This is my health blog which will update my friends and family about the status of my struggle with the diagnosis of lung cancer I received in January 2018. Newer posts will appear first. To see earlier posts, scroll down.
Thursday, February 22
Yesterday I sent out some emails to friends and co-workers about my health issues. I also posted a link to this blog on my Facebook page < https://www.facebook.com/mike.rhodes.7758 >. I received over 100 comments and well wishes that made me feel loved, cared for and appreciated. I thank you all for your thoughtful remarks and support.
Re-reading my first post and based on one of the comments on Facebook, I want to clarify that I’m approaching treatment of cancer as aggressively as possible. I have already completed two weeks of radiation therapy and am scheduled for full brain radiation starting next week. After that I will be taking a new drug (Pembrolizumab) that will work with my immune system to attack the cancer. If that is not working I will move on to the more traditional chemotherapy.
The Pembrolizumab is a new drug that I’m eligible to take based on genetic tests of the cancer I have that indicates it will help my T-cells to identify and kill the cancer. My understanding is that the cost of this drug is $80,000 for a six month course of treatment. Kaiser is willing to spend what it will take to save my life.
There are some downsides to aggressively attacking the cancer. Those are generally referred to as side effects of the treatments. The treatment of the first round of radiation on the cancer on my bones has made me somewhat fatigued, given me a bad sore throat, and resulted in some serious pain in my neck.
The full brain radiation has a whole bunch of potential side effects, but will almost certainly include a loss of cognitive function. The Pembrolizumab might make my immune system attack healthy organs, thinking they are cancer, and that would obviously not be good. In short, killing the cancer is going to take a toll on my body. While I’m optimistic that these treatments will give me additional time I am also totally prepared for the worst.
Yesterday my wife, Pam, suggested that I start writing about my life. She knows I like to write and it seems to me that it could be enjoyable and therapeutic to put some ideas down on paper. For example, I was thinking about what happened when I was young that sent me down the road of working for social and economic justice. I think diving into telling that story would be fun and might be interesting for my children and grandchildren to read. I would have loved to find something my grandparents or great grandparents wrote that gave me some insight into what shaped their core values.
February 21, 2018
In January 2018 I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. What that means is that I have lung cancer and it has spread to other places in my body. In this case, the cancer has spread to the bones, lymph nodes, and brain. This is not good. The doctor says I *might* have a year to live.
I discovered the cancer because of a pain in my hip which did not go away. As you know, I exercise, eat well, don’t smoke (never did) and take good care of myself. So, I was really shocked with the diagnosis. My Kaiser primary care physician did an x-ray of my hip and discovered the cancer. That discovery led to more x-rays which found the cancer is in several places (upper spine, lower spine and hip). I have been in radiation treatment for the last two weeks to address the bone cancer.
Yesterday (February 20) Pam and I went to the Bay Area to have them do a radiation treatment on seven (small) cancerous growths in my brain. The trip did not go well. In preparation for the treatment they did another MRI and found 30+ growths, too many to be treated with the tools they had available. They were going to use a “cyber knife” to selectively zap the growths, but there are just too many for that technique.
The next option for the brain cancer is to go at it with a full brain radiation treatment. That is not good, because the side effects are worse than using the cyber knife. But, allowing the cancer to grow in my brain is not an option.
The other way to attack the cancer is with chemotherapy and immunotherapy. I will probably start immunotherapy next week. I’m cautiously optimistic about this treatment, because it will empower my immune system to fight the cancer. It has been explained two different ways to me:
I was told that immunotherapy will unmask the cancer cells so my immune system can attack and kill them. I like the sound of that.
I was told that the drug I will be taking for the immunotherapy will hype up my immune system and make it more aggressive, attacking the cancer and anything else it might perceive as being a threat. That could lead to it attacking other parts of my body (the colon, for example) and causing significant damage.
Next in line of treatment options is the traditional chemotherapy.
My doctors say that all of the above treatments will push back but not cure the cancer. I think that it is just too far along to hope for a cure, but if things went really well I could live a year or two longer.
I really wish that all of this was not true and that I would wake up from this nightmare, but just like Trump being in the White House, this is my reality. I’m not in very much pain right now, I have a great support team (my family) and I do appreciate every day I have left (as long as my quality of life is good and the pain is not to great).
