Resident of San Luis Obispo deals with his cancer by creating line of get-well cards

It wasn’t funny when Terry Redknapp came down with a mysterious pain in his back two years ago. Nor was it funny when the doctor told him the cause of that pain.

Still, while cancer is no laughing matter, Redknapp found out that he couldn’t just dwell on dire circumstances.

“I try to laugh at it,” he said. “If you’re going to sit around and stew yourself to death, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”The Christmas after his diagnosis, Redknapp, a former associate design director at the Los Angeles Times, created a card that made light of his many treatments.

The card read: “Yo! You try eight months of cold steel surgery, chemotherapy cocktails, prime rib radiology, X-rays, biopsies, MRI’s, CAT scans, PET scans, bone and brain scans, then see how your f#%?ing nose looks.” Then the card revealed an exaggerated drawing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with an especially large nose.

Redknapp sent the card to 50 friends and relatives and was done with it. But then he considered creating more cards targeted to cancer patients.

“And ideas starting coming to me,” he said.

Now he has created more than 100 cards, which make light of things such as baldness, fear of death and the many treatments that follow a cancer diagnosis.

The cards, illustrated with editorial-like cartoons, are stark and brutally honest. With a hint of sarcasm and elongated lettering that is sometimes difficult to read, they seem more suitable for an edgy art gallery than a greeting card aisle. Yet they’re sure to resonate with anyone who has been a cancer patient.

On the front of one card are the words “!Caution! Topless.” Then, on the inside, is a picture of two women, completely bald, and in the background the words “Told you.”

Another card begins with the words “It’s ok, just” …; on the inside are the words “the gardener” and a picture of a petrified cancer patient looking at the Grim Reaper walking past his bed.

Redknapp’s work clearly differs from the typical get-well card. But he thinks that works to his advantage.“They’ve got get-well cards, and they’re all crap,” he said.

So far, however, he hasn’t found anyone willing to distribute his cards. Whenever he gets a lead, he’ll send the cards, only to get no response.

“Nobody ever calls you back,” he said.

Still, he thinks there’s a market for his work — namely, the millions of cancer patients in the United States.

“Why don’t they appeal to these people?” Redknapp asked, suggesting there is a large, untapped market. Redknapp never expected to do this kind of work.

Having been raised in London, he studied engineering in college, but wound up working as a copy boy for the Evening Standard in London.

After a stint with the Royal Air Force in air traffic control, he returned to the newspaper, eventually working as an artist in the editorial department. From there, he worked at the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia before coming to the United States in 1966 on a German freighter carrying steak and lobster.

The day after he arrived in Southern California, he was looking for a job. “I said to a newspaper seller, ‘Where’s the nearest newspaper office?’ And he said, ‘Up there’s the LA Times, and down there’s the Examiner.’ I said, ‘Which is closer?’ ”

In 1969, he was briefly a combat artist in Vietnam. But most of his career was spent at the Times. Roughly 12 years ago, he and his wife moved to San Luis Obispo.

Redknapp said he was generally healthy when he noticed a pain in his back. At first the doctor thought it was a pulled muscle. But when the pain persisted, tests were conducted, and his doctor informed him that he had found tumors on his lungs and ribs.

After the doctor mentioned cancer, Redknapp just stared for a few moments.

“He got very quiet in the doctor’s office,” recalled his wife, Joan Drake.

Finally, he said, “Well, what do we do now?”

As the Christmas card suggested, there was a litany of tests — bone scans, brain scans, MRI, PET scan, CAT scan and so on. “We didn’t have time to think,” his wife said, “because there was always another test.”

Eventually, there was surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. And, finally, he was clear of the cancer.

For 2½ years, he remained cancer-free. But during a visit to his adult daughter in New York eight weeks ago, Redknapp discovered that the disease had returned — this time with occurrences on his brain and lungs.

The 72-year-old — who quit smoking 14 years ago — is back in treatment. But he’s not letting a recurrence get him down. Besides his previous bout with cancer, he once broke all of his ribs in a boating accident and more recently survived open heart surgery.

“If you can let go of the dread of the thing and you can see something funny about it, is that not doing something good?”Redknapp also has another reason to pitch his cards: the cost of medicine.

While Medicaid covers much of his treatment, he still has to pay thousands of dollars for medicine.

“I need to make some money,” he said.

But more than that, he said, he hopes the cards offer a smile to those experiencing tough times. While cancer can be a fatal disease, his cards focus on surviving, not dying.

“There’s nothing here that says, ‘It’s over for you,’ ” he said.