So much about who we are is defined by how we look. How others see us, how we think others see us, how we see ourselves. I don’t think this is different when you are an actor but maybe it is larger, weighs heavier on the psyche. Selection for roles tied to art direction criteria established in offices of polished chrome and laminate is a harsher reality than most of us will ever subject ourselves to in the pursuit of earning a living.
In front of a live audience consisting of members of his ‘tribe’ – people known in real life (IRL) and those of us fortunate enough to have met him through the wonders of the social media – he did ‘it’.
In Los Angeles, Jeff took an electric razor fitted with a number 3 blade to his head before chemotherapy could claim his hair, a friend there to live stream, afterwards they opened a bottle of something. In Stockholm, I cried for the continuing expansion of Jeff’s ‘I got this’ attitude.
In the first moments of the video Jeff shows us ‘why’. He reaches up, with index finger and thumb and (far too) easily plucks a clump of hair from his head… we witness his action and we feel it. We think about the totality of the gesture and what we watched long after the video ends. Jeff’s narration earns our solidarity and our running commentary included YouTube videos, GIFs and emoticons, humour, awe, love, respect and lots of encouragement. Some called his action brave – he was emphatic that he wasn’t being the least bit brave. Bravery, Jeff said, is many other things but it is not fighting cancer. Bravery is defined as a selfless, heroic action which benefits others, but to be brave, as a verb, “to defy; challenge; dare.” Oh yes, this is Jeff. It wasn’t the actual shaving of his head, or subsequently his beard (due to, as he described it, a newly developed ‘mange patch’ on his cheek), what is so brave it is Jeff’s willingness to publicly document his path to being #CancerFreebyXmas each day. To be honest I don’t know where he finds the stamina. That documentation, his ability to nominally separate himself from his experience and tap into his comfort zone as an actor/spokesperson and generally taking the bull by the horns when the health “care” system in the United States is doing e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g imaginable to hinder him leaves me in awe.
In two chemo treatments Jeff has wrestled the softball size mass known as “Lumpy” to less than a third of that. He has accomplished this through grace, a formidable example of positive-ness, eating well (organic Paleo) and, I think, the cyclical path of the universal kindness he freely offers to the world around him returning to his doorstep in abundance.
The greatest violation our world knows is the systemic stripping away of dignity. The premiums Jeff willingly parted with each month to Molina Health long before Lumpy took up residence (from my perspective) seemed designed to finance a black op site rather than serve as a critical component to the restoration of his health. Had Molina been ‘better insurance’ the necessity to shave his head would have eliminated by the use of a Cold Cap, shouldn’t insurance cover expenses related to treatments and the loss of income (enter the Aflac duck voice)? If you’ve ever been 8,000 miles away from someone you have come to care deeply about when some publicly traded behemoth is trying to break them into tiny shards then my words will resonate with you – each of Jeff’s sorties in his battle have become very personal to me, and to all of his tribe.
A couple night’s ago I penned an email to a contact in the public relations department of Lowe’s primarily because she had expressed, on behalf of Lowe’s, their best wishes for Jeff’s health. As I have written previously Jeff plays “Matt” in a commercial for them. What that commercial has done for Jeff is beyond financial gain, it has removed a torturous contributor of stress generated by indifference, ineptitude and bad policy. As an actor you earn equity in the Screen Actors Guild, SAG, through each appearance you make. At a certain point that equity generates benefits including the ability to participate in SAG’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance. With Lowe’s “Matt” commercial running in multiple markets Jeff has earned sufficient equity to qualify for and be accepted into SAG’s insurance. He was covered by his new SAG policy in moments. Jeff was then able to put the decaying stench otherwise known as Molina Health and their rendition co-conspirator Global IPA to the curb like yesterday’s trash. As every ‘happy ending’ has an element of karma running through it, Reuters ran a story concurrent to Jeff’s migration noting that the interim CEO of Molina Health was letting 1400 employees go in an effort to improve Molina’s financial picture. I take incredible satisfaction in their downward spiral, and will gladly assist in any possible way to their ultimate demise. Molina Health and Global IPA are prime examples of the rotting abscess of greed destroying American society. Their employees and shareholders alike are culpable for allowing internal protocols to perpetuate an environment of suffering and stress at a time when no one has an extra ounce of energy to spare. Damn them all.
* This is the second in a series of posts about my friend Jeff, his cancer and the rationale for establishing single-payer, universal health care in America.
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