A Wayback For My Brother Tommy’s 44th Birthday.

This was originally written in 1999. It was written shortly after he was diagnosed with kidney failure and spent over four years on dialysis. He had a successsful kidney transplant in 2004. When this was written, he had not yet started his decade long love affair with Kelly Ripa. At this time, he actually had a crush on Kitty Carlisle, of all people.

I sat with my brother Tommy and asked him what he would like to help me write about.

This was his blog post. I wrote it and he served as my verbal editor. We wrote this on GEOCITIES (remember that?) but the original page is long gone.

The only change is to remove any dead links.

Happy 44th Birthday, Tommy.

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(These are some of the friends that Tommy made at the concerts.)

Georgette and her friends [She is on her 28th show, 7 so far on this tour ]…..

Elizabeth…..Donna…..Jacqui…..Regina…..PUNTIN…..Jackilope…..Larry Pare….{she is now a “Can’t Smile Without You” Girl [She sang with Barry!]……UHONEY {Becky From Utah}…..Nancy Capwell…..Linda Torres…..Lorrieful…..The Brandon Family……SSmith7925

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BARRY MANILOW

(This is from some conversations I had with Tommy back in 1999. I tried to write it then in his voice, from his memories.)

Ever since I was 4 years old, I have listened to Barry Manilow. I used to have trouble speaking, and my family and the teachers at my special schools noticed that I like Manilow’s music. They and my family used the “Even Now” album to help me learn how to talk and communicate. It also helped my motor skills to drum along with the album. Since then, I have come a long way.

I am one of Barry’s biggest fans. I have gone through over 18 different copies of “Even Now” and have seen Barry dozens of times. I am a member of the BMIFC, and traveled to Kansas City a few years ago for their convention.
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During the recent A & E “BARRY MANILOW: LIVE BY REQUEST” special, Wil Shriner read an e-mail that my brother, Adrian , sent for me. I requested Barry to sing “I Made It Through The Rain”, and I was thrilled when Barry dedicated it to me. I will never forget that night.

MY BEST DAY EVER !

We had gotten our tickets for this years Manilow concert way back in May. I didn’t think that I could wait three months, but a couple of things came along that made me happy.

I’ve had this webpage for a while. My brother built it to see if I was interested in the computer. In late July, Al Hunter Jr. [a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News] contacted me after seeing my page, and wanted to do an interview with me. I was nervous. You can read the article by clicking A Special Devotion: Barry Manilow and Tommy Hickman

I’ve got more about that day a little farther down the page.

Because of that article, Margie Smith, a reporter for WB17, WPHL-TV here in Philadelphia, and Jill Wolfe, an assignment editor, contact me about doing an interview. I was nervous.

The day of the concert, they came in a big van with the dish on top. Everyone in the neighborhood asked me what they were there for. They talked to me for an hour. I played my singing of I MADE IT THROUGH THE RAIN, and they had me sing my favorite song , COPACABANA, on camera. We talked about why I wanted to meet Barry. I think I did good. I got to show them my Barry collection, including my favorite album, EVEN NOW, but when they asked me to sing, I sang along with the COPA version from the Boxed Set. We talked about how Barry’s Music helped me. I answered all the questions without much help, though they also interviewed my sister, Julie, who teaches at the Easter Seal Society.

While I was being interviewed, the phone rang. My brother, Adrian, said it was for me. When I got on the phone, it was Susan Dubow, Barry’s publicist. She said what I have always wanted to hear: I was going to meet my favorite singer, Barry Manilow. Channel 17 had set it up without me knowing. I love Channel 17!

I was told that Mark Hewitt, one of Barry’s assistants, would come out to my seat around 7:45 [we were sitting in Section 101 Row E, which was about 13 rows from the stage] to take me backstage. He was right on time. He told me they would be back for me at 8:05. That was a long 20 minutes. Every minute seemed really long, and I was actually sitting on the edge of my chair waiting for them. Barry’s’ road manager [I forget his name, but he allowed me to hold his arm while I walked, since it was dark in the theater] led me and my father and brother back to the Green Room. Margie Smith and her cameraman were waiting for us.

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After about five minutes, Barry walked in, along with Mark. I was so nervous, I couldn’t stand up. Barry came over and talked to me. I showed him the Daily News article, and he said he had read it already. Barry said that he had been to my website, and Mark said that they had it in their Favorite Places folder on their computer. We talked about my favorite songs and he said he was singing them that night. I asked him about Annette O’Toole, who I used to have a crush on, and he seemed happy that I remembered his movie COPACABANA. I asked him if I could sing with him that night and he said that he didn’t know. We talked for well over five minutes and then he allowed us to take a couple of pictures. Mark took them so that my family could be in them.

