The Most Important Time to Follow Your Passion is When it's Hardest
Lindsey Best Andrew Youssef
[Editor's Note: Longtime concert photographer Andrew Youssef found out almost two years ago that he had Stage IV Colon Cancer. In that time, he has continued to shoot tons of music events for our sister paper OC Weekly on top of other freelance work and working a day job at a hospital, of all places. As he continues to fight for his life, this series allows him to tell his story in his own words.]
By Andrew Youssef
It took a long time for me to understand that fighting cancer is a full-time job mentally and physically. The shock of my diagnosis had barely set in when I was wheeled down for emergent surgery to remove the cancerous tumor in my colon that was causing a 98 percent obstruction, according to my gastroenterologist.
A mental fog from surgery, chemotherapy and my diagnosis clouded my mind from the months of February to May 2011. Along with fighting the fog, another cause for concern was my weight. Originally weighing 185 pounds, I had dropped to a scary 135 pounds; I could have easily passed for Skeletor from Masters of the Universe. I was so skinny I needed pillows between my legs since they were so boney just to help me sleep. Sadly, my high school clothes fit really well, and I could wear my old Tool concert T-shirt from 1992.
The surgery tore through all my stomach muscles and left me with a souvenir scar from my waist to my belly button. My strength at that point was nonexistent. The worst part of those days was literally trying to get out of bed. A zipper-like string of staples were painful, and it took forever to roll onto one side, then try to heave myself into an upright position. The pain was excruciating, as was the notable loss of strength.
Days seemed to drag by. I could barely walk from my bedroom to my chair. I've never valued functioning muscles more in my life. It was difficult to find pleasure in anything, and depression clasped me with an iron-clad grip. I had been going to concerts since 1992, and this long streak of not seeing any shows only accelerated my depression.
I vividly remember watching only a few moments of the Coachella stream before shutting down my laptop in disgust. It was hurtful to watch, as I thought my days of photographing and seeing my favorite bands were over. The worst part is that I could barely lift my laptop at that point.
The fog in my head would eventually crack for a tiny ray of light when I decided to photograph Fleet Foxes at the Hollywood Palladium. I don't know what possessed me to do it, but I was at the tail end of my chemotherapy dose and, theoretically, my "strength" would be as high as possible. Realizing my physical weakness, I carried around my camera bag days prior to the show, doing laps inside the house as I trained for the big day. My friend was nice enough to drive me to the show and watch over me.
Opening the show were the Cave Singers. Still worried about my energy, I sat down on the little shelf at the barricade to take pictures; I wanted to conserve my energy for Fleet Foxes. Once the Fleet Foxes hit the stage, a surge of adrenalin pumped through my veins, giving me the boost to photograph their show. I wisely increased the shutter-speed setting on my camera, as my arms were definitely trembling; they weren't ready to hold up a heavy camera for three songs.
When my friend dropped me off at home, I cried. I couldn't believe after all I had been through that I successfully attended a concert and photographed the show. For those three songs, I momentarily forgot I had cancer. It was and still is the best feeling in the world--more therapeutic for my mental health than anything. I was back doing one of the things I loved to do the most.