When Darth Vadar walked through the doors at Lompoc Health - Hematology-Oncology, the staff knew it wasn’t going to be a typical appointment for the man behind the mask.
Diagnosed with colon cancer and undergoing concurrent chemotherapy and radiation treatment, patient John Porr was looking to inject a little levity into a sometime difficult experience.
That mask was the start of something that came to be a welcome bright spot for not only Mr. Porr and his wife Mary, but for the Hematology-Oncology staff. Often other residents got a few laughs from his creative get-ups as well.
Over the course of his many weeks of treatment, John came dressed as a multitude of different cinema characters. “I don’t tell them what I’m doing,” said the longtime painting contractor, who has lived in Lompoc since he was 4.
The Darth Vadar mask came as the idea because his face was breaking out with pre-cancerous spots. “I needed to cover my face,” he explained.
One week, he came with a script to be read by Family Nurse Practitioner Emily Bertsch. While he strode into the treatment room in a robe, she read a script akin to a boxing ring announcer introducing the fighters. As she read it, he disrobed to reveal a “Chemo Kid” t-shirt, shorts and hands wrapped with tape like a boxer.
“It’s incredible,” Emily said. “His positive mental attitude is one of the best I’ve seen.” Having an outlook that is upbeat, she said, is critical in the healing of the disease process.
“Having a positive attitude can affect how you feel,” Emily noted. The “Rocky” outfit in particular, she said, was appropriate.
“He’s in his personal fight” against cancer, she said.
The humor he injects into the effort is not far from his regular character.
“I’m always throwing out the puns, like ‘I’m not reading too loud, am I?’” John says. His wife of 37 years chimes in: “He keeps me laughing.”
After Darth Vadar, John says the idea just snowballed. “I ran with it,” he said. “The ideas kept coming.”
Another outfit was a cowboy get up, complete with the song, “I want to be a Cowboy,” by Kid Rock. His outfit included a red kerchief, a Levi shirt, chaps and boots. In addition to Kid Rock, he played Willie Nelson’s “Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.”
One week had him showing up as a tourist, with luggage and a Hawaiian shirt, a camera slung across his chest. He wore black socks and sandals and had leis for all the nurses. Mary played along with that one as well.
One week, he sported a raincoat and umbrella and waltzed into treatment to “Singing in the Rain.”
One of his final treatments had him wearing a tuxedo and military medals.
“They let me get away with it,” he laughed. “Some places might not have.”
Mary agreed: “They’ve been supportive. They’ve been wonderful.”