CVIndependent

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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

“When I first went to the radiologist,” says Phil Drucker, “he told me, ‘Other than the cancer, you’re a really healthy guy.’ I’ve been a vegetarian, haven’t smoked since I was 22, and hardly ever drink. I kept thinking, ‘This just isn’t possible.’”

Drucker, 60 and a La Quinta resident for the past eight years, was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. The eldest of three, his parents were children of immigrant parents.

“My mom’s biggest impression on me was not what she said, but rather what she did,” says Drucker. “When I was in elementary school, there was a teacher’s strike. Most people backed the teachers, but my mom didn’t. She put on her miniskirt and go-go boots, and wrote a sign: ‘I pay my taxes. Why aren’t my kids in school?’ She taught me that when you think you’re right, all you need is an army of one.

“My dad was very old-school European. He worked for the Department of Water and Power for 38 years, a union guy. He was a complex person, a deep thinker who kept to himself and didn’t talk much. The main thing I remember is that our house was full of books. He loved books—never threw one away.

“My parents hadn’t gone to college, so it’s kind of funny that when I got a scholarship to college, my dad said, ‘This college thing is really great, but did you ever consider going into the Air Force for 10 years and retiring with a pension and then going to college?’ I figured if I didn’t do (college) then, I never would.”

Drucker did take the scholarship and went to Cal State Northridge for a year. He later attended Santa Monica City College for a year before going to UCLA for a degree in fine arts.

“Music had been in my family,” Drucker says. “My sister played piano, and my brother took up the saxophone. I learned the clarinet in junior high school, because my parents didn’t want to pay for a new instrument, and my dad had an old one he had played.”

At age 16, Drucker took up the guitar and later played in various bands. “It was in the 1980s,” he recalls, “in the post-punk scene. Through my 20s, I got paid for playing, and got to tour to Europe twice along with all over the U.S. and Canada.

“When I stopped playing music, I knew I needed a ‘real job.’ I had worked in a letterpress company while I was in school, and went back into that world. I kept finding myself as the person who was the liaison to lawyers, handling things like contracts and copyrights. A lawyer I worked with once said to me, ‘Do you know the difference between what you do and what I do? About $150,000 a year!’”

At age 34, Drucker decided to go back to school. At that time, entry into law school at the University of La Verne required a personal interview in addition to taking the Law School Admissions Test. “When I met for the interview, the admissions director said he’d been doing his job for 20 years and had never had someone come in with a degree in fine arts. But he said he found me interesting, so I got admitted.

“Because of my undergrad degree, I knew about music, painting, graphics, copyrights—and it interested me how the law around those things had materialized over the years. I hadn’t thought about the fact that copyright and patents are covered in the Constitution, and that it’s actually a limitation on First Amendment rights.”

Drucker graduated law school at 36, and at 40, he passed the bar on his first try.

“It’s kind of funny,” he says, “that my brother also became a lawyer. He’s in PI (personal injury), and I’m in IP (intellectual property).” In addition to his practice, Drucker became an expert on constitutional law, including teaching and public speaking.

What should people know?

“First, if you’re ever stopped by the police, be nice. They have a gun, and you don’t,” he says. “Second, don’t mess with immigration agents at the airport. They can throw you into a dark room for up to 72 hours.

“The Constitution doesn’t really grant you rights; a piece of paper can’t give you rights. What makes us unique is we are the only nation conceived on the concept of ‘natural rights,’ born with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The piece of paper lays out what the government CAN’T do, and is only as good as those using it.”

After a life of eating healthy and working out regularly, Drucker last year was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer.

“I had never been in a hospital before. I even still have my tonsils,” he says. “I didn’t go to the doctor routinely, but my stomach was bothering me, so I went in and had a blood test. The doctor called me the next day and said I had to come back immediately. I had another blood test, and it turned out my hemoglobin level was way lower than it should have been. The doc said I shouldn’t even have driven myself over. He said by law, he couldn’t let me leave, and that if I walked out, he’d have to drag me back. I ended up in a wheelchair taken to the hospital, and they said I’d have to stay at least 48 hours. They’d have to give me blood to try to get my count to an acceptable level.

“It finally dawned on me to ask, ‘I don’t have cancer, do I?’” he says. “It turned out I did, but it hadn’t metastasized. The doctor said in six more months, that wouldn’t have been the case.

“I had surgery and they found five nodes infected, so I had to have chemotherapy—pills at first, and then infusions—and I had 28 radiation treatments. It feels like they take you to the brink of death’s doorstep, and then your body kicks in, and they encourage it to heal. It was really scary. I got depressed and felt so fatigued, but I kept up my teaching schedule through that semester.

