Bruce Stephens has lived in Encinitas since the mid-1970s, and in that time he’s become a member of many tribes. There is his immediate family, of course, consisting of wife Amy and children Carmen and Miles. But there’s also his yoga students, massage therapy clients, fellow poets and other artists, and surfing compadres. So when “Swami Bruce” was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year, all of his tribes rallied to his cause—not just with cards and well wishes, but with a June 9 fundraiser at the .
“Encinitas is a real special place. The real people here—the small business owners, the surfers, the poets, the artists—these are my people and it’s been wonderful and very touching to me to have everyone come together,” Stephens says. “I feel very blessed to be a part of this community.”
The cancer diagnosis came like “a bolt out of the blue” for the normally fit Stephens, who had been feeling fatigued and went to the doctor suspecting liver dysfunction. But when test results confirmed the pancreatic tumor, things went into hyperdrive, Stephens says, and doctors removed the tumor during surgery March 23 at Scripps La Jolla.
The timing of everything caught Stephens flat-footed, he says; he had recently “rolled the dice” and given up health insurance in order to help pay for his kids’ college tuitions. While he is back on insurance now, he had to pay cash for the surgical procedure, which was tens of thousands of dollars.
The June 9 fundraiser aims to help defray those costs through a raffle and silent auction with donations from local businesses such as , and . But Stephens, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment, says it will also be a thank you to all who supported him during this time.
And those numbers are legion. The surfing buddy from high school who called from Oregon to get Stephens through a rough patch. The text from a friend that said, “Every breath a victory.” The yoga students at Village Gate Wellness Collective who continued their practice even when he was too frail to teach classes. Former students who hadn’t taken classes with him in years but heard his story and sent touching email messages. The cousin who told Stephens’ Italian relatives, who in turn lit a candle for him in their tiny village church. His wife, whom Stephens lauds for her amazing caregiving while he recuperated from surgery. His four sisters. His father, Robert, who helped fund the surgery and is now in the hospital himself.
The love and support that surrounds him is a boon to his positive outlook. He has used his cancer as “grist for the mill” to grow and evolve as an artist, writing more prose and blogging about the experience. He credits his yoga practice and its emphasis on breathing techniques for helping him rebound quickly after surgery.
And Stephens has even seen a higher power at work, in the form of the Hindu god Ganesh, known as the remover of obstacles. “I was sitting in the surgeon’s office and my head was spinning and my life was changing dramatically, and I looked in his private office and saw a small statue of Ganesh,” says Stephens, who says the demigod has always appealed to him. “It was just like a signpost saying I had come to the right place. Dr. Sunil Bhoyrul is a wonderful, kindhearted, intelligent man and I have nothing but praise for him and his skills.”
Ganesh kept popping up—on an episode of The Amazing Race that Stephens watched in the hospital, and in pictures and statues friends would give him. “This particular deity seems to be a recurring theme. I have no clue why,” Stephens says with a laugh, “but it works for me.”
The benefit takes place from 7:30 to 9 p.m. June 9 at the Pannikin, located at 510 N. Coast Highway 101. For more information, visit on.fb.me/BruceStephens or read his blog at supportswamibruce.blogspot.com. Read on for one of Stephens' poems.
In the slanting rays of Autumn
When the waves break top-to-bottom
The ocean’s grandeur is called forth
In late Souths and early Norths
Summer’s waves can be slow and lazy
With flat spells that can drive you crazy
Summer’s crowds are loud and brash
They bring their kids
and leave their trash
(Still we endure the merchant’s goal
to separate them from their cash)
But wanna-bes, poseurs, and dilettantes
Finally leave their summer haunts
Warm weather hordes now fade away
In that glorious time post-labor day
When the lines between the seasons blur
And in Alaska’s gulf, the weather stirs
Like an army’s march
the first north sweeps down
Cold water joy spread all around
We squeeze into our rubber skins
And grab our boards
both fat and thin
And answer to the siren’s song
When the days foreshorten
and the nights grow long
It will leave you tired but grateful
It's an early Christmas for the faithful
Then, as if upon request
The winds will blow from east to west
Though the hillsides are on fire
These dry winds only feed desire
And bring conditions that we crave
For they groom the faces of the waves
And give each one a rainbow veil
They blow each autumn without fail
In the pale orange light of Autumn
When the waves pitch top-to-bottom
On a crisp and offshore morn
My love of surfing is reborn
So, young friend, stay strong and lean
By surfing lots and living clean
And listen for the siren’s song
When the days foreshorten
And the nights grow long
And in summer’s doldrums
Just remember …
The season starts in late September
Artist Andy Powell, who makes pysanky, or Ukrainian decorated eggs, shows his work in his first exhibit in California from June 8 through July 19 at the Civic Art Gallery. The pieces are made by covering an egg shell with beeswax and applying a design with a special stylus and bright dyes. An artist reception takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. June 15, and Powell will teach an introductory class at the library next month on a date to be determined. The gallery is at City Hall, located at 505 S. Vulcan Ave. For more information, visit cityofencinitas.org.
The Hutchins Consort, a scaled violin octet that plays on specially-created instruments, performs some of its members’ favorite compositions on June 11. The show, which also includes a discussion of what makes the ensemble unique, begins at 10 a.m. at the Encinitas library, located at 540 Cornish Dr. Admission is free. For more information, visit hutchinsconsort.org.