than we expected. I was released from the hospital, twice, and relapsed, twice. Both times requiring emergency room and Intensive Care Unit intervention to ensure my survival. By the time I made it home I had lost thirty pounds, had no appetite, was still on antibiotics and unable to walk more ten steps without needing a rest.
It definitely took a while, but since August I have been recovering nicely. I gained back my usual more than healthy appetite and gained back half of the weight I lost. By September I was able to walk around the neighborhood on my own and eventually could walk two to three miles per outing. In mid-September, four months after the pancreatic surgery and with surgeon’s approval, I rejoined our local fitness club and workout there three days a week. I feel fine and am getting stronger every day. For the record, I am very grateful to the surgical team and nurses for their medical expertise, my family for their love and support and most of all my wife Joanne for getting me through the ordeal.
Since returning home, I have spent many hours reflecting on what my situation might be, or soon would become, had I not gotten the colonoscopy. The procedure started difficult wheels in motion, but in the long run saved my life twice and I wake up each morning with the score, Dan: 2, cancer: 0. So, in my mind, the moral of this story is this… Talk with your doctor and if recommended, get a colonoscopy.
(Sorry, but all the above was just the set-up for perhaps the worst segue ever.) Speaking of reflecting…
Joanne and I were in Frankenmuth, Michigan a few weeks ago and while walking the covered bridge that crosses the Cass River, we looked back at the Bavarian Inn and saw the makings of a nice photo. (Photographer, Chase Jarvis couldn’t have been the first person to say it, but he did write the book titled “The Best Camera Is the One You Have With You,” so he gets the credit, even though it’s going cause some people to grind their teeth in disdain.) The only camera I had with me was my Samsung Galaxy S6 phone and with that I took the image of the hotel, trees and a great reflection on the river.
I like the image better with the reflection on top. But I’m funny like that sometimes…
November 2, 2015