GB Fights Cancer & Poverty – A Condensed History in Words & Pictures

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GB with his friend and carer Gabi, October 2012

GB’s note: April 27, 2020: Things had been going well since my move to Mexico City. I was cooking full-time and if not able to do anything else, at least able to pay rent and buy a colostomy bag per week.

Then the pandemic hit and now I’m out of a job. I’m not homeless, miraculously, thanks to a considerate ex-boss, but let’s just say the job market for out-of-work cooks is not looking good. There are no stimulus checks or business bailouts for the good people and businesses of Mexico.

Donate if you can.

GB’s note: May 27, 2019: I left Buenos Aires in the summer of 2019, thanks to friends I made in a hostel where I’d lived and worked for a year.

I spent some time on the Atlantic Coast of Argentina, marveling at the beauty of youth and the brightness of the full moon; wincing, came back briefly to Buenos Aires to buy c-bags; worked for 3 weeks on a farm near Urdinarrain in Entre Rios province; picked up some money in Gualeguaychú, the carnival capital of Argentina; spent some weeks in Rosario, which I really liked, especially the friendly folks; came to Córdoba with higher expectations and although the architecture blew my mind, especially all the weird, old, brutalist and modernist buildings, I found the people to be distant, haughty, and grumpy, to put it charitably. Great public wifi, though. I spent a few nights homeless there and had to sell my chef’s knife to get a room in a hostel for a week. <insert very-unhappy face.>

I crossed the spectacular Andes on a bus and found myself in Santiago, Chile, which is full of immigrants of varying shades of brown, including many of Afro-Caribbean and African descent. The ones I spoke to were invariably eager to talk and muy amable. With few exceptions, particularly the cop in the bus station who let me pee without paying because I didn’t have any local pesos yet, Chilenos tried to rip me off at almost every turn and succeeded twice.

Because of that, I had to spend one cold night on the streets of Santiago, which was not fun at all. I finally discovered the insulation power of cardboard.

But I eventually got on a plane to my next destination and my next stage in life.

After nearly a year of looking for a volunteer job in hostels in Argentina, the first hostel I applied to in Mexico accepted me. The owner told me when the manger showed her my profile, she \”rejoiced.\” Her words.

A hostel guest has already mentioned me in a review.

The hostel is super clean and nice. I eat a complete breakfast every morning and wander this giant, historic city in the afternoons. I’m in a touristy, rather cheto neighborhood but I’m so happy I can buy bacon and eat tacos al pastor at 4 in the morning for less than two bucks.

Buenos Aires, thanks for saving my life, I guess, but good riddance. I doubt we’ll miss each other.

I’m grateful for my benefactors and for my stalwart friends, none of whom have much use for thoughts and prayers.

But especially to Mia and Luis, who put my butt in gear after years stuck in the mud.

GB’s note, September 25, 2017: Looking at what’s not included in this overview, I realized I avoided coming off as too angry, and so left out some shitty things that friends and family either did or failed to do. From my perspective now, after another asshole has treated me badly, I think I’ve been way too fucking nice.

Just to name two instances of neglect and mistreatment:

  1. During my entire cancer ordeal, my family contributed a total of $300 [2018 note: Actually the total is probably more like $500] Specifically one sister, $300, and one niece, the oldest, $200. My other sister contributed nothing. We don’t speak because of something she said to me back in the 2000s: \”The best thing you could have done for this family was to leave and not come back.\” (This was in reference to my life in Prague, which I wrote about extensively on a blog called The Rent Boys of Prague. So you can imagine what she meant.) This sister has two houses. My whole family was planning trips to Disneyworld and talking about Christmas gifts on Facebook while I was taking chemo pills, waiting for surgery, and not eating for days. I have several other nieces, all with working families. They are all good fundamentalist Christians. But you see, I am not, and I’m adopted.
  2.  Right after Conyers Thompson kicked me out on the streets, and after I finally got a cheap room, 6 weeks went by before I heard from anyone in my family or from friends.

Every once in a while, someone will ask me why I appear to be so angry (Hi, Kyra!). Well, all things considered, I think I’m handling the awfulness of human beings rather well. Despite opportunities and in some cases, good reason, I have yet to threaten or perpetrate violence. But in my experience, humans are more tolerant of violent people than of people who are outspoken.

(Did I mention that my Argentine boyfriend at the time of my second surgery, during which I died, left the hospital and never came back? The next time I saw him, he put his head on my shoulders and asked for money. I didn’t? Well, now I have.)

GB’s note, April 29, 2016: I realized that some of this is out of date. I decided to stop treatment and not get the final surgery. Although it’s more accurate to say that my mental illness and basic temperament decided for me. I’m also not accepting donations anymore, but I am accepting work.


I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in December 2009 after an emergency surgery for peritonitis. I lived through the first surgery but died on the operating table during the second and was revived.

I woke up to discover I had a colostomy.

Through a typical lack of foresight and discipline, I didn’t have health insurance and was treated in the public health care system in Buenos Aires. The doctors are good and especially patient and committed. The facilities have been neglected, however, and the system is over-burdened.

Paralyzed by fear & despair and frightened by the doctors in the public hospitals who told me I should \”sell everything I owned\” in order to get treated privately, I delayed beginning chemotherapy for two months. During that time, the tumor returned in my colon.

