I got that old funny feeling up my spine the other day when that Russian airliner went down in Egypt. Just some familiar place names brought back memories from 30 years ago. Sharm Al-Sheikh. The Sinai. Cairo.

It was December, 1985 and a bunch of American GIs were on their way home from an assignment in the Sinai. They had been assigned to a Multinational force — they basically patrolled the desert between Egypt and Israel, to enforce an uneasy peace.

Of their year-long assignment, much was simply boring for these 248 members of the 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles out of Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

What WAS remarkable was what was going on in the world around them. This was the era of the Iran Contra wheeling and dealing, when Col. Oliver North was attempting to buy freedom for Americans held hostage in Iran by selling Iran weapons that, well, didn’t work.

There had been threats. No one connected with the Screaming Eagles was paying attention to them, I guess, when plans were made to charter a plane and send the soldiers back to Fort Campbell — just in time for Christmas, it turned out.

In hind sight, things were kinky about the trip. Is that the right word? Yes, I think so.

The soldiers were told to fly unarmed. Their weapons were packed away. There were a couple of times the plane sat unguarded in dark parts of the Cairo airport — anyone could have put anything on board then.

There were supposedly some civilians with suspicious briefcases aboard the flight. There were six casket-sized crates on the plane.

The reason I know this stuff is that, after the plane made a stop over in Gander, Newfoundland, it crashed on takeoff. Killing all souls aboard. At the time, there was some confusion about how many people actually were on the plane. The first number was scaled down by a handful.

One of the soldiers on the plane that night was Tommy Davis, from Woodbury, the son of Donnell “Digger” Davis and his wife, Jane.

Digger and I eventually went to Congressional hearings on the crash, run by Congressman Bill Hughes. Despite all the testimony here and in Canada that this appeared to be an act of terrorism, it was considered an accident.

Wind shear. That’s what five of the nine members of the Canadian equivalent to the National Transportation Safety Board concluded after a long investigation. The other four issued a  dissenting opinion saying they believed the crash was caused by something like a bomb.

A group connected with Hezbollah claimed credit for the destruction of the airplane. The six crates disappeared. (There were rumors that they might have been special forces operators killed in a failed and unannounced attempt to free our hostages.) The guys and their briefcases disappeared. An American general raced to the crash scene and attempted to have it bulldozed before forensic evidence could be collected. Several emergency workers who responded to the scene contracted a mysterious ailment and died.

Experts pointed out that damage to the plane could have been caused only by an explosion on board and not wind shear.

So that’s why my skin is crawling right now.


Back in 1999, among other things I was doing, I was operating an online forum of my own. It was long before Facebook, but it created a nice, little social media microcosm.

Among the people who populated the different levels of the forum were old friends, knife makers, adventure travel trainers and other nice people and trouble makers.

Newt Livesay, who made great knives, was becoming a writer. We often talked about adventure and plots and storylines. In fact, he beat me to the punch by creating a character I thought I was about to create — Steele Six.

Another friend was Jeff Randall, a rail-thin survival trainer who, with his partner, Mike Perrin, not only trained people to survive in the wilderness but spent a lot of time proving his training worked by leading trips to the Amazon River in Peru.

He originally called his knife company RAT Cutlery, but there was some confusion with another company. He came up with a new name during a trip to the Amazon I didn’t go on.

Jeff, and Newt, who had been recruited, were actively trying to convince me to join the ’99 trip to Peru. They both insisted this wouldn’t be severe survival, that it would be basically a leisurely walk through the jungle.

Oh, how I did consider this. It would be a great adventure. Everyone agreed on that. An epic adventure.

Slowly, it started to erode. I was told some production company from the Discovery network might accompany us to shoot an episode for cable TV.

I started doing some serious consideration. I remembered reading that participants on previous trips spent the first day being eaten alive by insects.

Well, there was no getting past that. I imagined — quite clearly — having my body covered by bites from mosquitos and chiggers and who knows what kind of exotic Amazonian insects. I know how much I whine when I have one mosquito bite. I could clearly picture the scene: This fat journalist whining about his insect bites, captured in glorious living color by a cable network’s video cameras so millions of TV watchers in America could enjoy his misfortune.

Well, that was enough to sway my decision not to take part in the trip.

Thank goodness.