Finally, Barry had to go, but I thanked him again and he gave me a big hug. That was nice. Channel 17 asked me how I felt but all I could do was smile. Barry had made my life and now he had made my day. His road manager helped me back to my seat, which was nice because he must have had dozens of other things to do, and he chose to help me. Thanks.

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Barry Vs. The Elements

I was so excited when I got back to my seat. I liked the intermission music, which was a series of the original commercials that Barry wrote or sang for. Then Barry came on and the great night continued. He was wearing a white jacket, which made him easy to see. He sang all of my favorites including EVEN NOW. When he sang CAN’T SMILE WITHOUT YOU, I raised my hand, even though I knew I wouldn’t be picked. I sang along real loud, though. He also saluted a BARRY ABRAMS, who he said helped him reach number One in Philadelphia back in the 70’s when MANDY came out.

All night long, it looked like rain but Barry said that he would try to stop it. He almost did. As he sang SOMEWHERE DOWN THE ROAD, the skies opened up and the screams of the people on the lawn threatened to drown him out. He begged those who felt they had to leave to come back again [He's coming back!] next year, and started NEW YORK CITY RHYTHM. As the wind blew and the rain reached all the way up front and the people ran for cover, it felt like pandemonium. The rushing of the soaked crowd combined with Barry and his orchestra trying to compete with the noise made for a wild, wonderful version.

The orchestra really added to the show. It made the songs sound like my records, especially the Sinatra stuff. I never really listened to Frank before the MANILOW SINGS SINATRA CD, but since then I listen to my brothers Sinatra CD’s when we are in the car. This was great, as was WHEN OCTOBER GOES. All the orchestral numbers were great, especially WEEKEND IN NEW ENGLAND. It was also fun when Barry isolated the individual instruments in the orchestra.

My favorite part of the show was Barry playing the recording of his grandfather urging him to sing “Happy Birthday” when he was three years old. When I was backstage with him, I told him that I liked that recording of his grandfather, especially on the FIRST BARRY MANILOW SPECIAL, and was really glad to here Barry use it during THIS ONE’S FOR YOU. It reminded me of my mom.

He ended the show with my favorite. COPACABANA , and second favorite I MADE IT THROUGH THE RAIN. During COPA, the sound system got real loud and then went out for a minute. While I didn’t like it, we were close enough to the stage to still hear the band playing as Barry got the crowd to sing for him. It was great.

This may be the best Barry show I’ve seen in a long time. I only wish he was coming back before next year, but I’ll try to go see him wherever and whenever I am able.

The Second Best Day Ever!

The second most exciting thing was that the Philadelphia Daily News did a big article on my love of Manilow’s music and how it has been so important in my life. They even ran a great color picture of me. This ran in the Aug 11, 1999 issue. Click here if you would like to read the text of the article. If you saw it, please e-mail me with your comments. Thanks to Al Hunter, Jr. of the Daily News for liking my story.

A Special Devotion: Barry Manilow and Tommy Hickman

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GENE HART

One of the reasons that I listened to Flyers Hockey, Gene Hart, passed away recently. I was glad to see that so many other people loved him as much as I do. I went to a memorial service at the First Union Center, where we , as Steve Coates said, celebrated the life of my friend. I got to see his wife, Sara, and his children again. Lauren , a great singer and his daughter, even gave me her autograph because I asked, just like I used to ask Gene every time I saw him. He gave it to me, even though I had gotten one a hundred times before.

Gene Hart was a legend in Philadelphia. He was THE VOICE OF THE PHILADELPHIA FLYERS hockey from 1967 until 1995. He was a great announcer, and when he shouts “HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES”, the entire city would feel good. His tapes and voice helped me learn to watch what was going on and express my feelings about what I am seeing. He was a diver on the old STEEL PIER IN ATLANTIC CITY, and his wife, SARA, rode the HIGH DIVING HORSE. He took me to dinner when we saw him vacationing in Honolulu. He told us funny stories about the Flyers , especially Dave Brown. He always had time to talk to me.

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For My Dad: On What Would Have Been His 91st Birthday

Below are links to previous blog posts about my Pop. Please read at least one to understand why he was so special to me and why, as I battle both a progressive lung disease and the aftermath a my radical nephrectomy for kidney cancer, I’ll always turn to my Pop for reasons to keep laughing and keep living.