Prodded into action by friends, I began chemotherapy in another, more welcoming and reassuring public hospital in Buenos Aires. I also underwent radiotherapy. It burned my ass.

Although I began this ordeal with a job, in the ensuing months my employer ran out of money and stopped paying me. I was living in one of his flats and began blogging about his incompetence and mistreatment. He found the blog and was very pissed off. He conspired to lock me out of the flat, refusing to return my medical records and chemotherapy drugs.

He has never returned my possessions or paid me the three months salary he owes me.

I had already burned through my savings very quickly and found myself on the street with only the clothes on my back and a little bit of money in my pocket. I slept on the floor of a friend’s apartment for three weeks until I found an affordable flat in what can only be described as a slum building, infested with slugs and cockroaches.

Friends and expats rallied around me so that I could pay the first month’s rent there and eat.

Meanwhile, I resumed chemotherapy and was told I would need surgery to remove the tumor. PET scans revealed that the cancer had spread to my liver and peritoneum. More despair.

Eventually, I was forced out of the flophouse by a belligerent and mentally challenged building manager. He kicked down my door and threatened me with physical harm all because I left a piece of toilet paper in the toilet bowl. (He was paranoid about my having a colostomy.) Once again, I was rescued by friends.

For several months, as I continued chemotherapy and waited for surgery (public system equals long waits) I bounced around from one kind person to the next.

In total, I waited a year, showing up at the hospital 4 separate times, only to be turned away and told there was no room. Again, this is the result of relying on an over-burdened public system.

3 months ago I was finally operated on. After months of nothing but bad news, the surgeons told me afterward there was no visible cancer, anywhere.

I’m still a bit stunned by that news.

There is still one more surgery to go: Removing the colostomy so that I can finally live a more normal life with whatever time I have left. The cancer might come back.

Over this entire period, I have maintained my art walks, giving tours even during chemotherapy when there were blisters on my feet and afterward I would sleep for 15 hours I was so exhausted.  But I could not have made it without the fundraising and donations from friends and strangers or without the right to universal health care in Argentina, for everyone, even foreigners silly enough not to have private health insurance.

I have been operated on three times. My boyfriend left me after the second surgery. I have been robbed three times, and threatened with bodily harm. I have been kicked out on the streets with nothing. I have lived in poverty, and have gone without eating for days at a time, or have lived on plain rice. I still only have two pairs of pants and no winter coat. I do not have health insurance, a lover or partner, or family in Argentina. I still don’t speak or understand Spanish very well. It has been a long, hard fight and many times I have wanted to give up.

I don’t know what you will get out of reading this diary but I hope you get something.

Abrazos

GB

This is blog is no longer being updated.

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Tim
Tim
10 years ago

Rick, I have lots of high-end clothes (jeans, shirts, jackets) that I was going to sell on consignment. What sizes do you wear? I’ll try to send you some clothing, if you can fit into any of these things.

Maria Florencia
Maria Florencia
10 years ago

Hey, Rick!

My name is María Florencia. I’m an English teacher, born and bred in Buenos Aires, though I just came back from the U.S. after spending 9 months on a Fulbright scholarship (an exchange program for English teachers).

Today, I was checking e-mails and I spotted yours and decided to click on the link that led me to this blog. I read your story and feel your despair and your pain. Yet, I can’t help feeling indirectly hurt myself because of what you say regarding our public health care system. True, it IS neglected, it IS over-burdened and it is indeed miserably dilapidated. Yet, had I been in your shoes in the U.S., I would’ve died an unnoticed –or, rather, a consciously neglected– death. In Argentina, health care is a universal human right granted to everyone regardless of income, nationality or status. That is, both citizens and non-citizens (legal and illegal) are able to make use of the nation’s public system, thus the system’s overuse as a consequence of immigration rise, alongside a number of other problems like unemployment. But, please, don’t get me wrong, I am not posting this because I want to start an argument. On the contrary, I did not get wrought up whatsoever and, be sure, I did not lose sight of what really matters here. It should probably go without saying, but it goes better with saying: you and your life. So, I’m posting this because I’m positive God, the universe, karma, fate or you-name-it, paradoxically though fortunately, put you in the right place, at the right time… Granted, if I were you, I would probably be also counting the days to get “a ticket out of here and home,” just thinking (or, rather, writing) out loud.

By the way, the best Spanish phrase for used clothes is simply ” ropa usada” (as in “hang-me-down clothes”). Just be careful with the expression “ropa de segunda mano” (“second-hand items”) for some people use these clothes for sale at flea markets, so I think the first expression works better.

Also, some colleagues of mine might offer you employment. Sometimes, English teachers that own a language school are on the lookout for native speakers. Check out these Facebook pages: https://www.facebook.com/groups/eltargentina/ and https://www.facebook.com/groups/teachersfromtheamericas/. You can leave your message in English and, maybe, even link this page.

Stay strong and blessed.

Abrazos,

María Florencia.

marcy westerling
10 years ago

Good luck in your journey staying alive as a global citizen. I appreciate the photos of the colostomy bag – we need more photos of living with scary things.
Marcy Westerling
http://livinglydying.com/

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