Tracie Cone has always been a trailblazer. This award-winning journalist is the former California Newspaper Executive of the Year. She shares a Pulitzer Prize with fellow staff members at the Miami Herald for coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew and has twice been nominated individually. She has focused her writing on helping the underdog and empowering those without a strong voice of their own. Now she takes us on the fight of her life.
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Make A Wish

I have cancer; it does not have me. And because I have cancer, countless good things have been happening to me, seemingly to get me through this troubled time.

I joked with my friends the other day it seems my life lately has been one long Make-A-Wish.

This time I’m not talking about the love and acts of kindness coming my friends. I have chronicled that before, though it could never be enough.

When a person struggles with a debilitating illness there are kindnesses extended from all sorts of surprising places and strangers to make the go a little easier.

Isn't this sweet? And the sign is funny.

Let’s start with Pacific Gas & Electric, the boogeyman of the state, our power monopoly. The rate structure in California is set up so that the people who consume the most quickly climb a five-tiered ladder of rates so that ultimately they pay the most for each kilowatt hour used. It means that those who live in the hottest and coldest places (that would be those of us in Fresno and the Central Valley, where, not coincidentally, the state’s highest rate of poverty exists) pay the most for natural gas and electricity.

Well, heat is unbearable to people on chemo, and yesterday it was 110 degrees here. Going into this Michelle and I wondered how we would be able to afford our usual unaffordable $850 monthly summertime electric bill with me out of work. And we wondered how much higher the bill would be with me home fulltime blasting the AC all day.

Unbeknownst to most, PG&E offers a break to people suffering catastrophic illnesses. Those people stay on the first tier no matter how much electricity used. We applied and were accepted. So far we’ve received two electric bills this summer. The average? $120. Whew. Thanks PG&E! Very few know this benefit exists, so I’m sharing it with you. If you know someone who is sick, please share this with him or her.

Then a few weeks ago we went to Yosemite National Park. While sitting in a line of traffic, we noticed a sign that said people with disabilities are waived the $20 entry fee. At the gate, we showed my (temporary) disabled parking placard. The ranger looked at it, looked at me and asked for our paperwork. After a few awkward moments during which I felt compelled to hand over $20, she jotted something down then handed to us a wallet-sized card. Turns out disabled people get access to every national park in the country for FREE for LIFE. Even temporarily disabled people, I guess.

We hope to get up to see the giant redwoods this weekend. Can’t wait to see the inspiring beautiful trees that have endured for a thousand years no matter what Earth and man have thrown at them.

We also get our gas pumped for free (not that I drive anymore). And grocery stores open checkout lines for us. And strangers perform all manner of kind acts when they notice my bald head, like the young man to sprang to his feet to move a patio heater for us at a restaurant last weekend.

The moral of this story is not that sick people get things. It’s that in some informal way our society has evolved to make life a little easier for people who need a break.

And for now, for just a few months longer, I need a break.

PS: To answer a common question, yes, I’m bald. Completely all over, except for a few straggly eyebrows. Chemo kills fast-growing cells, and hair is fast growing. No I do not have to shave my head daily or weekly to keep my scalp shiny and smooth. Why would I go that? Wouldn’t I just let it grow and have hair again?

One Response to “Make A Wish”

  • Nancy:

    I am so sorry to hear about your illness and I am still in shock. I hope the best for you — love your PG&E story; the federal parks should be free for you -for life! You are such a great writer; thanks for sharing!
    Looking forward to seeing you and Michelle next week!

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