Rozner: Marc Silverman collects the biggest win of his life
It was simply too much to bear at that hour and in that instant.
You can pretend all you want for a few moments that everything's fine, but your mind doesn't let you stray far from fear, and when the waves begin to swamp the boat you best start bailing.
So Marc Silverman swiped the remote and turned off the movie, stealthily stealing a deep breath, trying desperately to hide in plain sight, to keep from weeping.
Sitting on the couch with his wife and two young boys, Disney's "Onward" was the perfect trigger, a punch to the sternum. As cruel a joke as anyone could play, it wouldn't release its grasp on him long enough to enjoy a few minutes with his kids.
A few minutes. That's all he asked. A few minutes to escape his own mind.
But "Onward" is about a pair of brothers who embark on a quest to spend one more day with their late father.
This was two days after Silverman found out he was quite sick.
"I got my cancer diagnosis and I spent the first few days crying in my wife's arms," said the 49-year-old Silverman. "A million things go through your mind, but mostly it's about the family.
"Will my kids grow up without a dad? Will I be replaced down the road? Will they even remember me?"
The mind can take you down some dark roads when the heart is breaking, because once you love something more than yourself, you never again look at the world through the same lens. It's not just a space that children occupy. They are all the spaces. What matters is their health and safety, their happiness and dreams.
And when something bad happens, they dominate your thoughts.
"It was April. It was cold. With the pandemic, it's not like we could go anywhere," said Silverman, the longtime host at WMVP 1000-AM. "We're trying to find stuff to do with the kids and the new Disney app is out and we picked this movie.
"And these two boys in the movie go back in time and they're able to bring their father back to life. That was that. Turned the movie off. I was a wreck. We found something else to watch."
• • •
Marc Silverman was living pretty large. He had a job he treasured, a radio partner he adored in Tom Waddle, a wonderful wife, Allie, and two precocious boys, 6-year-old Mason and 4-year-old Braxton, romping about a lovely suburban home.
It's not that he lacked for perspective, but life does have a way of kicking you in the teeth when you're smiling.
Enter the fickle foot of fate. At the flip of a switch, Silverman needed saving.
"It was last November and I wasn't feeling great. I was tired all the time. My doc thought maybe it was anxiety," Silverman said. "The meds didn't help. Nothing helped me. The blood work was good, but my workouts weren't as good and I knew something wasn't right.
"In the spring, my neck started to swell on the right side and then the left side. In March, the lymph node in my groin started swelling. Still, the blood test numbers were fine."
Not convinced all was well, his doctor sent him to a head and neck specialist to get a thorough check and a full run of biopsies.
"I thought I was going to get confirmation that everything was OK. That's why I thought I was going," Silverman explained. "But the way she reacted as she was doing the ultrasound on my neck, she knew right away. I knew it was Non-Hodgkin lymphoma."
A year after the loss of his father, Silverman didn't know how to tell his mom, especially since COVID-19 prevented him from seeing her.
"She was still grieving and I was worried the news would break her," Silverman said, choking back the tears. "I wanted to make sure I had a plan on how to fix this before I told her.
"It's weird. The first few days are a lot of crying and you go through ... I guess you would call it a mourning period. You can't look at your wife or kids without crying, but then it changes. You know you want to be here for them and they become your reason to fight. They are the motivation.
"So, now I had a plan."
It would be the longest six months of his life, filled with chemotherapy, scans and doctor visits, all during a pandemic that prevented his wife and children from being with him.
"I always got a seat by the window for any treatment so I could see them and they could see me," Silverman said. "My wife and kids, instead of making me cry, they became my motivation.
"I would tell myself, 'Look at everything I have. I have no other choice. I have to fight.' That's what you do when your back is against the wall. You fight."
In a year when nothing is normal, the abnormal was even more so. Drive-by birthday parties, a quiet Father's Day, participation in most sports relegated to the backyard.
And cancer treatments.
