On the corner of Ashland and Cermak Road about two miles from the Chicago Loop stood Fredrick. He’s a 59yo homeless man who is battling bone cancer. He wears padded clothes to protect his brittle bones and walks with a profound limp with the aid of a cane. He had been panhandling since 8:30am that morning and had collected $9.25 in those past eight hours. He seemed like a simple man who had been a drywaller for 23 years but had to stop when he got too sick to work. With no income, he went through his savings quickly while navigating the health system with orthopedic surgeons, orthopedic oncologist, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists. He did have public insurance, but these clinicians practiced at five different medical centers across the greater Chicago area and his appointments were months apart. When he would arrive at one medical office, often his records and referral information wouldn’t be available and he’d be turned away for consultation or treatment until the paperwork would catch up. All the while, the cancer ravaged his body.
While he grapples with these health issues, he sold his car to afford basic needs like housing, food and clothes. Eventually, he lost his house as well. He has now been homeless for five months living in a small tent under the I-55 Stevenson Expressway. His last doctor has estimated he has four to six months to live.
As he’s sharing his heart with me and relaying his journey, I try to delicately give him needed items including new sleeping bags, cloths, shoes, nutrition and various OTC medical aids. However, he starts to notice the quantity and quality of the donated items. This consciousness moves over him and starts to lean heavily on his cane. Holding his hand over his face to hide tears, he says with trembling words…”sometimes, against all odds, against all logic, we still hope.”
These words stopped me in my tracks. I took a step closer to him, and asked, “are you OK, what can I do to help?”
With that he said, “Do you have time to talk?” For the next thirty minutes while sitting on crates, we talked about his path in life, his adventures, and his struggles. We talked about the Cubs victory, a little about politics and some about the church. After we had a laugh about someone giving him a frozen turkey as a donation, he placed his calloused hand on my knee and said thank you. He then stood up and slowly limped away; too proud to know how to end the conversation.
As I drove away, I saw him gather his new belongings and he slipped away in the distance. I had an overwhelming sense of déjà vu from the previous week that I was again moving away from ghosts on the streets of Chicago.