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

Categories: Last Shot

But there was no time for self-pity. The doctors immediately wheeled him into surgery to remove a tumor that was blocking 98 percent of his colon. The operation left him with a zipper-like scar on his abdomen. The simplest tasks became excruciating: rolling over onto one side or walking from his hospital bed to a chair. The cancer had already spread diffusely to Youssef's liver, like a point-blank shotgun blast.

Days dragged by, filled by tear-stained conversations with a handful of friends over the phone and with his parents and brother, who rotated shifts by his side at the hospital. He dutifully emailed his employers, telling them he'd be out of commission -- he didn't know for how long. Youssef no longer attended shows, which only enhanced his depression. Because of the surgery, he missed shooting Coachella 2011. He managed to watch a few minutes of the live stream of the Indio festival in bed before closing his laptop in disgust. "The sad part is I barely even had the strength to lift up my laptop at that point," he recalls.

Two months later, after moving from Huntington Beach back to his parents' house in Downey, Youssef decided to get back to the business of shooting shows. "I knew I had to get up and regain some sort of active life, or I would die a lot quicker," he says.
The first show on his list was Fleet Foxes at the Hollywood Palladium in September 2011. Days before, he prepared himself by doing laps around the house with a camera bag strapped over his shoulder.

For the first time in years, Youssef found himself asking for a ride to the show. One of his friends and fellow photographers, Lindsey Best, was kind enough to not only drive him up, but also watch over him as he sat against the barricade, conserving his energy for the headliner.

The roar of fans and the sight of Fleet Foxes' grinning, bearded frontman, Robin Pecknold, walking onstage gave him the lightning bolt of adrenaline he needed. He remembers barely having the arm strength to hold up one of his eight-pound cameras. But he heaved himself up and held the camera, which felt like an anvil in his trembling hands. Youssef adjusted the shutter speed to account for his shaking, and before he knew it, it was over. He'd made it through the allotted three songs.

When Best dropped him off at home, they hugged goodbye. Holding each other in her car with the motor running, they both began to break down.

"I couldn't believe after all I had been through that I successfully attended a concert and photographed the show," Youssef wrote in his second column, titled "Helplessness Blues at a Fleet Foxes Show," published this April. "For those three songs, I momentarily forgot I had cancer. It was and still is the best feeling in the world. I was back doing one of the things I loved to do the most."

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