Two friends tackle cancer together in ‘The Handoff’
John Tournour, author of the new memoir, "The Handoff," is known for his trademark high-energy, bombastic sports talk. Known to fans as “J.T. the Brick” he’s currently host of FOX Sports Radio’s top syndicated nighttime sports shows.
But one of Tournour’s hardest challenges might surprise some listeners, coming not in the take-no-prisoners world of sports talk radio, but rather on a more personal, introspective level. It came when his best friend and mentor, widely loved sports radio executive Andrew Ashwood, was diagnosed with cancer.
Assuming the role of Ashwood’s chemo buddy, Tournour by day would accompany his friend to his chemotherapy appointments and keep Ashwood’s family and network of supporters up to date on both the treatment’s small improvements and the grueling, stamina-sapping setbacks. By night, Tournour would power over the airways as he’d always done, taking call after call from listeners into the morning hours.
Tournour insisted on staying by his friend’s side, even during the rough times and even though he acknowledges he didn’t always know what to do or say. On their drives to City of Hope for chemotherapy, Tournour said, the two would put each other at ease by turning the time into something akin to a pre-game warm-up or battle prep. It made them both more comfortable.
"The Handoff" chronicles that time and Tournour’s own journey, portraying the highs, the lows, the moments of hope and the moments of accepting failure during the cancer caregiving process. In short, "The Handoff" shares the lessons that Ashwood “handed off” to Tournour in the final stages of his life.
By, in turn, handing these lessons off to readers, Tournour gives testament to Ashwood, even as he tries to ensure more positive outcomes for other cancer patients. In November 2008, Ashwood suffered a massive heart attack and died at the age of 51.
A portion of the proceeds from "The Handoff" will benefit City of Hope – and the research and treatment available here. Here, Tournour offers these pieces of advice for those supporting a friend or loved one with cancer.
1. Bring energy and positive thoughts to every chemo session.
I witnessed Andrew have incredible interactions with staff and other patients. During one session as we walked in to the chemo waiting room, Andrew noticed a small boy about 10 years old sitting with his mom. Their mood was quiet and concerned. Andrew got up, walked across the room and kneeled in front of him. After he introduced himself, he told the boy that his nickname was the Gorilla. He asked the boy for his hand and pressed it between both of his for five seconds. He asked the boy if he could feel it and told him that he was giving him “Gorilla Power” that would make him stronger and tougher than he already was. The child smiled and his mom thanked Andrew as they walked into treatment. Initially I expected to be the one to keep things upbeat for Andrew, yet his welcoming spirit and attitude made others feel at ease.
2. Be there. Be present. Be in the moment.
The days that we traveled to City of Hope for his chemo sessions we had a single-minded focus to beat cancer. I made sure that my energy level was high and I was prepared to do whatever he needed. In doing so, I quickly learned how to become a better listener, take notes and ask follow up questions. It was my priority to help Andrew remain as comfortable as possible. We kept the mood light and upbeat, knowing the days after the sessions would be the most difficult.
3. Make future plans during battle.
The key to Andrew’s sessions was “Winning is the ONLY Option.” To carry that out, I made sure that we always talked about upcoming plans and events in our future. I made it clear to him there were many road trips and life experiences waiting ahead for us. Talking about NFL road trips and weekend reunions with friends near and far gave Andrew goals and the desire to keep fighting.
4. Keep others in the loop.
With the patient’s permission, as I had from Andrew, establish yourself as a liaison to concerned friends, co-workers, etc. Be the “go to” person. Managing a buffer zone can be beneficial to a patient who needs space. This can help alleviate some of the stress away from spouses/immediate family members who are often the direct caregivers. At some point, the patient may not have the time and energy to update everyone concerned during battle. This was one of my greatest strengths in support of Andrew.
5. Always communicate.
This is a journey. Some days are brighter than others. When you have good news to share, celebrate those moments. During tougher times or if it looks like the battle may be taking control, speak from the heart. Be sure to let the patient know you care about how they feel. I never got to say goodbye to Andrew, but I was able to write "The Handoff" to honor him and keep his memory alive.
"The Handoff" is available at all major booksellers. Read Chapter 1 here.