Judge Joel Lazarus: My Fight With Cancer









I retired from the bench almost five years ago, and Browardbeat.com wrote a nice piece about my future plans. You can read it here. That seems like an eternity ago, and things surely change.

I was diagnosed with lung cancer in June. I had been a heavy smoker, but quit in 1988. And of course, I have been in 201 SE 6th Street since 1978. That requires no comment.

I am inviting all who may be diagnosed with cancer, who have friends and loved one in the same position, or just have mere acquaintances with this disease to contact me or pass on this letter. I am generating a kind of support group; but perhaps I am in a nontraditional way for some cancer victims. I know that each one must deal with their own issue. I, for one, did not join any support group. Nor did I rely upon any spiritual guidance: not my way.

Here is what I did and am doing to cope with the reality of the situation.



Early on, if there is a fear that things are not right in the body, DO NOT IGNORE WHAT YOUR BODY SAYS. You’re body will talk to you. When internal medicine Doctor John Shook told me my X-rays were troublesome after seeing him for a bad cold, I followed up, first with him, then into the able hands of pulmonologist Dr. Jean-Jacques Rajter. Dr. JJ, as I call him, followed by having me see an oncologist, Dr. Israel Wiznitzer, all the time keeping my cardiologist, Dr. Mike Chizner, in the loop.

I had 16 separate procedures at Broward Health prior to my surgery on August 18th. Somewhere along the line, the biopsy showed positive for lung cancer. I was symptom-free throughout!

Trust your physicians. Well, even more than trust, you MUST like them individually and how they work as a team. I did listen to them, followed their suggestions/rules. Maybe because I felt the way I did, I did not seek out other opinions. I never thought of miracle cures, offbeat diets, foreign treatments or voodoo.

I did not travel the world looking for that magic cure. I firmly believe in American medicine, and I also believe that time was of the essence. My family concurred from the beginning: I have three sons (47. 44, 42) and a daughter (21) as well as my wife, and they were totally “in the loop.” This is a must.

Capitalize on your support from your family, or course.

My son came from Kansas, my other son from Maine, one from Boca, and my daughter was at my side.

My wife was like a beacon (and not once admonished me “to get over it!”) If anything, perhaps, she was too much a mother hen (When I got home, Sharon, I was perfectly capable of changing a little bulb without a ladder… and by myself.).


Some Rules:

  • Keep your friends and others informed. Do not try to hide nor minimize your situation; it will eat you up alive. If you recall, my original announcement that I was diagnosed went out by email to over 90 of you. And I kept you informed, or at least my daughter Amy did when I couldn’t. I learned that probably 75% wanted to know what my situation was: a great percentage. The other 25% didn’t care, I assume, and I sent them emails for a while anyway. Some did not know how to respond and even those I previously deemed “friends,” I understand their situation. It is an awkward situation, and we in these times tend to ignore what is uncomfortable.


  • DO NOT ACCEPT PITY. I did not want to hear “oh me, oh my”. I did not want to hear stories of Aunt Jane or Uncle Joe. By the same token, if people want to visit, l liberally let them only if was able and up to it. Do not hesitate to tell folk that you are too tired, or too nauseous. Much food brought with great intentions ended up being given away or ended up in the dump. A Graham Cracker with a cold glass of milk could be a King’s Banquet!


  • The first rule in Real Estate is location, location, location. The first words in cancer fighting have to be attitude-attitude-attitude. Everybody — including me — has had bad days, better days, good days, and very good days. Accept the fact and make the most of it. Do what you have to do; do what your body tells you, do what you are capable of doing, listen to advice, but don’t take it all. I tried doing not too much, but we all think we can do more that we can. Do only what you are capable of. I was told that I would be home for four-to-six weeks. I went back after three, in no small part because of the fantastic support throughout the courthouse (Especially from the Chief Judge Peter Weinstein and my wonderful colleague next door, Judge Cindy Imperato.).


  • I am bound-and determined to get back to writing my story about Lionel Tate. Since I became sick, I haven’t touched the voluminous materials that I have amassed (Anyone interested in working with me, if you have writing skills and know the criminal justice system contact me). I will start writing after Thanksgiving, body and mind willing.


  • I finished my chemotherapy and radiation protocol; I am classified officially as stage 1 B, as good as it gets I guess.

It has not all been easy since. I thought I would be pain free and fully able to function. Not so. My surgeon says it will be at least 4-6 months until I fully heal. A change in my medications brought on a major incident of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and this has affected my breathing, my walking and my energy. From the day of surgery, I have lost over twenty pounds. My doctor says “no more” so I went to Jackson’s at lunch today and had a large ice cream cone… without guilt.

I have the aforementioned bad days, but the good days are becoming more prevalent. I wanted to do my story because so many have asked me too. I try to maximize my strength by staying home (or if eating out, being home early to watch Blacklist, Homeland, and the new Gracepoint). I watch a lot of sports, to the chagrin of my wife. The Red Sox finished in last place, and that sucks! We have planned a vacation in January for a week to the Dominican Republic and Punta Cana in the DR.

I demand this of myself. The ramifications of giving up are tremendous and unacceptable. I do not believe in “Oh my…poor me.” Not for a second. TrIte as it might sound, CARPE DIEM.

I WILL BE A SURVIVOR this time next year.

Joel T. Lazarus, Senior Judge 17th Judicial Circuit



11 Responses to “Judge Joel Lazarus: My Fight With Cancer”

  1. Chaz Stevens, Genius says:

    Good luck Judge.

  2. Las Olas Lawyer says:

    Joel Lazarus is one of the best. I wish him all the best in the world.

  3. Ben Graber says:

    Thanks for sharing Judge.Your insight and experience ,although uncomfortable, will assist many with similar conditions.Best regards and a speedy recovery to you.

  4. Elaine Harmych says:

    First and foremost, I wish the best for you and your family. I was a Probation Officer for 28 years and I can never thank you enough for treating me and the other Probation Officers with the utmost respect. While most Judges treated us as pions, you always were respectful, asked us for our input and never waited to hear our cases after you cleared the docket. Thanks again and I know I speak for the majority of P.O’S!!!!

  5. Alice McGill says:

    Thank you for your inspirational message to others. You are very fortunate to be able to tell others your story. I am sure many will be encouraged by your positive thoughts and strong attitude.

  6. Evan Rosen says:

    Seeing you on the bench almost weekly, I can attest, you certainly walk the walk. Your attitude has remained very positive, while also accepting of what each day brings. You are a survivor and an inspiration. I’m looking forward to, G-d willing, many more very good days ahead and to reading your story about Lionel Tate.

  7. PD says:

    Stay Strong! I saw you the other day and wish I had known this so I could give you a big hug. This was a very touching piece. Looking forward to your book on Lionel Tate…

  8. Pamela Meyer says:

    I was the in court PO who was fortunate enough to work with you for a short time when you covered Judge Bobber’s courtroom, while he was out sick. I want to take this opportunity to tell you how much I enjoyed being in the courtroom with you. You were very personable with the courtroom staff and gave us all the feeling that we mattered. I just wanted to thank you for that. I wish you and your family the best as you meet the challenges ahead. You will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  9. Stephanie Symons says:

    Wishing you the best. Your attitude is an inspiration. I have known Sharon for many years.

  10. grace Fishter says:

    God be with you. You are in my prayers.

  11. Nadine Chiasson says:

    Your letter is a true statement of the reliable qualities that make you a precious father, husband, judge and friend: Honesty, Integrity, Discernment and Courage.
    Always looking forward to our next lunch!