Everyone Downtown knows Cindy Funkhouser. As one of the founders of First Friday, and the cultural maven of the 89104 zip code, she’s helped change our city’s social calendars once a month and given opportunities to artists that weren’t otherwise available. Still, those who know her agree that the sharp-toothed redhead can be something of a cactus with which to tangle.
Which is why the revelation last summer that Cindy has cancer was even more shocking. Aside from showing a vulnerable side to this fireball, it was a reminder, once again, that our friends do get sick, and statistically speaking, it’s virtually impossible to get through life without our loved ones—or even ourselves—being affected by cancer. A mortality check.
More than a year ago, Cindy found a small bump on her chest. Her doctor thought it was a cyst, and put her on antibiotics. After four rounds of antibiotics, the bump had grown. A biopsy in July revealed that she has Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer usually found in young people between the ages of 10 and 20. Not in 49-year-olds. “The chances of an adult female my age getting it are less than one in 2 million,” she says.
She went to see a specialist at UCLA Medical Center, and began chemotherapy almost immediately. The red hair was one of the first things to go. In solidarity, her husband, Rick Dominguez, and her friend, artist Mark Zeilman, shaved their heads, too.
The goal was to use chemo to shrink the tumor, which at its peak was 4 and a half inches, so that they could surgically remove it. They did that, successfully, at the end of November.
The tests have shown that there’s no more cancer living in her, but in hopes of ensuring that, she still has one more round of chemo. The perpetual worker, Cindy actually agreed to give this interview from her hospital bed, while receiving treatment. True to spitfire form, she can’t resist getting a quick jab in at the mayor, in response to the city taking away six months of First Friday’s funding.
“I keep thinking I need to get in there and meet with the mayor and see what’s wrong with that man. I’m still thinking, you know, it’s the best cultural event they’ve had in the city, and they have plenty of support for it—I don’t understand it.”
Cindy’s accustomed to fighting the good fight and requesting funds for First Friday. She’s a tremendous resource for helping new and not-so-new artists find a place for their work. But she’s not so forthcoming when it comes to herself. And right now, she could really use some help.
Because Cindy is self-employed, her insurance coverage—which she pays more than $300 a month for—has a lot of holes.
“It’s pretty shocking to find out how much stuff they don’t pay for and how much extra everything costs,” she says. “I have to have a shot after each round of chemo that costs $3,200, and my insurance only pays for half of it. So I have to pay $1,600 for a shot,” she says.
After her first round of chemo, she tried going without the shot, which helps bring up her white blood cell count.
“I was like, ‘I’m not going to pay for that,’” she balks. But then she wound up in the hospital with an infection. So she’s paid for it ever since.
On top of that, each hospital visit costs about $1,000, and after she’s done with her chemo, she’ll need to have a PET scan every six months for five years—another item her insurance doesn’t cover. She’s hoping it will cover most of the heart surgery she’ll be having about two months after her chemo is done. Yes, heart surgery.
About two years ago, Cindy’s doctor told her that she has a congenital heart defect—“An incompetent valve, that’s my favorite term for it,” Cindy smiles. The doctor told her that she’d eventually need surgery.
“For some reason, I thought since I have cancer, I wasn’t going to have my heart surgery,” she laughs.
As her medical bills mount to more than $20,000, Cindy’s family is stepping in and requesting help, so Cindy doesn’t have to. The “Funkraiser” will be held February 28 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Double Down Saloon, 4640 Paradise Road. Art will be auctioned to raise money to help with Cindy’s fight against cancer. For more information, visit www.mtzc.com/cindy.htm
Photograph by Iris Dumuk