I have had a good life, been able to do more things and go more places than I ever imagined and feel that the work I have done was meaningful and helped change the world for the better. I’m extremely proud of my two daughters, deeply love both grandchildren and was fortunate to be married to my best friend and partner Pam Whalen for 40 years (this October).
Several people have asked if there is anything they can do to help. If I need anything I will let you know. It would lift my spirit to know that you did one extra thing today (this week or this month) to bring us closer to peace, social and economic justice.
There are two projects that I helped to create that mean a lot to me. The Community Alliance newspaper in Fresno and the Central Valley Progressive PAC. If you really want to make me happy, you will support the Community Alliance newspaper, which is an alternative/independent voice for Fresno and the Central Valley. We need a strong and vibrant free press that gives a voice to the voiceless and supports the progressive movement in this area. You can find out more about the Community Alliance at www.fresnoalliance.com .
Join the CVPPAC which has developed an electoral strategy to help elect progressives to local office. If you think candidates who support issues like peace, social and economic justice should win political power, this is the group to join. Find out more at www.cvppac.org .
How can you help? I think this quote, attributed to Joe Hill (who was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World – the IWW) says it best: “Don’t mourn, organize!”
This book is currently available online at Amazon or directly from the author. If you want a signed copy, send $20 to: Mike Rhodes, P.O. Box 5706, Fresno Ca 93755. The $20 will cover the cost of the book, tax, postage and handling. I can accept PayPal and credit cards – contact me for details. firstname.lastname@example.org
Dispatches from the War Zone is also available at:
The Book Barn (in stock)
640 Clovis Ave in Clovis
Barnes and Noble (only available through their warehouse)
7849 N Blackstone Ave, Fresno
About the author and book:
Mike Rhodes is the author of Dispatches from the War Zone, homelessness in Fresno from 2002 – 2015. His extensive coverage of this issue, as editor of the Community Alliance newspaper, defended homeless people’s human rights and led to significant changes in public policy.
Rhodes was a key organizer in a 2006 class action lawsuit by the homeless against the City of Fresno. The $2.3 million settlement forced the city to stop bulldozing homeless encampments and compensated the homeless for their losses.
The ongoing coverage has exposed public corruption, identified the homeless issue as a vital concern in the community and highlighted alternative projects that provide the homeless with the dignity and respect they deserve.
After leaving the Community Alliance newspaper, Rhodes wrote Dispatches from the War Zone. For more information, see www.mikerhodes.us
House Keys, Not Handcuffs
By Mike Rhodes
About 200 people went to Fresno City Hall on Sept. 29, 2017 to demand an end to the criminalization of the homeless, following the passing of a No Camping ordinance. The demand for house keys, not handcuffs, for the homeless was met by a large contingent of police who surrounded the protesters and threatened them with arrest.
Larry Donaldson, an attorney who is a City of Fresno liaison with the Fresno Police Department, mentioned several times that night that he was interested in charging us with conspiracy, which could have resulted in a $10,000 fine and one year in jail. All of this for having the audacity to challenge public policy at City Hall, which we thought was our First Amendment right.
The night ended rather well for the homeless and their allies, who only saw one person arrested and the entire group of police back down in the face of determined protesters. This is the story of how we prevailed, what lessons were learned and how this could lead to a legal challenge that ends the Homeless No Camping ordinance.
The Standing in Solidarity with the Homeless event started rather late (9 p.m.) on a Friday evening and was scheduled to go until 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. The idea was for homeless allies to stand with their homeless brothers and sisters, risking arrest on the day the No Camping ordinance was implemented.
A statement issued about the purpose of the event stated that Fresno needs “a safe and legal place where homeless people can go 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Homeless people need a place to go and the same basic public services that everyone else in this city has—drinking water, a place to go to the bathroom and trash bins. In short, the homeless need to be treated with dignity and respect, because they are our brothers and sisters and in some cases our mothers, fathers or children.”
The statement continues, “But having a safe and legal place to go is not enough. After we establish enough safe and legal places that are available to the homeless, we need to start finding them permanent housing. We also need to provide the resources for whatever social services they need. That might include, but is not limited to, job training, education, recovery from drug or alcohol addiction and mental health services. Every situation is unique, but every homeless person can live a healthier and happier life if we pull together as a community and provide the resources needed to end homelessness.”
Tim Kutzmark, the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Fresno, spoke to the protesters who were risking arrest. As the event was getting started, he said that “civil disobedience is OK in the face of injustice and wrongdoing.”
