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Amphibious Again

Doheny Beach, California, July 9, 2012—Just got out of the ocean.
One year ago last summer, I was in an isolation unit at City of Hope getting a stem cell transplant to wipe-out the cancer that had broken my L-5 vertebra and threatened my life.  Five-months-and-one-week after back-fusion surgery—three titanium rods installed with a half-dozen screws by world-class neurosurgeon Dr. Rahul Jandial—I strapped my surfboard to the roof racks on my truck and drove down anxiously. (I was supposed to wait six months, but I’d been working-out vigorously, swimming laps so I wouldn’t drown, and it was over 100 degrees in Pasadena!) 

Mark Barkawitz after surfing in Malibu.

Doheny Beach, California, July 9, 2012—Just got out of the ocean. 

    I was able to paddle-out.  But I never really knew for sure if I’d actually be able to surf again, a sport which I’d taken up as a teenager and had continued all of my adult life until my back broke from the cancer 2½ years ago.  There was a small, south swell running—perfect, little waves for my liquid re-hab.  I caught three, small waves—muscle-memory took over as soon as I rode each—and then paddled-in.  Didn’t want to overdo it on my first day back.  Rock-danced the shallows to the sandy shoreline.

    Tomorrow, I’d return and ride six, small waves. 

    Sitting on the warm sand under a clear, baby-blue sky, staring out at kindred surfers bobbing like multi-colored corks on the blue-green ocean, I pounded my chest, thanking all—All—who had helped return me to this pantheistic altar, at peace with the majestic world around me, a small part of something much bigger. 

    Cowabunga, Brah!  There was life after cancer—and it was good!

Previously published: Inspire Us Magazine, pg. 9, Aug. Issue; 2016;
The Write Place at the Write Time, Our Stories Section, Summer Issue, ’15.