The Legend of Big Billy
by Craig Harrison
It was late in the winter of 2010, and the nights were long and dark. I lay in bed motionless hour after hour, listening to the wall clock mock me with its relentless chiming that marked each passage of time – a haunting melody that became the subtle, audible reminder of yet another sleepless 60 minutes I would never get back.
It must have been somewhere between three and four in the early morning – that thin layer of time that separates the night from the dawn. It’s affectionately known as “the witching hour” for many a cancer survivor in the throes of treatment. It’s often a time when we find ourselves alone, with nothing but our thoughts to keep us company. It can be a time of deep despair and haunted visions. Or it can be a time of enlightenment, where certain truths finally align themselves in the perfect order, at last revealing that which you’ve been hunting for those many long, soul-searching nights.
Big Billy would bear the markings of one tough,
This particular night, there was a stillness and a calmness in the air. It was so eerily quiet I could hear my thoughts rattling around in my skull like a game of Ping-Pong gone mad. I was tired, I felt defeated, and at that moment, I felt I had lost my way. I had lost my inspiration as well. Hope had packed a suitcase and was heading out the door. I was left feeling emotionally bankrupt and destitute.
I was nearly a beaten man, swaying back and forth, grasping at phantom ropes in an imaginary boxing ring to steady myself. I lay there contemplating why I was fighting so hard and for what anymore. I began to question whether I had the right stuff to make it to the final round of this second title-defense match against cancer. All great fighters have to lay down the gloves at some point. Maybe it was time for cancer to retire me.
Then it came to me: Big Billy, what he stood for and represented for me, and what he might represent for other cancer fighters who felt their strength waning and their mental resolve beginning to weaken. Big Billy would bear the markings of one tough, cancer-fighting dude. He would be the antithesis of my normally meek outward appearance, but on the inside, he would carry my ideals and my values.
Big Billy became my alter ego in the cancer world, the muscle behind my hustle. He was born from a figment of my imagination on a cold winter night, and he crystallized into the embodiment of a mentality that I wanted to represent. More importantly, he became the person I wanted to feel like on the inside: one of the baddest cancer fighters there ever was.
Big Billy and I developed a symbiotic relationship; each of us could stand on his own merit, independent of one another. But in combination, we were an unstoppable force in the cancer universe, a dynamic duo bent on knocking out cancer and emerging as victors.
I harnessed this image of the fighting nature that we all carry with us into our cancer battles, and manifested that image through a persona that was tangible and readily identifiable, and that could represent us all.
In essence, Big Billy personifies our fighting side. He lives in me, and he lives in you, too. Keep fighting. You can do it. You’ve got Big Billy in your corner.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Craig Harrison is a four-time colorectal cancer survivor living in Arlington, TX.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2013.