For Photojournalist Andrew Youssef, Life Was Music. Then Came Cancer

Categories: Last Shot

Andrew Youssef
Shooting the Rolling Stones at Honda Center.
For the past nine months, Youssef has spent most Wednesday evenings on a laptop with the daunting task of condensing the toughest years of his life into 450-word chunks for all to see. From the living room of his family's middle-class, one-story home, he types methodically, his computer on his knees, skinny limbs sunken into a brown, marshmallowy recliner. The house is tucked inside a Downey cul-de-sac; a lone palm tree on the lawn guards the door, a large front window and its faded drapes.

See also: View all of Youssef Last Shot columns here

About two-and-a-half years after his diagnosis, Youssef had shared the news of his illness with only his closest friends, family and colleagues. Even as the disease advanced, he worked hard, as always. Rarely one to surrender to aches and pains, he was even less likely to talk about them. But then after so many years of watching and reading about people dying from the same affliction, Youssef had a change of heart. In late February, he started writing his column, chronicling his struggle with cancer.

The disease had come out of nowhere in early 2011. At first, he didn't know what was wrong. He'd lost about twenty pounds and seemed to be getting sick more easily than usual. Then, during an assignment shooting Gang of Four at the House of Blues for the Weekly, Youssef was seized by stomach pain and nausea -- he had barely made it through the gig before stumbling to his car. Streaks of blood in his stool, he says, "should've raised more red flags."

Soon after, Youssef passed out at work and was rushed to the ER. A colonoscopy and a CT scan revealed spots in his liver. Later, the doctor sat with him and his parents to deliver nine terrible words that stuck vividly in his mind: "You have colon cancer that's spread to your lungs."

Youssef immediately broke down. How could this have happened? He was young, ran marathons and ate right. By his estimation, he was a good person. He didn't deserve this.

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