If you hear me say something or see me do something, chances are I learned that from my Pop.

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That’s my Dad. You can call him “Rich”. His co-workers called him “Dick” but my mother always called him “Rich”. I called him “Pop” or “Dad”. For some reason, I don’t remember ever calling him “Daddy”. I never felt that word was strong enough for my Dad.

Calling him Dad was a real sign of respect from me, at least in my mind. When I would introduce him to people or talk to others about him, I always used “Dad”. “Pop” was more playful, more casual, more personal.

“Hey, Pop, do you want to go to the diner?”

“Hey, Pop, did you see the Phillies game last night?”

“What do you need at the store, Pop?”

“There aren’t any Christmas movies on TV in September, Pop. I checked.”

“Yeah, I can reset your watch, Pop.”

“A plain cheeseburger doesn’t mean that it comes without cheese, Pop. Don’t be mad at the server. Just order a plain hamburger.”

“You have to push the ‘TV’ button, then the “cable” button on the remote to make it work, Pop.” (Usually said with exasperation over the phone as I tried to work while he was mystified by the cable remote.)

“Tommy needs you, Pop.”

“I need you, Pop.”

“I miss you and love you, Pop.”

“Forever.”

One Year After My Dad

Dad’s Last Best Year : For Father’s Day

Dad at 15 days

Father’s Day Salute, to mine and yours…(updated for my dad’s 87th Birthday)

My Dad And Veterans Day

Dad and Tom at 1997 VSDA Convention

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There is more to read. Just click here.

For My Dad: On What Would Have Been His 91st Birthday

Below are links to previous blog posts about my Pop. Please read at least one to understand why he was so special to me and why, as I battle both a progressive lung disease and the aftermath a my radical nephrectomy for kidney cancer, I’ll always turn to my Pop for reasons to keep laughing and keep living.

If you hear me say something or see me do something, chances are I learned that from my Pop.

outback005

That’s my Dad. You can call him “Rich”. His co-workers called him “Dick” but my mother always called him “Rich”. I called him “Pop” or “Dad”. For some reason, I don’t remember ever calling him “Daddy”. I never felt that word was strong enough for my Dad.

Calling him Dad was a real sign of respect from me, at least in my mind. When I would introduce him to people or talk to others about him, I always used “Dad”. “Pop” was more playful, more casual, more personal.

“Hey, Pop, do you want to go to the diner?”

“Hey, Pop, did you see the Phillies game last night?”

“What do you need at the store, Pop?”

“There aren’t any Christmas movies on TV in September, Pop. I checked.”

“Yeah, I can reset your watch, Pop.”

“You have to push the ‘TV’ button, then the “cable” button on the remote to make it work, Pop.” (Usually said with exasperation over the phone as I tried to work while he was mystified by the cable remote.)

“Tommy needs you, Pop.”

“I need you, Pop.”

“I miss you and love you, Pop.”

“Forever.”

One Year After My Dad

Dad’s Last Best Year : For Father’s Day

Dad at 15 days

Father’s Day Salute, to mine and yours…(updated for my dad’s 87th Birthday)

My Dad And Veterans Day

Dad and Tom at 1997 VSDA Convention

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There is more to read. Just click here.

Money Is For Chocolate And The Zits Are Free: The Return Of My Kidney Cancer

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I think the old adage goes “write from what you know”. If that’s not an old adage, it should be.

So, taking my own sage advice, passed down through the ages by everyone and no one, here goes nothing. And here goes everything for a very tense but still hopeful year.

First of all, the Philadelphia Phillies are making me have a big sad. I love baseball, and yes, I still love my Phillies, but as of right now, they are eleventeen games below .500 and are probably going to have trouble catching a cold, let alone a playoff spot. It’s reached the point where Ruben Amaro Jr, my candidate for “WTF GM Of The Year” has to start thinking fire sale and trot out another old adage: “Wait Until Next Year”, which I am pretty certain is REALLY an old adage and not one of my own brilliant thoughts. Unless there are royalties attached to it, then make all checks payable to “ME”.

That “wait until next year” is the part that causes the motions and emotions to write this blog. A couple of months ago, that phrase terrified me. For those of you who may have been playing along with the home version of my life, you already know the spoilers for this blogpost, but for the rest, a recap.

milk_chocolateLet’s start with chocolate. Not just any chocolate, but HERSHEY’S KISSES. And it is not Easter, yet I am talking sugar sweetness and candy. As many of you know, I take great pride in my 27 year legacy in the home video business. I’ve talked about it with many of you, many more of you that I worked with have shared this business and success with me, and some of you who shared this business with me are now pretty invisible. But that’s a story for another day.

