Last summer I received the ultimate bad news that no patient wants to hear from his doctor. I was told I had cancer. Albeit, it was prostate cancer which is one of the most common cancers found in men and a type that grows slowly. Despite all the good news about my particular situation—that immediate action or panic were not necessary—I took off on a reading marathon to catch up on the subject. I learned that prostate cancer is the #2 cancer killer of men and that if things were to go badly for me, my wife would be getting the insurance check within the next five years. Conversely, if things went well for me, I might live much longer and die from something else. But my journey was off to a less than auspicious start, the least of which was learning how to spell “prostate.” Once my fingers hit the keyboard they insisted on adding an “r” making it “prostrate.” It gets worse.
A biopsy of my prostate gland was scheduled. I was told that complications from such a biopsy seldom occur. The operative word here is “seldom.” I almost always fall in the “seldom” category. Consequently, while in the hospital being treated for a major infection following the biopsy, I had hastily grabbed a book before I left home so I would have something to read while my arm sucked up bags of medicinal goo over the next few days. The book? The Fault in Our Stars. Yeah, sort of a freaky hospital read given my situation.
I fought the infection for several more weeks; a Picc line was installed before I left the hospital. This a catheter that goes from inside your heart, then up and out of the body just below the armpit. This allows someone to hook me up to an intravenous feed of anything from Gatorade to Dr. Pepper. Once home, a nurse came to the house each day for the next three weeks and dumped another bag of antibiotics into me. I probably had the best immune system in my neighborhood at the time. I remember looking down at snarling Bill the Dog and snarling right back at him. “Go ahead, infect me, Bill—just try it” I told him. Then I gave him a beggin’ strip just to show there were no hard feelings.
I continued reading about prostate cancer–books, pamphlets, internet stuff, magazine articles, whatever. The more I read, the more confusing it all got–“TMI” as my grandkids would say. Some sources advised “yanking” the prostate immediately. Others advocated “watchful surveillance.” Having the prostate removed is a good news/bad news conundrum. If it is removed before the cancer escapes the gland and begins to spread elsewhere, you are home free—at least from the threat of dying from prostate cancer. But too, if you don’t have a ten-star doctor doing the deed you may wind up shutting down your sex life and then, adding insult, having to wear a diaper the rest of your life. True, the latter consequences are becoming less frequent as technology and technique improve, but as long as they COULD occur, then you cannot help but add them to your new mental mix. The operative word here is “could” and you already know what category I fall into.
I learned about “PSA,” “Stage” and “Gleason Scores” and other data that I should keep track of to determine the status of my cancer. I subsequently abandoned my big-famous-university-cancer-center doctor. Somehow, when you have cancer and you suddenly don’t feel well it is normal, I think, to expect your doctor to return at least one of three calls telling Houston there’s a problem. That’s when I had the infection after he had performed the first biopsy. But he never learned about it because he never called me back. I looked for a new doctor.
My second doctor reminds me of Danny Kaye, a generation-ago actor/singer/dancer who played Hans Christian Andersen in a 1950’s movie I saw as a kid. No one would ever feel uncomfortable about having Hans Christian Andersen exploring their most private parts…well, maybe some would. Consequently, my satisfaction with my new doctor was based beyond merely checking out his surgical credentials.
About this time, my wife and I hopped aboard the Island Princess and took off on a 14-day Panama Canal cruise, cancer be damned. I assumed the traditional deck-chair position with book in hand…another prostate cancer book, of course. Cruising and cancer—it was the double-C vacation of a lifetime. The book I read was subtitled the “things your doctor won’t tell you.” Wow, more confusion. Why would Hans ever keep valuable information from me? The conundrum got conundrumier (yeah, I had a hard time pronouncing it too). If I was to select “watchful surveillance” it would be like watching a time bomb, hoping it doesn’t go boom before I make the decision to stop surveilling and start yanking. Or, I could go ahead and yank and start clipping store coupons for Depends for the rest of my life.
Okay, it’s a long story with a holy crap! ending. More to come in my next posting. Meanwhile, I’m off to consume some anti-oxidants.