Santa Cruzan Robin Janiszeufski Hesson of the documentary Surfin’ Thru, leads the way in our annual film issue, in which we salute the season’s most memorable celluloid players.
Editor’s note: GT’s annual film issue is loaded with plenty of cinematic fodder to keep you busy for quite some time. Here, we spotlight some of the locals that have been making a difference in the film world at home, beginning with … Robin Janiszeufski Hesson, The Rising Star. (Read more film stories here.)
We don’t come into the world with a movie script that tells us what we’re supposed to do or how we’re supposed to act. But, the more conscious we become, the deeper we look within ourselves for answers, we do realize we have the extreme pleasure of casting anybody we want to be the main star in the moving picture known as our life. We can take on the lead role, but sometimes, try as we might, our “co-stars” still want to steal the show.
Robin Janiszeufski Hesson knows this all too well. For 15 years, the Santa Cruzan has had to keep a curious neighbor known as cancer from robbing her of the spotlight—not once, not twice, but three times. But at 49, even though her cancer has moved into stage 4, Janiszeufski Hesson, more fondly known as Zeuf, is nowhere close to the final credits.
For starters, she’s currently one part of a winning trifecta found in the heartwarming 24-minute documentary Surfin’ Thru, which premieres in the Santa Cruz Film Festival this week. Directed by actress-filmmaker Chloe Webb (Sid and Nancy, Tales of the City), the film chronicles the unique bond three female surfers with stage 4 cancer share with each other and the ocean. Webb, who was inspired to make the film when her friend, xxxx, was diagnosed with cancer, decided to include Zeuf in the doc after meeting the local at a 2002 Ride-A-Wave event. The end result on screen is a life-affirming, often humorous tale about three unconventional women whose seemingly insurmountable health problems only fuel them to further master the art of living.
Lean and athletic, Zeuf has been an avid surfer in the area for 18 years. She says surfing has been one her strongest tools in keeping the cancer at bay.
“What I love the most about surfing is the unadulterated joy I get from just being in the ocean,” she says. “It has made a rough day smooth, a good day fantastic, and sometimes just one wave, well-surfed, takes my mind to the Zen place needed with a great smile to accompany.
“Having cancer, I know well how difficult it is to have the desire to stay strong. Surfing is that for me. It feeds my desire when I feel like I have nothing left.”
The first wave of cancer hit Zeuf in 1993. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had a mastectomy but didn’t have to undergo chemotherapy. Time passed. She had a good position as a nurse at Community Hospital in Monterey and found great support within the Santa Cruz community. Then, in 2000, the cancer had moved into the lymph nodes of her other breast. Another mastectomy followed and this time, chemotherapy entered the picture. Then came another surgery, this time to remove her ovaries because the tumor that was discovered was estrogen-receptive. The less estrogen she had, the less tumor growth would occur.
But that second bout with cancer came at pivotal interval in 2000—she had been married to her husband just three months. “We were just starting a new life together, and our new life began with me being bald, sick and a surgical mess,” Zeuf recalls. “But he is an amazing individual. We talked about it before we got married and I was like, ‘If you want to back out, I have no issue with this because this may get way worse before it gets better.’”
Curiously, Zeuf’s husband, Richard “Frosty” Hesson, is one-time surfer of Mavericks. The couple resides in Pleasure Point with several of Hesson’s children.
Then, last year, the cancer returned. Zeuf had been doing a great deal of surfing at the time. She thought she had pulled a muscle in her chest but when she had it checked out it, she discovered she had “a big fat tumor” on her sternum. That’s not the only place the doctors found something. There was also a tumor in the ball and socket joint of her hip. She underwent six months of radiation—not to shrink the tumor, she says, but to kill the cancer, because the tumor was in the bone.
“I was shocked. I felt like I had escaped a Stage 4 tumor—twice,” she says. “But I never had this ‘How can this be happening to me?’ moment. It was more like, “OK, the cancer is visiting again what do I need to do? And it was actually through Bikram yoga and surfing that I discovered it. It would have been a lot longer had I not been a physically active person.”
The prognosis from the doctors: three to five years. At Currently, everything is in a holding pattern. There is no new tumor growth. She receives monthly infusions that are hard-core bone strengthening medications, which keep the cancer spreading to the bones.
In between, Zeuf’s attention, much like the documentary Surfin Thru illuminates, is all about living even more consciously. To that end, a recent trip to South America proved enlightening. There, she met with a shaman whose age-old medicinal treatments made her realize there are, indeed, “other avenues” to living with an illness.
“I leave no stone unturned, she says. “And I hope this doesn’t sound totally cliché, but now I take absolutely nothing for granted. Having a chronic, and in this case, terminal, illness, heightens your awareness of your ‘living.’ Dying is something we all know that we are going to do, so it is in our living that we make that day, a happy one.
“And I don’t mean that morbidly,” she adds. “This has made me tremendously grateful and you get a real clarity about what you want to do and what you want be about, but you also have to go into some sort of denial and then acceptance … I am planning to move through. And who knows how long I can keep this at bay, but I am planning on doing this for a long time. That is my hope and that is my will. You do some breathing … and then you keep on going …”