This “leisurely walk in the jungle” was anything but. When Jeff and Newt and company got to Peru, they wound up somehow connecting with the Peruvian military’s Escuella de Supervivencia EE, the school of survival, escape and evasion. They did some cross training. They wound up swimming a mile down the Amazon. (Did I mention I don’t really swim?)

Thank goodness I didn’t take that trip.

So Jeff and Mike used ESEE as the new name for their knife company.

When Jeff and Mike wrote a survival book, I did the first edit for them, which was great fun. Since then, they send me knives now and then. I just got a couple small blades meant for use in camping. I hope to get around to trying them out when I’m feeling better.

So, while I missed swimming in the Amazon, I do enjoy sitting by the Delaware River. That’s more my speed, anyway.

I don’t know whether you have a Facebook account or not.

I do know many of my older readers have either switched to reading me in The Sentinel of Gloucester County or have lost track of me altogether because they just don’t do computers.

Personally, I love Facebook. It has allowed me to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances — it is perfect for that — even though once we have found each other again, there’s usually not all that much to say or talk about. A gap of 20, 30 or 40 years is sometimes just too big to fill with small talk, or any talk. Our lives have simply gone on without each other’s participation and you can’t just ignore all that time.

But, especially now that I have cancer, Facebook has become my biggest support group. When I post a status report on my fight against my bladder cancer, hundreds of Facebook friends often chime in with messages of cheer and support, offering whatever they have to offer — prayer, vibes, thoughts, mojo.

The other day, when I observed my 69th birthday — Dear heavens! How can that be? — I received nearly 500 greetings from Facebook friends.

As I’ve said more than once before, getting older is all a surprise for me. I never gave much thought to growing old. Never once thought about turning 50, at least not until I was 49.

Facebook is challenging, though. I like a lot of my Facebook friends but I don’t much care for their politics. The easy way is to unfriend people. “I don’t like your attitude about gun control/politics/religion/pick one, so I will unfriend you.”

But I usually like the person, even if I don’t agree with him or her.

So what I do is unfollow them. They remain on my friends list, I just don’t see every post they make any more. This seems to work best for me.

I guess I can do this in real life, as well. If I like a person but don’t agree with his politics, I can just ignore what they say that I disagree with. Simple, huh?

(Anyway, for those of you who don’t know: I have five chemo sessions left and should be done before Thanksgiving. That means I could have my surgery in early January. And it means I could be cancer free by Spring.)

So feel free to ignore me whenever you don’t agree with what I’m saying.


One of my favorite holidays happens this week: Halloween.

Thanks to my mother, I grew up appreciating a really good costume.

When I was little, I remember a red fox costume, but it wasn’t much more than a red rayon jump suit and a fox mask. Most other costumes I wore as a kid were much more creative.

My dad made me into a cardboard alarm clock on year. Another, I was a circus ringmaster, complete with a top hat borrowed from the funeral director who lived across the street (Yes, undertakers still occasionally wore top hats in my day!)

I was an ultra realistic scarecrow when I was about 9 years old. My mother not only crafted a terrific outfit, but mail-ordered excelsior — a kind of straw — to stuff into my cuffs, sleeves and neck. I think I may have won a Cub Scout Halloween costume contest with that one.

I was Count Dracula one year, with pale skin, slicked back hair, fangs, blood stains on my lips and a lovely black, satin cape — once again, made by my mom.

Of course, my love of masquerade, so inspired by my mother, caused me pain, as well. I bought a great full-head mask that looked just like Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. I slipped it on and tapped my mom on the shoulder. It was so frightening, she turned around, saw me and punched me in the face.

Oh, well.

My dad was in this, as well. I was an executioner, based on a Boris Karloff character, one year. He made me a great double-edged ax from plywood and floor molding.

Even in years I felt less than 100-percent, I’d get dressed up. The year I had a sprained ankle, I was a hunch-backed monster and limped door-to-door.

The year I’d torn muscles in my knee, I was a pirate on a crutch. See? I made the most of a bad situation.

I grew up in a neighborhood that was lucky enough to have a house that pre-dated today’s commercial haunted houses: There were coffins and rats and monsters and dry ice smoke swirling everywhere and we’d pass through the house being scared to death.