However, the chocolate part of this story, as well as the opportunity to reawaken my business skills by working on the HAVERFORD SPRING FEST helped to keep everything else this year in good perspective.

When we last left my story, you know that I had to retire due to a lung disease. I’ve never smoked, so of course, I get a lung disease. I’ve been battling a progressive beast for 4 years now and frankly, I am frakking proud of how I’ve managed to control it so that I can still be just a smidgen useful to others.

Then, last February, I had to have my right kidney removed because I had developed Kidney Cancer. I had written about that battle in these posts, so feel free to backtrack and read these, then jump back and join the tour here at this spot.

I’ll wait right here.

Dealing With My Kidney Cancer (Part One): The Serious and The Humorous

Dealing With My Kidney Cancer (Pt. 2): My Doctor Asked Me “AM I DISAPPOINTED?”

Hey, now, welcome back. So, as you can see by both the blog posts and my time spent on Facebook and Twitter, this operation appeared to be a success. I felt better, I lost weight, and I felt like I was ready to put this behind me.

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Fast forward to this year. In January, I took my usual three month scans and follow-ups, and aside from a benign nodule on my thyroid, all seemed to be OK. So good in fact, I went out and ate chocolate. And got paid for it.

I’ve been many things in the last four years, not the least of which is bored to tears. I miss working so much, and everyone who bitches on Monday morning about going to work, you have my envy, not my sympathy. So, I am always looking for something to do. One of these is a local focus group. In February, they offered me the opportunity to come to their Bala Cynwyd offices and eat chocolate and crackers for four days. And get paid $160 for it. Tell me again about dream jobs.

I went four days in a row, for about 1 hour a day, and ate a total of 93 Hershey Kisses and 28 crackers. The kisses looked like regular Hershey Kisses but each one had a different taste, smoothness, meltiness, and varying foil wraps. The idea was to answer questions about the quality, packaging, and differences between samples. But the more I ate these, I realized that the consistency of my answers over the entire four day stretch was more important than the way I thought sample number #269 tasted.

It was tough, but I completed the mission, took my money, and paid bills. I said it was tasty, not a gold mine.

This was my life through mid-March. Then came my next scan.

You know how they tell you NOT to diagnose yourself by looking things up on the internet? Good advice.

indexI took the scan on March 20th. It was a couple of weeks early, but I was seeing my oncologist on April 8th and wanted to make sure that he had current results. My hospital has a web portal that allows me to access my medical tests about 48 hours after they are done. So, I saw the test results on March 23rd, before talking with my doctor. Even for a layperson, I saw that there was something not quite right about it. Especially when I hit the words…

POSSIBLE RENAL CELL CARCINOMA.

Yeah, I’m gonna say the bad word. I shouted “FUCK!”. All my hard work to try and keep on top of my disease, and all the hope I had for the last year as it seemed that kidney cancer was in the rearview mirror was gone. And yes, I looked things up before I heard back from my doctor. Again, a mistake.

I finally talked with him, he set up an MRI and I saw him for the results on April 8th. As much as I was chomping at the bit to look up the results, I waited for him. And my fears were confirmed. It looked like there was some cancerous activity that was now in my liver. Of course, I rarely drink, so I developed a disease in my liver. The trick is that it is the return of kidney cancer, since it had the same markers as my previous cancer. That meant that while I was treating the liver, the liver was simply living the past of my kidney.

I had the biopsy done, which was a surprisingly calm and easy procedure: in the hospital at 7 AM, out just after 12 Noon, and with a free lunch!

As a matter of fact, while I was worried up until this time, I was still fairly calm. That all changed once the diagnosis was confirmed. And this is where many of you may know the story already. I simply went into a panicked funk. I was scared out of my skull. I had no idea what would come next, I had no idea if I would wake up the next day. When I would go out, I would look at a street sign that I saw every day and wonder if I’d see it tomorrow.

0175d71c08edfdf5352130d45909070a8fac3cc2d2I worried about my brother Tommy, and whether he would hate me if I got sick or worse. I worried about my sister, who has been my godsend and my lifeline through all of this. She is amazing but she deals with everyday problems and concerns with the toughness, grace, and caring that were now so needed by me.

I worried about the rest of my family and I worried about Swiper, my doxy buddy. He and I have become very close and I’ve been told how he waits for me to come home. I was worried about disappointing him someday.

