An unexpected emergency room ordeal reminds a thoughtful Congressman Alcee Hastings that pancreatic cancer won’t stop him from waging battles for people who can’t fight for themselves.
BY DAPHNE TAYLOR
A FLORIDA COURIER EXCLUSIVE
Earlier in the year when I heard about Congressman Alcee Hastings facing pancreatic cancer, I was extremely concerned. I wondered if he would survive it.
I know he’s always been a fierce fighter his entire life. But two years ago, as a co-worker faced the same illness, I happened to glimpse a television special on the disease. It was devastating.
Low long-term survival
Very sadly, few too many people just don’t survive pancreatic cancer, unlike other cancers, for years at a time. I was heartbroken, because while I prayed and prayed for my friend, she didn’t survive it. So when the news of the congressman hit the media, my heart sank.
My faith knows, without a doubt, that with God all things are possible! But still, the news gave me a moment of reflection over the life of this political giant.
As mentioned in the first installment of this series, he helped launch me into my role as host of a live call-in talk show which became quite popular in South Florida, “The Voice of the People” on WRBD-AM in Fort Lauderdale.
Because he was a giant even then in the 1980s, as my first guest on the show, we broke all kinds of barriers and got all sorts of buzz and media coverage such that it skyrocketed my career to a whole new level.
So I had lots to reflect upon.
What about him?
With this news of a serious health condition, is he reflective of the fullness and totality of a life well-lived? Though he paused to take inventory of where this news has brought him in life, it seems the resilient Alcee Hastings is nonetheless ready to plow right through this latest challenge.
A clue? He didn’t resign from Congress.
“Now that I have begun treatment, I feel hopeful about survival and about my ability to continue serving my constituents of Florida’s 20th Congressional District and the nation,” he indicated in a press statement announcing the illness.
In other words, this will not stop him from serving the people.
“Should it become clear that this cancer, which has invaded my body, cannot be defeated I will tell you so,” he stated. But until then, he’s still here doing what he does best – representing the people.
A recent visit to the emergency room made him even more resolved to fight. It was over the Memorial Day holiday that his doctor, after a regular visit, said he needed to go immediately to the hospital emergency room. He ended up being hospitalized for six days. But he learned a lesson firsthand about the crisis facing emergency rooms across the nation.
“They didn’t care at all about (my) being a congressman,” he said. “They gave me no special treatment. I had to wait like everybody else.”
He ended up waiting in an emergency room for 48 hours. He said it was an experience he’ll never forget.
“I went in the emergency room and came out a different person. The things I underwent there were unbelievable. I left there realizing that this is a real crisis. Now I understood what people are experiencing, because I got no special treatment. I was like everybody else.”
He urged everyone to put fire under their representatives and to hold them accountable. “Your representatives need to be interested in the real lives of all people,” he urged.
Through his own personal crisis, he’s still learning, growing and seeking to help everyone else. His emergency room ordeal helped him to see life through a different lens even after more than five decades of community service. His illness is giving him fuel to fight for the betterment of the downtrodden and disenfranchised.
Patrick Franklin, president and CEO of the Urban League of Palm Beach County, says that’s exactly what Hastings’ emergency room experience was all about– helping the common man.
“If that is the treatment he received, and he has the best health insurance in the world, then imagine the treatment of someone who has nothing; no health insurance at all,” Franklin pointed out.
“He was clearly put there for a reason and to fight that fight for those who have nothing. He felt what the common man felt firsthand. And now, being a man of his stature, he can raise that torch even higher. His voice would be even clearer and louder now that he’s experienced this. There’s no one better than Alcee to lead that fight,” said Franklin.
“We have a long way to go. Imagine the person who has no health care.”
So as Alcee Hastings fights for his own life and reflects on the difference he’s made for such a long time, clearly his work is not finished.
Florida State Senator Bobby Powell said the nation needs the congressman.
“We need him for continued guidance in all communities. He has walked roads that many have not. He’s a pioneer and a trendsetter and he’s shown us what can be done, because he’s fought the fight.
“He’s shown us politically and in the legal community that groundbreaking works are possible. He is one of the great leaders of the world who has paved the way for many other African Americans, both men and women, and I have no doubt he’ll be successful in this personal battle,” said Senator Powell in a telephone interview. “So many have learned from him and his example.”
The newly elected mayor of West Palm Beach, Keith James, made history this year by becoming that city’s first African American ‘strong’ mayor.
“He (Hastings) is a tireless advocate, a dedicated public servant and a long-time leader in our community. From West Palm Beach to Washington, D.C., Congressman Hastings has really fought for his constituents. I am proud to call him a friend and mentor. He has been a true pioneer and trailblazer throughout his life. I stand on his shoulders as I continue my career in public service,” stated James.
And as Hastings forges ahead with great resolve, he realizes the cancer is a fight he must acknowledge. And he does.
“I’m fighting another battle now and that battle is cancer,” he told a Palm Beach audience. And people like Mayor James and many others know that Congressman Hastings will give it all he’s got, like he’s done with everything else.
“We are praying for him and believing he will fight this horrible illness with the same strength and determination that he has demonstrated in his decades of public service,” stated James.
Franklin, of the Urban League, put Hastings’ works and life in perspective.
“He is one of the last barrier-breakers. He opened up the door for us and said, ‘Come on in.’” Indeed he did.
Thousands in his corner
Congressman Hastings, as you put this time in your life into perspective, be reminded that you have thousands praying for you and silently supporting you. Just as your presence years ago helped my broadcast journalism career, so too have you helped others around the world.
Fight on, sir. We stand in battle with you. And we thank you for your dedicated service. The nation wouldn’t be the same without you.