So, when we were 14, we decided to do our very own haunted house in Jimmy McHugh’s basement. A creepy guy in a gorilla mask escorted a few kids down stairs, where they were met with a packing-crate coffin. Inside was Dracula, who slowly rose to menace the visitors. As they backed away from the vampire, they’d bump into me, the mad scientist, who was working on a Frankenstein’s monster on a table.

They’d somehow get past us, backing into the corner, where, from behind a curtain of bedsheets, would stumble none other than the Mummy.

The screams were loud. The fun was immeasurable. Plus, we were 14 and got to chase 14-year-old girls around the basement. How could life be any better?

As an adult, I used to answer the door on Halloween wearing one of those black hoods that cover the face, giving the impression of a headless person. That, combined with my incredible horrific howl of demented laughter, scared not only Trick-or-Treaters, but their mothers, so my Closest Companion suggested I give it up.

This year, to avoid direct contact with kids who may come bearing germs to my chemo-affected self, I won’t be answering the door until my Closest Companion gets home from work, so come a little later.


Last Thursday, we met with my surgeon, Dr. Jeffry Tomaszewski, assistant director of genitourinary oncology for MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper.

Once again, my Closest Companion and I liked him immediately. He’s young, studied, funny, and we seemed to get each other right away.

If my chemotherapy is finished on schedule, which would make it end just before Thanksgiving, I can have surgery the week after Christmas.

Imagine that! I could be cancer-free by New Year’s Eve!

Tomaszewski said he’ll perform about eight hours of surgery, some robotic and some done by hand, that will relieve me of my non-working kidney, my ureter and bladder, my prostate and and lymph nodes. He will also take and re-purpose a section of my colon, fashioning it into a small, fake bladder and install a conduit that will allow me to dispose of urine into an external bag. And leave me cancer-free!

From the time I first faced the possibility that I had cancer, had the cancer confirmed, had the treatment and surgery to remove the cancer will be just under seven months.

I have trouble conceiving of that.

This life-threatening, life-changing disease will have occupied and consumed ONLY seven months. Twenty-eight weeks. A mere 210 days of my life.

In 69 years, I have lived roughly 25,185 days. That means this cancer will have occupied only 0.83382966051221% of my life.

Certainly puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

Sure, I suppose this could all go wrong, but there’s nothing to indicate that’s going to happen. As far as I’m concerned, this plan will work the way it was meant to work.

So, we’ll welcome a new great niece just before Christmas, spend the holiday with family and lots of friends and go get this done right afterwards.

So, the new goal is: Cancer-free by New Year’s Eve.

Ain't life grand?


With my 69th birthday just a couple of days away, I have learned that I am a hero.

No, really.

Apparently, some people consider me a hero just because of something I am doing, something they consider heroic in and of itself.

A group called HUAC has dubbed me a hero. Those initials do NOT stand for the House Unamerican Activities Committee, that witch hunt group led in the dark 1950s by Senator Joe McCarthy.

It stands for Hearts United Against Cancer. This 501(c)(3) non-profit organization is headquartered in Glassboro, even though it has a ubiquitous Sewell post office box address.

Founded by cancer survivor Beth Elwood, Hearts delivers care and comfort bundles to men, women and children who are undergoing any kind of treatment for cancer — and these days, that includes me.

Last week, I was sitting in a recliner in the Infusion Center — the room where chemo and similar treatments are administered — at the MDAnderson at Cooper cancer center, at the Voorhees campus.

I was talking to Maryann, a woman who had been through breast cancer surgery and treatment and was now getting preventive medications, and Michelle, a young woman with colon cancer, when Beth and her small posse arrived, bearing gifts. Pulling items from oversized tote bags, they were delivering handmade blankets in plastic packages, which also included a bookmark and, in my case, a rubber band bracelet which matched the colors of my camouflage-and-black lap blanket. Oh, and a package of Oreo cookies, too.

No one before has given me anything just because I have cancer. I was moved that they consider me a Cancer Hero.

Despite my long affiliation with members of the military, I have never actually owned anything with the camo pattern. The blanket isn’t any kind of strict camouflage, but that was its intention, I think. I guess they chose to give this blanket to me because they figured camo and my rugged appearance would go together.