Kutzmark said that “you stand in the shadow of Gandhi. Things only change when Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and so many others said no to unjust laws and they broke those laws; they risked arrest. They put their bodies on the line to say no to what is wrong.”
Abre’ Conner, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union in Fresno, talked about how the Homeless No Camping ordinance is criminalizing the homeless and how that is unconstitutional. The ACLU and other legal groups in Fresno are looking at the ordinance to determine the best way to legally challenge it.
Carolyn Phillips, a local attorney in Fresno, conducted a Know Your Rights presentation for the homeless and others risking arrest. Desiree Martinez, director of homeless in Fresno, talked about the important work her group is doing to help the homeless and then introduced several homeless speakers who told us about their lives and how the ordinance would affect them.
Before the Standing in Solidarity with the Homeless event got started, Fresno Police Captain Burke Farrah contacted me (I was one of the main organizers of the event) and strongly encouraged us to get a permit. If we got a permit, which they would move heaven and earth to give me, that would make this a legal event and I was told there would be no arrests. Farrah even suggested they would help get portable toilets and maybe even a big movie screen. Who knows, maybe we could all sing Kumbaya together.
It could have been a big love fest, except then we would not be facing the same threat that the homeless face every day. The threat of arrest for the simple act of sleeping. I told Farrah that I would accept a permit because we did not want to get arrested and we did not want the homeless arrested, but he would need to extend the date of the event from one day to one year. His response was that “getting a one-year permit would effectively turn City Hall into an encampment zone. We can’t do that.”
When I asked if he could help us find an acceptable location for the portable toilets, he was no longer Mr. Nice Guy. “I do not anticipate the City allowing uninsured equipment placed on city property for an unpermitted demonstration where the intention of the participants is to break the law. A legal option has been rejected; I do not expect the City to facilitate an illegal option.”
The police and the city wanted the Standing in Solidarity with the Homeless event to be permitted so bad that they ended up asking one of the social service providers they work with to get a permit on our behalf. An interesting suggestion seeing as how difficult the city has made it for some groups, such as the Pride Parade in the Tower District, to get a permit. The social service provider decided not to be the city’s patsy.
All the threats and intimidation came to a head as the speakers at our event were finishing up. Donaldson told one of our legal observers that the police were planning to enforce the No Camping Ordinance at 12:01 a.m., which was about two hours away at the time.
Until that moment, we had not been told to expect arrests. I certainly thought there was a good chance that the police would not arrest anyone at the event. At 12:01 a.m., nothing out of the ordinary happened. Although there were a lot of police everywhere, they were not taking any steps to immediately arrest us. They had an extremely bright light on us from across P Street on the Mariposa Mall. It was similar to a light used to light up a football field. I would estimate that there were 50 officers monitoring the situation.
At about 1:30 a.m., Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer walked across the street with a group of officers and started talking to people at our event. He said that he was assessing the situation and would decide what to do after he was done.
At the end of his tour, Dyer made some remarks that suggested arrests were imminent. I walked across the street to meet with him. I informed Dyer that we needed time to discuss our options, and he said that was fine. I asked what charges we would face if we did not leave or have them take us to the Poverello House or the Rescue Mission. Dyer said the charge would be that we violated the No Camping Ordinance (a possible $1,000 fine and six months in jail). Donaldson said that it could be conspiracy too. He said that if two people conspire to violate…blah, blah, blah. I turned to Dyer and said “the No Camping Ordinance” and he said “yes.” I asked him about the process. He said that his officers would approach one of our people and ask them to move on. If they refused to move on, they would be offered social services or a bed at a homeless shelter. If those options were refused, we would be arrested.
I challenged his decision to arrest us, saying that arresting us for an alleged violation of the No Camping ordinance, which is a misdemeanor, was up to him—he could do it or not. He said he had no choice. One of the other officers said they can’t discriminate about who they arrest. The officer said, “We can’t let you go and then arrest people in other parts of the city for this crime.” I said that it was my understanding that nobody at City Hall was pushing him to arrest us and in fact I don’t think they want us arrested. I said that he knows as well as I that this is a political protest, we are at City Hall to voice our opposition to the ordinance and that he does not have to make the decision to arrest us. He said he had decided that he can’t allow the current action to continue. Donaldson stood by and nodded in agreement.
