[Editor's Note: Longtime concert photographer and fellow Weekling Andrew Youssef found out almost two years ago that he had Stage IV colon cancer. In that time, he has continued to shoot tons of music events for us on top of other freelance work and holding a day job at a hospital, of all places. As he continues to fight for his life, this series allows him to tell his story in his own words.]
Music has been a large part of my life for as long as I can remember. My fascination with concerts occurred back in 1984 at the tender age of nine when I attended Judas Priest at the Long Beach Arena with my brother and our father, who was our escort. It was a spectacle to behold as I can still remember Rob Halford driving onto the stage on his Harley Davidson motorcycle. Flashing lights, scorching twin guitar leads, and Halford's punishing vocals are what cemented my love affair with concerts.
As I have eluded in previous columns, I truly believe that music is keeping me alive. Photographing and attending concerts gives me the physical and mental energy I need to keep battling this disease. When I first started getting my bi-weekly chemotherapy treatments, I was scared to attend any shows within the first week as the side effects of tiredness, nausea, diarrhea, and my horrifying skin rash squashed my will to attend shows.
*Last Shot: Chemical Warfare
The positive energy that I had gained from attending and photographing Fleet Foxes was uplifting but it still took me another month to gather more strength to see the Arctic Monkeys at the Fox Theater in Pomona. I was unable to drive and the amount of planning and coordination to see a concert was daunting. Asking friends was embarrassing as I was an independent person and felt it was a sign of weakness.
Planning to attend a show after receiving six hours of intravenous chemotherapy is the equivalent of playing Russian roulette with the bullets representing the side effects and the gun being fully loaded. You will experience a side effect but just don't know when or which one will strike first. So I would closely monitor which side effects would occur and when they would attack to observe some trends. One of the more annoying trends I observed was that I would stay up till 5 a.m. on days I received chemotherapy.
A little research showed that Erbitux (Cetuximab) has another unique side effect in that on the day you receive the infusion, it prevents you from falling asleep. Compounding this dilemma is that I also receive Dexamethasone (Decadron) which is a steroid that keeps you awake. Ultimately, I decided to harness this side effect and use it to my advantage. If I'm going to be up till 5 a.m., I might as well make the most of it by seeing my favorite bands and taking photographs instead of sitting at home and dwelling on being punished by chemotherapy.
A recent example was this January, after receiving six hours of chemotherapy in the morning, I managed to photograph Muse at Staples Center and then drive thirty miles out to the Glass House in Pomona to photograph and review Quicksand all for OC Weekly. The scheduling gods were in my favor as Muse went on super early around 8 p.m. I photographed three songs of Muse and then bolted down the ten freeway thirty miles to still catch a few songs from Title Fight who opened for Quicksand.
After photographing both these shows, I still had to go home and edit photos from both shows, as well as write the review. It was exhilarating when I made it to the Glass House in time and It was even more of a victory when I made it home safe and was relatively unscathed from the side effects of my chemotherapy. I wondered how many people in the world have received six hours of chemotherapy and managed to photograph two amazing bands in one night. One could argue that most healthy people shouldn't try to accomplish such things. Good thing I'm not healthy.