The Guys At The Corner Table

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

Every Friday morning at 8:00 am, a group of men get together for breakfast at the Royal Court Restaurant. Construction workers, teachers, salesmen, firefighters. Some are retired while others stop by on their way to work. What’s noteworthy is that our paths would never have crossed except for our one shared experience – we’ve all had cancer.

There are several regulars in the group, but newcomers join us almost every week. It’s common for people to first join us when they’re sorting through their treatment options. The guys at the table don’t really give advice, but we do share our personal experiences. And we provide a non-judgmental forum so people with decisions to make can freely discuss what they’ve been considering. They sort of test drive their thinking at our table. (Sometimes it’s easier to bounce around ideas with people who aren’t members of your own family).

And there are times that we talk mostly about things other than cancer. Sports, politics, business, and other topics pop up almost every week.

It’s interesting that so many types of cancers are represented: prostate, colon, lung, melanoma, bladder, breast, lymphoma, leukemia. The differences between our cancers are far less important than their commonalities. We’ve all learned to live with uncertainty.

No wonder that some military veterans in the group say that the bond we form is very similar to the bond that they formed with their buddies in the service. People connect quickly and deeply when life and death are daily realities.

I routinely talk with community groups and I’m sometimes asked if anything good emerged from my having cancer. I used to respond that having cancer forced me to reexamine my priorities in life and to focus on what’s truly important. I still value that, but I’m beginning to realize that the greatest good that emerged from my cancer is a strong sense of community.

Cancer brings me in contact with people I wouldn’t have met in any other way. It’s the ultimate equalizer: We’re all looking to connect with others who understand. We all know that life isn’t perfect, but we also know that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.

I’m constantly reminded of this when we get together on Friday mornings. When we leave, some guys are heading off for a little fishing while others might be going to the hospital for a CAT scan. But everyone has shared a connection – and a good breakfast – with old and new friends at the corner table.

There’s always room for one more. Come join us!

Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal. 

Click here for all of Bob’s columns


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