John Bogert figures he has written 6,500 or so columns for the South Bay Daily Breeze since he became the paper's columnist in 1984. In his final column, running today and accompanied by a story in the paper, he says the colon cancer that he told readers about a couple of years ago has essentially won. He is off treatment, and also off the Daily Breeze payroll, though he doesn't explain how that came to pass. The final column, he notes, is a freebie.
Despite all the atta-boy encouragement I've received, stage 4 is still stage 4. And there's almost no need to point out that there is no stage 5, even if such a bogus medical designation might make those of us in the stage-4 holding pen feel like we had a bit more hope. While doctors might offer encouragement ("You could die of cancer but I could die driving to work tomorrow," is a choice example), they would have to be crazy to offer you and your lawyer a human expiration date.
Still, the inclusion of the term "stage 4" in any self-description gives a guy certain harder parameters.
And, in the last few months, it brought along some pain. This after working back to a nearly normal work schedule earlier in the year and a renewed appreciation of something as profoundly silly, rewarding and life-affirming as a four-day work schedule writing, of all things a man might get involved with, newspaper columns.
In late February, the cancer growing in my peritoneum, a body part that I was previously happily unacquainted with, began pushing on my intestinal tract, causing blockages, wrecking my appetite and knocking down my weight.
John reviews his career in the column and tells readers "I'm not afraid, which means that I'm probably still mired in avoidance or one of those other grief-diagnosis words that I don't quite understand. What I am is heartsick, but only at those times when I come close to grasping the utter ordinariness of something as extraordinary as death."
The Breeze story by staff writer Josh Grossberg, (Writer's words touched us all), says that "like the man himself, his columns were witty, urbane, sarcastic, sentimental, liberal, cantankerous, religious, funny, heartbreaking, a touch insecure and filled with a devotion to family, an awe of the universe and a love of being alive.
"And unlike so many columnists who string along jokes or tell meandering stories, John's pieces always had a point, they nourished the soul. There was always a sense of satisfaction when you read that last sentence."
Although he would become the voice of the South Bay, John has never lived here. Instead, he settled in Pasadena, where he still lives.
"My wife couldn't drive at the time," he said. "I had to drive her to work on the way. It just worked out better. I wish I had moved to the South Bay years ago, but in some ways not. Writing the column exposes you. With so many people knowing you, it'd be hard to go anywhere."
In 2010, when Bogert had been out of the Breeze's pages for some time undergoing treatment, one of his daughters stepped in and wrote a column filling in the readers on her dad.
What made things more impossible to comprehend was that my dad has had ulcerative colitis since childhood. He has been getting colonoscopies since he was 15, meaning everyone but the estate of Jacques Cousteau has footage of my dad's colon. How was this missed?
Photo: Daily Breeze