Hello, Mr. Collins. Do you know this dapper fellow?
That's "Uncle" Lionel Batiste, whose gig for the last few decades has been drummer for the Treme Brass Band, though he's played with countless ensembles since he started playing traditional jazz when he was 11. Most likely, you recognize him from the HBO show "Treme," which used his image (and that of his iconic bass drum) in its promotional materials.
Uncle Lionel has been a mentor to three generations of New Orleans musicians. Not simply a musical mentor, but a generous teacher who counseled young musicians on proper dress and comportment, teaching them not only proficiency but professionalism. Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins credits Uncle Lionel as his "total influence."
My own first encounter with Uncle Lionel revealed his joyous and perfectly gracious nature. I'd been called in to cut the Treme's album "I Got a Big, Fat Woman" and I was way out my element. I'd never engineered a brass band record before and was as nervous as a cat. But Lionel put me at ease right away, cracking jokes and giving me pointers on what to expect out of the session. He was, and is, a gentleman sans reproche.
Recently, Uncle Lionel was in the hospital having hernia surgery when it was discovered that he has prostate cancer. Good news, right? They discovered the cancer.
Not so much. They also discovered that the cancer had pretty much destroyed his prostate and spread to other organs. The prognosis was clear, and Lionel opted to return home, where he is receiving palliative care as he awaits what will come for us all, eventually.
Uncle Lionel is much on our minds these days. Preparations are underway to arrange a second line parade past his house, an unprecedented honor being given him at his request. (Like Tom Sawyer, Uncle Lionel thought it might be nice to see his friends and hear the kind things they said about him before it's too late to enjoy it.)
His is even more on my mind tonight after reading HamptonRoadsProgressive's infuriating diary about Republican Chris Collins claim that America's health care system is so gosh-darned great that no one dies of breast or prostate cancer anymore.
Well, Mr. Collins, I have some unhappy news for you. They do. In 2008, the last year for which the Centers for Disease Control has published statistics, 40,589 women died of breast cancer. The same year, 28,471 men died of prostate cancer.
This year, another will, a better man than me and certainly than you, Mr. Collins, a man universally loved in his community and cherished the world around. A man, it's not an exaggeration to say, who is a true national treasure.
Something you will never be, whether you win your race or not.
An update: Local media have picked up on Mr. Collins' bizarre comment. He has issued a response of sorts, the gist of which is that his opponent is politicizing cancer.
From Buffalo News.
Also, the Erie County health commissioner has taken the opportunity of Mr. Collins' yammering to remind residents that breast and prostate cancer are still a problem in the county and that the key to fighting them is early detection and treatment.
“All types of cancer, including prostate and breast cancer, have significant mortality rates associated with them. During 2005-2009, Erie County saw an annual average of 826 cases of female breast cancer, with an average of 176 deaths per year. For prostate cancer in the same period, the annual average was 930 cases, with an average of 103 deaths per year.”Thanks to Dr. Burstein for using this travesty as a teachable moment.
“These numbers represent the sad reality that, despite advances in cancer treatments, people still die from these types of cancers. It is imperative that people not only be aware of the potential risks from all types of cancers but get appropriately screened and checked as recommended by your doctor for breast and prostate cancer.”