These days — and I’m not sure if it’s just my age or my cancer  — I seem to feel the cold a lot. I know this comes as quite a surprise to those of you who have seen me sweat, or those who have worked with me over the years as they froze in the newsroom and I wore short-sleeved Hawaiian shirts and felt comfortable.

Whatever the reason for my current coldness,  this Hearts United Against Cancer fleece blanket is very warm and I really appreciate it on chilly mornings.

I am most grateful for the kindness of this organization. I recommend giving them any assistance you can. (Bob Shryock and I once raised $13,000 for the American Cancer Society in one night and I’m hoping that translates into good karma for me now.)

You can check out Hearts United Against Cancer online at http://www.heartsunitedagainstcancer.org. They’re also on Facebook.

And you can send them donations at P.O. Box 443, Sewell, NJ 08080.

Tell them I sent you and that, thanks to them, I’m staying toasty!



You have no idea how foreign it feels for me to be in the position of admitting I am cold almost all the time.

I have spent most of my life as a big-time perspirer. I sweated in the summer. I sweated in the winter.

You’d think someone who perspired like that would hate the summer, but it wasn’t true. I hated winter. I was unable to dress appropriately — dressing warmly made me sweat, so I avoided that and wound up freezing in winter.

In summer, thanks to the miracle of modern air conditioning, I could be comfortable, and so, I was, as much as possible.

But lately, I’m cold almost all the time.

There’s a good bet my being cold has a lot to do with me being anemic lately, and that comes from my chemotherapy, I gather.

Whatever the reason, sheesh. This is for the birds. Sweat shirts. Sweat pants. I’ve not only bought a fleece pullover, I’ve bought TWO of them. I not only bought a denim jacket, I’ve bought two, and the second is fleece-lined.

Feeling the cold so severely has affected my therapeutic sessions watching the river roll by, unfortunately. What once would have been a comfortable 66-degree day has become a really chilly day as the breeze blows close to the Delaware River and, on some of those days, I just cannot dress warmly enough. I sit on an iron bench with a leather jacket to cut the wind, a cap to protect my head from sunburn and a scarf to protect my neck from the cold wind — all while others stop for a few minutes clad in shorts and T-shirts!

This get up, of course, makes me feel like Howard Hughes or someone equally eccentric. Having always BEEN eccentric, however, allows me to feel eccentric without embarrassment.

Nevertheless, you may find me at RiverWinds a bit less as the temperatures get lower, at least until I can find a better balance between my chilly anemia and my wardrobe.

In the meantime, just look for the guy who seems way overdressed.


You may recall that I am spending quite a bit of time sitting at RiverWinds Point in West Deptford, a couple of yards from the Delaware River.

I find it serene and beautiful and extremely healing, something that soothes my mind and soul.

Sometimes, someone will come spend some time with me at the river. Martie and Bill visited one Sunday afternoon. My friend, Jen, who lives in Spain, stopped by while she was here in the States and introduced me to her husband, Luis. My old friend, Eileen, surprised me the other day by coming by.

My friend, Thelma, a country singer and picker, wants to bring her acoustic guitar to the river and jam with me. I’m not sure about that — it’s such a quiet place, generally, that I’m not sure even singing and playing of professional caliber wouldn’t be an unwelcome distraction for others who are trying to enjoy the serenity of the lovely RiverWinds Point park.

Anyway, the other day, when Jen was visiting, I snapped a picture of her with my iPhone and posted it on Facebook. Camden Detective Lucas Murray, a former journalism co-worker, suggested I should produce a little talk show, maybe 10 minutes or so, on my iPhone. I suppose I could do it in the form of a video podcast and post in online.

What a funny and fun idea. I’m not sure how it would work, but the notion tickles me. “Watching the River Roll By” with special guests now and then sitting on the iron bench next to me, talking with me just the way they did for the past couple of days.

I’m not sure what we’d talk about. Maybe things like politics or the impending visit of the Pope that might negatively affect traffic for as much as 25 miles into New Jersey or passing ships or TV shows. Who knows what we’d find interesting to discuss?

Maybe such a show would be perfect for Thelma to sing and play a couple of acoustic songs at the river. Maybe other performers would want to come and sing a couple of songs, as well.

It’s a cool idea, I think, even though actually making it happen might be more work than I want to devote to it.

Still, I guess you never know. You, too, could wind up on this unusual talk show.