Ur-Turn: The Karma Kar

by Ur-Turn

Ur-Turn is your weekly opportunity to contribute to TTAC. Every Saturday we select a different piece submitted to our contact form, and publish it as a showcase for the diverse perspectives of TTAC’s readers. Today’s contribution comes from TTAC commenter Rob Finfrock, and it tells the story of how one car-buying decision might have made the difference in his battle with cancer.

I’d planned to buy a new car on August 26, 2006. A loaded Mazda6S Grand Touring with the 6-speed manual, Dark Cherry Red over beige leather, with in-dash CD changer and moonroof. I justified the extravagance as a reward to myself for getting through the last seven months following a health scare. Diagnosed with testicular cancer that January, I had been extremely fortunate in the time since the initial surgery. Monthly observation scans had shown no additional tumors, which meant no radiation or chemo.

The deal wasn’t done that Saturday, though. The dealer’s numbers were still a bit too high for my tastes, so I left that day in my Grand Am. I wasn’t too worried, as I expected the dealer to come around in a day or two. The plan changed two days later, during the monthly consult with my oncologist.

I was still a nervous patient, and sweated each CT, X-ray, blood test, and follow-up. Dr. Bhogaraju was extremely understanding of that fear, and it was his custom to greet me with the statement ”you’re OK.” He didn’t say it that day.

My latest CT revealed an 8 mm growth on my left lung, and inflamed lymph nodes nearby. ”We need to run some more tests,” said Dr. B. ”It’s rare for TC to spread to the lungs, but it’s possible. I’m recommending a PET scan, which will show us how ’hot’ the inflammations are. We’ll take it from there.”

In the middle of all this was that red Mazda. Sure enough, the dealer did call that afternoon to say essentially, ”you win.” But now I was in no condition at all to buy a new car. In a daze, I told the salesman it looked like my cancer had come back.

Days without action turned into weeks, as my insurance company was reluctant to approve the expensive PET scan. I was a nervous wreck. A second CT was approved, and it showed the lung nodule had grown to 10 mm. My oncologist pushed for a surgical biopsy, and starting talking about the likelihood of chemotherapy.

”But this could still be nothing,” he told me more than once. I didn’t believe him. I felt I had already used up my positive karma for the year.

Coming from an extremely close family, my mother planned to come to Dallas to stay with me during the surgery, and for however long after. This posed a problem; she couldn’t drive my 5-speed, and I certainly didn’t want her renting a car for what could be a months-long stay. So, in mid-September I called the Mazda dealership again, and asked about an automatic-equipped 6.

As it happened, there were several loaded models available with automatics. The dealer was even willing to ’split the difference’ for the additional cost of the auto. Fear about my medical situation, however, instilled a newfound frugality. I told my salesman I wanted only a base V6 with an automatic.

I drove off the dealership the evening of September 16 with a Pebble Ash Metallic 6S, and a sense of resignation. I looked back sadly at my still-pristine Grand Am as I left. It had been the first car I’d purchased with the exact equipment I wanted, versus the compromise I now owned.

But this story isn’t really about that.

My new license plates arrived at the dealership September 26. By that time, Blue Cross had finally approved the PET scan, for the first week in October. As I waited on the showroom floor for my car, one of the sales managers walked up to me.

”Hey, got a second?” We walked over to one of the sales booths.

”I went through what you’re now going through about 10 years ago,” he said. It took me a second to understand what he was talking about. ”TC. I had it, and had my last round of chemo right before my 35th birthday.”

He told me about his experience. How he discovered he had it, and how it affected him. ”And here it is 10 years later — I got testicular cancer before Lance Armstrong, before it was ’cool’ — and I’m doing fine. It’s never come back.” He gave me his number, ”call if you need to talk to someone who understands.”

He didn’t have to say anything; it’s not a story a lot of men would feel comfortable sharing with a stranger. Instead he chose to share his story, because he felt it would help me. And it did. I drove off the dealership lot that day more confident — more heartened — than I had felt since August 28.

All because I bought a car… three weeks later than I’d planned to. And from that day onward, things started looking up. The PET showed changes in the growths; they had either stayed the same, or shrunk. A surgical biopsy October 11 confirmed it wasn’t cancer; this was all due to a comparatively minor respiratory infection. Antibiotics cleared it up.

”I told you it was probably nothing,” Dr. B said, grinning, at my next consultation. ”By the way, did you ever get that car?”

My ’Karma Kar’ just turned 40,000 miles last week. I don’t plan on getting rid of it any time soon. And, so far, I’m still cancer-free today.


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5 of 70 comments
  • 2005CTS 2005CTS on Oct 25, 2010

    Since this is the "Truth" about cars and I am a very happy Mazda6s owner...I have to state - the Mazda6s was never offered with a six speed manual transmission. It was offered with a five speed manual. I know...I have one. Now, you could get a six speed manual on the Mazda6Speed model - that had the turbo I4 and all wheel drive...but that was a different animal all together. We have a 2004 Mazda6s with the 3.0L V6 and 5-speed manual transmission. We now have 60,000 trouble free and very enjoyable miles on it. Had Mazda offered the next generation Mazda6 with a manual transmission we probably would have purchased another one. But now all they offer is the six speed automatic with the "manual shift" mode - which is a joke. An automatic is an automatic unless it has a third clutch...no matter what type of lable is attached. If it has a torque converter...there isn't anything manual about it! As to the cancer - glad to hear you are cancer free. Hope it stays that way.

    • Rob Finfrock Rob Finfrock on Oct 25, 2010

      Whoops! It would indeed appear you're right about the 6-speed manual. I had one too many "sixes" in my thought process. (That's gonna bug the crap outta me now...) Thanks for the well wishes... and happy to hear about your experiences with your 6! I agree, Mazda should not have dropped the stick... no matter how many gears.

  • Pikes Pikes on Oct 25, 2010

    A great story that brought back memories for me. I had the same experience in 1995, though the car came a month before my diagnosis. The object of my desire then was a Dodge Stratus ES. I have been cancer-free for 15 years and Stratus-free (mercifully) for 13 years.

    • See 1 previous
    • Rob Finfrock Rob Finfrock on Oct 25, 2010

      +1 Pikes! That's a great line. Glad to hear you're free of both.

  • James Hendricks The depreciation on the Turbo S is going to be epic!
  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.