And now for something completely different

IN THESE PAGES I have written on many subjects, but I never expected my ass to be one of them. The untimely passing last year of Hillman Curtis changed that.

Hillman was a friend, an inspiration, an artist admired by many designers and filmmakers. Over a brief but luminous career, he invented himself first as a songwriter in a touring post-punk band, then as an art director and eventually the design director of Macromedia (and Flash evangelist Numero Uno), next as the founder of a boutique design studio and the author of design books that have sold over 150 thousand copies—a staggering achievement in an industry where cracking 10,000 copies sold makes you a rock star.

He was a generous mentor and pal to the digital design community, perpetually sharing his insights and enthusiasm, and encouraging others to do and be everything they could be. If you needed studio space, he would find you a desk. If you were low on funds, he would help you land a suitable gig. Hillman and I worked on a couple of projects together when I first founded Happy Cog. The jobs went well and the work was good. He was a supportive and honorable design director.

Hillman’s final public creative incarnation was as a filmmaker. He is probably best known for his “Artist Series” about designers including Milton Glaser and Paula Scher, and artists David Byrne and Brian Eno.

Even his personal life was inspiring. He had two children and a wife, and the love in that beautiful family could be seen a mile away.

Colon cancer took Hillman from us on April 18, 2012. He was only 51.

I don’t know if Hillman’s cancer could have been prevented with a simple screening, but I know a colonoscopy is recommended for most men and women when they reach a certain age, and I know I love my daughter very much.

And so, this morning, for her sake and per my doctor’s recommendation, I set aside feelings of embarrassment and fears of discomfort and had the test.

It’s really not bad. There’s no pain, it takes only a few minutes, and you’re unconscious.

This post may cross a taste line for some readers; sorry about that. I’m also sorry this page won’t help you write better HTML or sharpen your collaborative skills. But I love you and would like you to stick around.

34 thoughts on “And now for something completely different

  1. The more often folks talk about preventative health measures like this, the less taboo or line-crossing they’ll become. And we’ll all be better (and healthier) for it. Prevention is worth trailblazing through social norms.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Jeffery. It’s a difficult topic, but one that I think is passed by too often. Most times only certain types of cancer are discussed and it’s easy to forget that it’s a broad disease that effects millions of people regardless of age or sex.

    My father is in the last stages of colon cancer, so I relate with this completely. Life is too precious not to endure a little embarrassment and discomfort. I’ll be tested when it’s my turn, but doubt I will have the courage to blog about it.

  3. Completely agree. I never knew about Hillman Curtis until now, and it inspired me to look up his website and to learn more about his work.

    Thanks for dedicating a post to convince people to get cancer screenings, as you said, it might not make your HTML better, or your CSS more powerful, but life is more important.

  4. The test is easy peasy, it’s the prep that’s a bitch.

    We don’t necessarily do this for ourselves–but for our families, and most especially our children.

    Certain cancer screenings are a no-brainer because they’re so effective. Take it from one who knows–and has received 10+ more years in which to continue raising her kids.

    You do what you gotta do.

  5. Well said Jeffrey, and congrats to you for putting on (or taking off) your big boy pants for the sake of your health and security for your daughter.
    Catherine said it well… the test is cake – you’re out cold. It’s the prep that’s a “pain in the ass”. Once you “put that all behind you”, you can move on. There’s no confusing it, its a “shitty situation” – but something that’s important.
    I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at 19 and was told that my risk of colon cancer goes up about 10,000%. So I kinda have to do these annually, even at my young childish age of 36. Most doctors say annually after 50, but it’s just too much fun to wait that long.

    Now get back to writing HTML articles my friend ;)

  6. Been there, done that. Funny how I’m fine having a camera shoved up my rear end but I keep putting off getting a mammogram. Thanks for the kick in the ass (pun intended).

  7. A family member had prostate surgery just this Monday, so naturally we’re feeling anxiety for him. You’re trying to prevent your family from feeling that. You’re a good guy, you are.

  8. Good, thoughtful post Jeffrey!

    Men’s health (and Women’s too) should never be over-looked, and promoting the good practice of getting checks done at the right time is great. Also, it’s good that you took the test.