I then moved on to the process of the arrest. I said that they should just issue a citation and release us on the spot. He said the problem with that is that “what if people don’t leave?” I asked him what would happen if they stay after getting a citation. He said they would be taken to the Fresno County Jail. I told Dyer that I would let the group know. I confirmed that this would be a citation for a violation of the No Camping ordinance. Again, he said “yes.”
I walked back to our group of protesters and explained what Dyer had told me. My position at that time was that we should try to come to an agreement about what to do and have as many people as possible stick together with a common strategy. Some people felt we made our point and did not think getting arrested was going to further the cause. Then, one of the young activists said, yeah, but if we go to the Poverello House or the Rescue Mission that will be a huge public relations victory for them. They have put everything in place to accommodate us at a shelter tonight, this will not typically be the case, but it will seem to prove their argument that there is adequate shelter space in Fresno. That is what convinced most of the people at the meeting to stay and risk arrest.
With only a handful of shelter beds available on any given night, the thousands of homeless people on the streets of Fresno simply do not have the option of going to a shelter. The No Camping ordinance effectively criminalizes the homeless for the act of sleeping, which is essential to life. If you don’t sleep, you die.
Our decision to stay was communicated to Dyer, and 15–20 officers crossed the street heading straight for the three or four people who were sleeping. We had tried unsuccessfully to wake them and make them a part of our conversation. The police are more persuasive in waking people up. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I think the police officers were pretty much going by the procedure they explained—ask them to leave, if they don’t leave offer them services and if they refuse they would be arrested. All the sleepers got up and either left, joined us or opted for a shelter bed.
Next, the police approached Dallas Blanchard who was lying under a blanket on the grass. They told him he was in violation of the No Camping ordinance and asked him to move on. He said that “it is an illegal and immoral law.” They asked him if he needed social services or a place to sleep, and he said that the city did not have enough shelter beds for all the homeless. They asked him again if he would leave, and when he refused they arrested him.
They took Dallas across the street, issued him a citation and he was released within 10 minutes. After that, the police shut down the big light, got in their cars and roared off. There was nothing left for us to do but talk about what had happened and try to get a few hours’ sleep.
The successful civil disobedience of the protesters could lead to a legal challenge of the Homeless No Camping ban. There are constitutional challenges that can be made as well as procedural reasons why individual arrests can be invalidated. If you are homeless and believe your rights have been violated, let us know. My contact information is below.
We also want to know what happens when homeless people are picked up and taken to Map Point or to social service agencies. Are you getting the help you need or getting the runaround?
Groups such as Food Not Bombs, Homeless in Fresno, the Dakota EcoGardens and the Sleeping Bag Project will continue their important work helping the homeless. Other allies will continue struggling against the No Camping ordinance and demanding that their homeless brothers and sisters are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Homeless No Camping Update
The police made their first arrest of a homeless man under the No Camping ordinance one week after the Standing in Solidarity with the Homeless event described in the article above. Jerry Mulford was arrested in front of the Poverello House, a social service agency for the homeless in downtown Fresno. According to Mulford, after his arrest, most of his property was taken and immediately destroyed by city workers.
In an interview with Desiree Martinez (see photo), who is with the group Homeless in Fresno, Mulford said that before he was arrested a police officer asked if he needed assistance with social services. This is a part of the procedure the police say they will use before making arrests. First, they ask the homeless person to move on and then they ask if the person would like to go to Map Point, which is a homeless intake program.
In the interview with Martinez, Mulford said he told the officer that he goes to Map Point almost every day, but they have not been able to help him get off the streets. Because there is no safe and legal place in Fresno for homeless people to go, the inevitable result was that Mulford was arrested and taken to jail. He was released later that day, but with most of his property destroyed and the rest taken by city workers, he was in a much worse place than he was before his encounter with the police.
This arrest exposes some of the flaws of the No Camping ordinance. Arresting homeless people who have no place to go and who can’t get help from social service agencies is expensive and not helpful. With a minuscule number of shelter beds available in Fresno each night and thousands of homeless people on the streets, the ordinance is symbolic of the cynical manifestation of the “tough love” policy at City Hall. Making homeless people’s lives more difficult and miserable is not going to end homelessness.
What homeless advocates have also found out is that the ordinance is being used by the police as a reason to stop homeless people and run a background check on them to see if they have any outstanding warrants. That is when those unpaid citations for jaywalking, littering or other nefarious crimes are used to further threaten and intimidate them.
Fortunately, there is a legal team looking at challenging the ordinance based on both its implementation and how it is violating homeless people’s constitutional and human rights.