The woman whose struggle to help her son overcome a gross deformity touched millions in the film "Mask" is facing another deadly battle: Her other son has AIDS.
Rusty Mason says she will fight for this son as hard as she fought for Rocky, who died in 1978, 10 years later than doctors had predicted.
Mason's story of drug abuse, motorcycle riding and tireless devotion to her son was depicted last year in a film by Peter Bogdanovich. Singer-actress Cher played the mother.
The story centered on how Mason helped Rocky ignore ridicule from peers and live years longer than expected despite his rare bone disease, which caused a severe deformity in his skull.
In June, Mason said her son from a previous marriage, Joshua Mason, 30, was diagnosed as having acquired immune deficiency syndrome, which attacks the body's immune system, leaving it defenseless to a variety of illnesses. There is no cure and doctors consider the disease terminal.
Joshua said on Friday he was diagnosed as having Kaposi's sarcoma, a cancer often associated with AIDS, but he is showing no major symptoms. In fact, he said, "For the past several months I feel healthier than I have."
"If you know any of my story, you know I don't have any use for what doctors say," Rusty Mason, 49, said Friday from her apartment here. "They told me Rocky was going to die before he was 6 and he lived until almost 17 doing some of the same things Joshua is doing now."
Those things include holistic medical techniques designed to keep him from succumbing to the illnesses that kill AIDS victims, his mother said.
Holistic medicine holds that the mind, body and spirit all combine to bring good health and that illness can be combatted by working on all three.
Mason said her son is working on nutrition as well as metaphysical healing techniques that some believe strengthen the mind and spirit. He may also seek acupuncture treatment, she said, insisting he does not have to die.
"I'm just an optimistic person," she said. "I understand a lot of things most people won't even look at.
"I think he's healthier now than he's been in years."
While her assertion that her son won't succumb to AIDS may not be backed up by doctors, Mason remains unmoved.
"What you believe works. The universe will support anything you choose to believe," she said. "I'm not going to feed negative energy into the situation. If I fed negative energy into Rocky's situation he'd have died before he was 6."
Joshua agrees. "Being sad is not being very healing," he said. "What you think is what you create for your lives. If you think sad or angry thoughts, you just create turmoil for yourself.
"There is no death. The body may die, but the spirit lives on."
Mason moved to San Francisco in 1979, a year after Rocky's death. Last January, she said, Joshua's former lover died of AIDS.
Chuck Frutchey of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation said that few AIDS victims live more than four years after they are diagnosed as having the disease.
The virus can be transmitted by sexual contact, the sharing of contaminated needles by intravenous drug abusers, transfusions of blood or blood products, or infection transferred from mother to child before or around the time of birth.
As for Mason's belief in holistic medicine, Frutchey says, "More power to him," but adds that after looking at various treatments for AIDS, including holistic medicine, "I can't see a great difference in life expectancy."