  9. Thank goodness someone’s got the cojones to say this! I’ve done the deed, as well having my boobs smashed against cold layers of plexiglass. Not my best moments, certainly, but better a few minutes of discomfort if it gives me more years of terrorizing–I mean loving–my family.

    But daaaang; that lovely drinking of the drain cleaner as prep? Yeah, that. Gives a whole new meaning to the handle Robin2go.

  10. As I hear somewhere on a regular basis, you can’t save your face and your ass at the same time. Oh, wait… Maybe you can!

  11. Howdy, folks. :) I’m the creative director for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. Jeffrey, you ROCK for posting this. <3

    A yearly colonoscopy (once you're past 50) is a must-have. It is treatable in the early stages! 147,000 folks are diagnosed with colon cancer each year; the earlier it is diagnosed the better your odds are. Here is info about colon cancer screening: If you have Crohn's or colitis, earlier screening is essential for you. More on that here:

    Now I've got to go make that mammogram appointment… <:P

  12. My grandfather died from colon cancer but I don’t recall ever hearing what type of cancer he had until after I was diagnosed.

    I am a year out from my last treatment for colorectal cancer which luckily was caught soon enough. My last tests have been cancer free and I am feeling pretty good.

    I don’t remember hearing people talking about colon cancer until after I was diagnosed, but that was probably just something I ignored (because it couldn’t happen to me). I am very impressed with the increasing amounts of information available about this disease.

    Thanks for the article.

  13. Because of having years of Crohn’s disease, I’ve had multiple colonoscopies (and practically every other GI procedure) done to me. The prep is the worst part. My advice: plan to have a delicious meal in the evening after the procedure, something that you will really look forward to, because after the gut lavage you will feel hungry, and having something to look forward to will help steady you during the prep.

    And, @noel, years ago when I had one done I was on very light anesthesia, and was watching the whole procedure on the monitor as it took place. My doctor said “I’m going to take a picture now.” and in my loopy state, I immediately said “Can I get a wallet photo?” She laughed, and somewhere in my files I have a printed photo from the procedure. A sense of humor is good anesthesia too!

  14. What to say… A brave post, from a brave person who broke on his own this taboo.
    Taboos are one of the most dangerous things.
    A very young guy I knew died for testicular cancer years ago: he was too embarassed to tell his parents and spent months using ice not to feel the pain at night.
    Then they understood, we all did, and it was terrible to discover how a taboo, a “don’t say that” can kill you though embarassment, shyness, or whatever.
    So, let’s speak about these things with simplicity, with friends, with childrens in the right way, and with ourselves.

    This said…well done Jeffrey, I appreciate you more than before.

  15. Thank you so much for writing about this. Having lost my mother to colon cancer at age 6 (she was 37), my doctor recommended I start a few years earlier than everyone else. So I had my first colonoscopy at age 30 and a second one last year, at age 35.

    On both occasions, I’ve made it a point to talk about it publicly (no, this is not a photo of my butt):

    If you’re the medically-curious type, it’s interesting to be awake (and mildly-sedated) so you can watch the procedure. How many times in life do you get to see your own insides, live on a screen? If you don’t mind what feels like someone pressing on your belly, it’s pretty fascinating to watch.

  16. As someone emerging from a recent fight with cancer, I can personally attest to the importance of preventative screening. I was diagnosed with testicular cancer last June. Luckily, since we caught it early, it only claimed a small part of my body.

    One of the most startling things the experience taught me was just how many people die from diseases that can be cured if caught early. Maybe I’d heard the numbers before, but now I understand them.

    Thanks for sharing this, Jeffrey. It’s important.

  17. Kudos to you, JZ. My mom died of colon cancer. Consequently, I had elective surgery several years ago to edit out some troublesome spots I had. Was so worth it. Get yer ‘scope, folks.

  18. “A yearly colonoscopy (once you’re past 50) is a must-have.”

    And as Rob Knight alluded to, a family history of colon cancer should motivate you to do this earlier.

    My father has had several polyps (both benign and malignant) removed and is still alive and kicking today and approaching 80 years of age. It convinced me to do it at 35. And I’m overdue for a follow-up.

    The procedure is easy. The preparation…well, just one recommendation: buy soft toilet paper.