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I worried about friends and others who have been there for me. I worried about going to see my favorite comedian Craig Shoemaker, who can make me laugh in spite of anything. I worried about going to an IN THE POCKET concert, since I spent some of the time wondering if I’d have another chance to enjoy that amazing music.

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I was afraid to commit to anything. Friends wanted me to go out, people wanted me to enjoy something with them, my family wanted to invite me over. I got really annoyed when people would say to me that you don’t know if you would be hit by a car tomorrow. Yes, that is true, but you also don’t sit and think 24/7 about the possibility of that car the next day.

I made excuses for most of these invites and attempts, I begged off, and I simply was too afraid to live to realize that I still had a lot to live for.

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Then came something that topped those Hershey Kisses (and that $160). That was the HAVERFORD SPRING FEST. Back in my youthful days, I went to Villanova University and spent way too much fun time at the campus radio station WKVU 640 AM. Besides a number of great people, I met Tom Kelly there. Tom had forged a damn impressive career in the radio business and is now the founder of iradiophilly.com, an online streaming music service with over 20 themed channels that have actual personality and thought behind them.

Tom has also been a very big civic booster in my adopted hometown of Havertown PA and has been the driving force behind the HAVERFORD MUSIC FEST, a town-wide fall music event. Tom invited me to help plan a spring music and arts festival that would focus on a one block business district. I was tasked with doing the social media and public relations for the fest. That meant things I was familiar with, like Twitter and Facebook, as well as things I was very rusty in, such as media contacts and press releases.

This coincided with my funk over the spread of my kidney cancer, and I’ll be honest, I was ready to drop out because my confidence was shattered and my spirit was non-existent. Tom talked honestly with me and helped me sort out a few feelings.

All of this came along at the right time, because the more I talked it out and learned, the calmer I became. I didn’t lose the underlying fear of what could happen but I did learn that I can’t give up the “now” for one possible scenario in the future. At the same time, my medical efforts moved from the diagnosis into the realm of treating and dealing with my kidney cancer.

What you should know is that my doctor was honest and told me that there is no cure, but also told me that “no cure” does NOT equate with “no hope”. We devised a treatment plan with the goals to stop the tumor growth and spread, shrink the existing nodules and get me into remission. Definitely not a “home free” scenario, but a scenario with a definite chance for a good future.

20090922062143205We started a weekly chemo session with a drug called TORISEL. You knew this wouldn’t be easy, right? TORISEL was chosen to start with because he has confidence in it, and because we have to be careful what drugs to use to have the least effect on my lung disease. One of the side effects of the drug is developing a possible “interstitial lung fibrosis”, which I already had. Since there had been no tests done with this drug on people who already have this ILD lung disease, there is no way of knowing if the drug would make the existing lung problems worse. So, stepped up monitoring by my team of lung doctors is now part of the plan.

The good news is that after 7 treatments, I have suffered only minor side effects and nothing that shut me down for any length of time, so I’ve been able to live a slightly modified but normal (for me) life. I even drove myself to Chambersburg PA on a Saturday to see the wedding of my dear friend Jessica Ownes-DeShong and see some of my old Dunder Mifflin Infinity Allentown friends. After the 12th treatment, I’ll do scans again and we will see how effective the treatment is and plan next steps.

However, I feel really good and if I didn’t know what I had, I’d not notice any of the little body aches and effects that aren’t that bad. People tell me I look good and that makes me happy, because I don’t believe it is lip service, I believe it to be true. And I’ve been given permission to lose 10-15 pounds, which is like winning the lottery for me right now. (No, it really isn’t, I’d like the POWERBALL jackpot, too, please.)

The Haverford SPRING FEST was held on a gorgeous Sunday, May 18th, on Brookline Blvd from Noon to 7. We had six performers play from the stage (see the graphic below) and we drew 8,500 PEOPLE!!! EIGHT THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE CAME TO ENJOY THE DAY THAT I HAD A HAND IN PRODUCING.

Damn, that felt good and showed that I have lost nothing more than a little time spent worrying about what might happen and not noticing all that was happening all around me.

So, why did I write this blog post? Because I have to be honest with everyone. Because I have to be honest with myself. Maybe I share too much, but that is simply how I am. I believe that I am one hell of a package that needs very little dressing up and inflating.

Plus I need pants (my close friends will know what that means.)

And maybe more chocolate.

Thanks to everyone for your patience with this patient so far. Keep following me and being my friend for the next 20-30 years and see where we can take each other.

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Watch a little after the 3 minute mark for a nice treat. ;)