“The infusions are done in a large room with lots of other people, and I realized one day, looking at everybody, all hooked up to the same machines, that it didn’t matter who we were—we all wanted the same thing: to get better. That’s what binds me to all other cancer survivors for the rest of my life. It confirmed what I’ve always believed: We are all one.

“Most people take their dog to the vet more than they routinely go to the doctor. It’s a mistake. The fact that I ate vegan and worked out was probably the only reason they were able to get the cancer in time. They tell you to think positively, but you think, ‘If this could happen to me, what else can happen?’ You experience vulnerability, helplessness, a sense of futility. I never thought about giving up, although there were very dark days.

“I’ve gotten into mindfulness, living in the moment. I know life isn’t about the past or the future; we can’t change them anyway. They tell you to decide if you want to share your experience, and I’m willing to help anybody going through what I did.

“Whatever is going on in life, you have to find the gems in the mud. That’s what keeps me going.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I’m having a bad hair life. Not just a bad hair day … a whole lifetime!

I was born with stringy, straight, thin (and ever-thinning), blonde (well, at least I got something right!) hair. To perm or not to perm? Short or long? Cut or grow? Color, highlight or go natural? Wig or no wig?

Thank God for good hairdressers! And when you go to a salon, doesn’t the hair of the person doing your hair make a difference?

My new role model in life is Cindy Melchor, 53, of La Quinta.

Cindy received a high school equivalency degree at 16. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew I didn’t want to go to school. I had been a model once for a neighbor who was in beauty school, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ It looked like something that would get me out of school.”

She attended beauty college at the age of 17, and has been doing hair ever since.

In July 2011, a small, cancerous lump was detected by mammography in one of Cindy’s breasts.

She had to face a real dilemma: She knew the treatment would rob her of her hair.

“I had had lots of clients over the years who had gone through breast cancer. Most of them had done just fine and recovered. I know people die from it, but that never entered my mind. In fact, when the doctor told me, I initially laughed about the absurdity of it.”

Exactly one year before Cindy’s diagnosis, her sister had also been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Cindy Melchor“She was the first one I told, and she just freaked out. But my clients had changed my perspective. I just thought, ‘OK, it’s breast cancer; it’s nothing. Lots of people have had it and turned out just fine.’

“I didn’t look at it as a death sentence. It was just a bump in the road. The only time I cried at all was when I told my daughter.”

Cindy began treatment, first with a lumpectomy, and then chemotherapy for four months. Radiation treatments followed for a couple of months after that.

“After my first treatment, my hair began to disappear. I lost everything—hair on my head, all over my body, my eyelashes and eyebrows. But none of that bothered me as much as having to wear a wig.”

Cindy was uncomfortable with the physical feeling of a wig, although she adds, “The shaved head didn’t bother me. To see yourself bald is really weird. At least I had a decent head!

“I walked around fine at home and around my family. But I wore the wig whenever I went out—even to get the paper. I just felt as if, out in public, everyone knew. When I see someone in the market, bald or wearing a head scarf, I always think, ‘Cancer.’

“For me, going out bald meant people would identify me by the disease, and that bothered me. That part didn’t bother my sister at all.”

Cindy had no discomfort talking about her condition with her clients. “I told everyone. I’ve never been secretive about it.

“Walking into the shop for the first time with the wig on was actually the hardest part of the whole experience. I never hid anything about what I was going through. My clients and co-workers all went through it with me, and that helped, but it made me the center of attention—and I just hate that.”

How long did she wear the wig, and when did her own hair return?

“To look like me, (it was) about six months after I completed chemo,” says Cindy. “I took the wig off when my hair was still very short and spiky. I look at pictures of me during that time, and it just doesn’t look like me. I actually took the wig off too soon.”

Cindy’s twin granddaughters were born just after she stopped wearing her wig, and she now has a third grandchild. “If money was no object, and I could do anything I want, I can’t imagine wanting to do anything other than spend more time with my daughter and grandchildren.”

Does Cindy have any advice for others who have to go through what she did?

“It’s such a personal thing,” she says. “For me, it was about not being the center of attention. You have to do whatever is comfortable. I realized my own vanity and my desire not to be the center of attention, but in the end, what was most important was that the cancer didn’t define me.”

If there is reincarnation, and we have to keep coming back until we’re perfect, I want to come back with Jennifer Aniston’s or Farrah Fawcett’s hair … or as Cindy Melchor.

Oh, and get regular mammograms—just do it!

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Published in Know Your Neighbors