Fitz column mug

David Fitzsimmons, Tucson’s most beloved ink-stained wretch.

I recently had my 10-year cancer check. The final check. When Dr. Terence Favazza told me he saw no signs of cancer I flashed back to that day of terror more than 10 years ago when we discovered my bladder was awash with tumors.

I then flashed back to the day after my surgery when Dr. Favazza said, “We got it all. Next step? Immunotherapy.”

I flashed back to the weeks of catheter misery.

So 10 years later here I was, in a paper gown, feeling two emotions, relief and fear. The 10-year mark was a milestone. I had won.

Because bladder cancer recurs throughout a patient’s life I didn’t feel emancipated from the beast. I was anxious I wouldn’t be inspected on a regular basis. Dr. Favazza understood my paranoia. “Come back in two years.”

I am grateful for the journey, friends and profound life changing experiences I have been blessed to experience, thanks to cancer.

All day Saturday I’ll be experiencing one of those profound moments, judging magnificent women auditioning to be one of eight storytellers for S.T.A.R.S!: Survivors Take a Real Stage, a brainchild of my friend, and radiant survivor, Judy Pearson. The chosen will tell their tales 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4, at Pima Community College West.

If you’re going through cancer hell, or survived it, you’ve got a story to tell. And take it form me — if you’re going through cancer hell, or survived it, you need to hear these stories. Judy says it best: “Are you using your gifts of life and experience to give back to the greater good in ‘A 2nd Act’? Then we want to hear YOUR story!”

Every time I hear a survivor’s story, I’m blessed. I’m blessed to hear stories of heartbreak, faith and fear, love and joy, almost always salted with resilient humor. My sense of humor came from my parents, who coped with their cancer sentences with defiant gallows humor.

In memory of my mom I am once again producing the second annual “Titters — A Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Event” at Laffs Comedy Club, on Wednesday, Oct. 3rd, featuring Tucson’s funniest, sassiest and smartest female comedians: Nancy Stanley, Stacy Scheff, Steena Salido, Mo Urban, Amber Frame, Linda Ray and Charlotte Bellflower. See if you can guess who the survivors in our lineup are. How lucky am I to work with strong women who are gifted at making us laugh to keep from crying? Women who know. Women who will make you cry the reassuring tears of recognition that you are not alone.

I may even take to the stage.

Desperately waiting for a diagnosis a decade ago I distracted myself by drawing cartoons of spiders spinning webs over me as a skeletal version of me sat dying in the waiting room. The receptionists kept them.

When I was on my back with a catheter feeding the cure into my diseased bladder I wanted to cry. Instead I distracted myself by drawing vulgar images on my gown and making dumb jokes. “Where’d you get this catheter? Loew’s garden section? Is this the smallest fire hose Rural Metro has? Find any Chilean miners down there?”

I ended up entertaining at their clinic’s holiday office party a year later. After the last treatment I expected the wonderful staff to greet me with a 21-catheter salute.

When I was a kid, my dad’s jokes grew darker and more irreverent as the inevitable approached. The joke, “Come to my funeral and I’ll come to yours,” is older than you think. The Master Sergeant had a unique life philosophy: “When you’re born, it’s like you’ve been pushed out of a C-17 Globemaster. Without a chute. At 30,000 feet. You know how the ride’s going to end, Sparky. The question is are you going to carry on about what you can’t change or are you going to laugh like a lunatic and enjoy the view all the way to the very end?”

And then he’d cough up blood and fire up a Marlboro. And together we’d make light of his agony. And I’d make a private vow that when I grew up I’d do what I could to end this disease.

Contact editorial cartoonist and columnist David Fitzsimmons at tooner@tucson.com