I remember the day Russell Crowe saved my life. He wasn't aware of it at the time, but the truth is that without him, I might not be here today.
At the end of the year 2000, the film "Gladiator" had left the theaters and was starting to make its rounds on premium television. My cable company was giving away three free months of HBO, so I glutted myself on the offer. And even though I really couldn't see myself getting into a period piece movie where big, dusty, macho men were going to be slugging the ancient crap out of each other, I decided to give "Gladiator" a viewing. Hey, it was free.
It was so unlike anything I'd ever cared about before, yet I found myself riveted to the screen. This film was a freaking masterpiece. And the plot was doing that thing to me -- you know, that 'thing' where somehow you believe the main character is telling your story and you're relating to it in ways that are so personal that all you can do is sit there with your hand over your heart and your mouth hanging wide open.
How on earth could I relate to a character like Maximus? Was I a general who became a slave who became a gladiator who came back to give an ass whoopin' to the Emperor of Rome? Hell no. I was just Dori -- a married woman with a two year old child, living in a nice home in suburban New Jersey. Whatever made me feel like a gladiator?
I would learn the answer to this shortly after Russell Crowe saved my life.
So, there I was -- feeling the love of this character. Feeling it so hard that I couldn't bear another day without wanting to have Russell Crowe's baby. And, because it really wouldn't be fair to my husband to go have Russell Crowe's baby, I decided maybe it was best to start at home. And so I approached ol' hubby with the idea of having another child -- a sibling for our daughter. There was something about this movie that absolutely compelled me to have another child.
My husband went from slightly confused to ecstatic, and within two weeks, I was pregnant.
Unfortunately, the day they called to tell me I was with child was the day I miscarried.
The pregnancy lasted only a few weeks, and though it failed, it caused a surge of estrogen to rise in my system. What I hadn't known was that, during this time, there was also a tumor growing in my breast. Before the estrogen surge, it was undetectable. But afterwards, the invisible tumor suddenly became a very noticeable lump.
And with the lump came the dread -- this foreign thing, this lump, this tumor -- it was cancer. I knew it.
It was confirmed. The doctor told me that the tumor would have to be surgically removed but that I was lucky that the cancer had not metastasized. She also said that the kind of tumor I had thrived on estrogen, and it was because of the excess hormone in my body that it grew large enough to be noticed.
The movie caused me to want a baby. The miscarried child caused a hormonal reaction in my body that brought a cancerous tumor to my attention. The attention resulted in surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Had I been pregnant, I would not have subjected my unborn child to the toxicity of treatment, which means I would have risked my own life to bring it into the world. But -- I wasn't pregnant.
Whatever butterfly effect went into play on the day I saw "Gladiator" resulted in an unborn child who lived just long enough to spare his mother's life. Had I not gotten pregnant, I would never have found the tumor, because it never would have grown at a rapid enough pace to be discovered. And had I never found the tumor, well ... you know the rest of that story.
The day before I started treatment, I met Russell Crowe in New York City. I was just a fan, just a fan saying hello, shaking his hand. He never knew a thing.
The day my hair came out, I got into my bed and looked at the big "Gladiator" poster that I'd put up right by my side. And everyday after that, for an entire year, I would just lay there, gazing at the strong man with the armor and the sword, poised for battle. Everyday, I lay in my prison of treatment, waiting for the day when I could rise up and be myself again, when I could throw off the heavy armor of illness -- toss aside the damned metaphorical sword that represented this horrific battle with cancer.
And, I got through it. And one year later, I met Russell Crowe again -- just a fan, just another handshake. He never knew that just by being in the right place at the right time, he saved my life through a series of unforeseeable events.
He never knew, but I did.