    If there is one product that works as advertised it is the solution that you drink to clean you out. I can’t remember if I had the not-really-aptly-named “GoLYTELY” solution, or some other type of sodium biphosphate solution. I do remember that it worked.

    Again, buy soft toilet paper.

    And get it done.

  19. I was awake during mine but somewhat sedated. I was able to watch the whole thing. I have to tell you – it was amazing! Not at all gross. A little discomfort at times but not that big a deal.

    I’m not trying to gross anyone out here – just the opposite. I tell everyone my age to be sure to be tested.

    And the prep wasn’t that bad either. Cozy up to some netflix, keep your finger near the pause button and away you go (and go and go).

  20. Well done, not the funnest experience in life. I was awake for mine and watched the screen which was interesting. The prep solution they give you the day before obviously works wonders!! I’ve recently had an endoscopy as well, and I thought the colonoscopy was more enjoyable.

    Either way, the moral is, don’t be scared and most importantly, don’t be embarrassed, it’s just life. Let’s keep it that way.

  21. Oh, I’m very sorry to hear about Hillman. I met him at the How Design Conference in SF about 12 years ago. He was incredibly inspirational to me. Good advice on the colonoscopy as well. I’m 47 and about due for my first.

  22. Thank you for sharing such an important topic.

    A few years ago, at age 40, I began to have stomach issues. When my gastronenterologist suggested a colonoscopy, I flinched. He suggested we rule out Crohn’s or other auto-immune diseases. Turns out, that colonoscopy saved my life. The procedure revealed two advanced stage adenomas which would have turned cancerous in five years. Six months later, I was screened again to rule out regrowths and another advanced adenoma was found. Mind you, there is no cancer in either sides of my family. The genetic counselor said genetic testing was not recommended because there is no genetic link. But now I have to get a colonoscopy done yearly. Never in my life would have ever thought about cancer, yet alone colon cancer. I’d never smoked, drank heavily or ate poorly.

    For those who are newly diagnosed or have loved ones with colon cancer, check out Gloria Borges, a 30 years old colon cancer survivor. She is amazing and give hope to all of us.

    Much love and health to you and your loved ones, Jeffrey.

  23. At the small town VFW I drop into, for an occasional libation, I think colonoscopies are easily among the “Top Ten Conversation Topics.” It got to the point where I had to go get one just so I wouldn’t feel left out. Turned out to be no big deal and they told me I didn’t need to come back for ten years.

  24. I landed on this page in the search of some design stuff, but I got something better from this post.
    Its true we should spare few moments from our daily chores for our regular checkups. It wont help our client or business, but will surely add value to our family and friends.

  25. Hillman passed away on my dad’s birthday, April 18th. My dad died from colon cancer too. He was 63. He used to be skinny in his youth. But I always remember my dad with a large belly. He wasn’t really fat, just had a big belly. He didn’t drink, stopped smoking 30 years previously but he didn’t work out, was under stress and loved his food. After he had the 7kg (15lbs) tumour removed (his surgeon had never seen one as big) he was skinny again. He survived another year past this first operation. But despite everyones best efforts, including his own remarkable bravery, he didn’t beat the big C. I spent quite a bit of time with my dad during his last year or two. Many nights spent by his side at the hospital; some nights horrific, some magical and spiritual, some both. I don’t think we were ever closer, apart from I suppose when I was very young. I promised my dad that I wouldn’t get cancer.

    Since then I have lost 4 stone, gone from an obese BMI to near optimal, stopped smoking and have nearly become a full-on, card-carrying vegan. A few years ago I would have labelled myself a weirdo. But I think when you experience just how important your health is, you know you have no choice. Any other way is madness. Especially if you have children. I believe that a sedentary life style, too much fat and protein and not enough regular exercise all mixed in with modern stress levels is no good for our bodies. I recommend reading Born to run, and in particular check out the amazing Dr Ruth Heidrich.

    It wouldn’t appear that Mr Curtis had a weight problem, I don’t know if he smoked, was fond of burgers or anything else from his personal life. But I do know my dad was much too young to leave us at 63, so I can’t imagine how Hillman’s family and loved ones are coping.

    Our industry, in particular, needs to educate us to the long term damage caused by sitting on one’s arse all day. So, Mr Zeldman here you are doing just that! Well done Sir, for once again showing us the way forward.

Comments are closed.