"We never told the kids daddy was sick. I mean, how can they understand? You don't want to scare them," Silverman said. "They just know I was at the doctor for appointments. When I lost my hair, we all got COVID haircuts.
"My 6-year-old thinks we were just talking about how strong daddy is when 'Silvy Strong' became a thing. He designed the shirts.
"Some of the things they say, you know they're scratching around the edges. Like, 'Why are so many people buying the shirt? Why is this a thing?' You just want to do all you can to protect them."
• • •
In two decades working in radio and television, the constant I saw was anger, egos run amok and the self-absorbed desperate for attention. Not that print is any different, the maniacal fueled by hate, vitriol filling an empty existence.
Marc Silverman has never been one of those guys. I worked with him at Fox-32 for years, and even while at competing radio stations we frequently laughed at the clowns and embraced the decent.
If you have something more in your life, you understand it's just a job. And you understand that hate destroys the hater.
"The older you get, the more reflective you are and the more appreciative of the relationships. Of course, I've never felt it as much as I do now," Silverman said. "When you go through this and research the mind side of it, you know you have to get your mind right.
"You have to have positive thoughts, and the more grateful you are and the healthier your mind, the better the body does.
"At a time when the country was going through such a hateful time, the worst of my lifetime in this country, I was getting the most love of my life from co-workers and listeners. It was therapeutic.
"I've never been a negative person or a hateful guy. I knew I had it good and I've been very fortunate, but then this happens and it gives you even more perspective and it has shaped me moving forward."
Six months after it began, it was over, with Silverman announcing a few weeks ago that he was in full and complete remission, having been through chemotherapy and an immunotherapy clinical trial.
"My doctor at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital -- Dr. Dean Tsarwhas is the cancer chair -- said the chemo I was on is the Michael Jordan of lymphoma treatments," Silverman said. "The immunotherapy clinical trial is the LeBron James of lymphoma treatments.
"He said, 'We already have the best. We have a 72-win team. We're going to win this. But why not have Michael and LeBron?' There's a greater chance to be cured."
Silverman will get his blood count checked over the holidays, and in May will receive his next scan to make sure the cancer has not returned. From there, each time the news is good means a longer period between checkups.
"I feel really good, but get tired a lot. Doesn't stop me from doing anything, but I'm not quite as energetic with the kids as I had been before," Silverman said. "I've been told by a lot of people that it could last several months or maybe even a year.
"I'm still seeing a therapist at the cancer center and I've relied heavily on that. I'm not an expert, but when someone comes to me after they've been diagnosed, the only thing I can speak with certainty about is it's important to get your mind right and to see a therapist.
"If the mind is not right, the body is not right. I believed that even before this, but now I'm certain it's important to talk to someone."
• • •
Thanksgiving is a victory.
Being here for it, being healthy and being with his family is the greatest victory of Marc Silverman's life.
"It won't be perfect. Won't have my mom here because of COVID," Silverman said. "It's still hard at times, E-learning with a 6-year-old and 4-year-old and unable to do all the things with them we should be doing, but when I get aggravated, that's when I have to stop and appreciate how far I've come.
"When this started, the doc said, 'We're going to go through this journey together and there's going to be bad news and good news, and we're going to take the wins when we get them.'
"At one point I said, 'When do I get some of these wins you were talking about?' He said, 'You've got some.'
"When I heard 'Stage 3' that freaked me out. But it meant above and below the diaphragm, meaning not in my organs or my spine. It was a reminder that you have to stop sometimes and just relax and be thankful.
"There have been so many wins and Thanksgiving is another one. I've been so thankful every day since this happened. It's all about family and I am very aware that I went from sitting in that chair at a doctor's office and hearing the diagnosis, to sitting in that chair in my house at a Thanksgiving meal with my family.
"Look at what we've been through, how far we've come, and look at all we have to be thankful for."
Thanksgiving weekend might be the perfect time to try watching that movie again. Sure, there will be tears. Happy tears. And happy tears are a win.