I was sitting across from the Doc R, in one of those roll around chairs sometimes found in hospital exam rooms. It was Tuesday, my wife working a day shift – for which I was eternally grateful. It had taken 7 months to get to get to this exact spot . . . and probably a year or so to acknowledge that I should have “things” looked at . . .
There’s kinda a running joke about “times” in a guy’s life that all the fellows that read this will understand. Turn 40 . . . “I can see shit anymore, better see if I “need” glasses”. Yep, I did.
Turn 50 . . . on trips with the family . . . “Dad – are you stopping to pee AGAIN????” Or in the middle of the night – along about 3AM . . . “You getting up again sweetie?? You OK??”
We joke about them . . . but they may well indicate a change in your body. I put things off for a year or so – just ignoring it. As sexist as it sounds, my wife and our female friends that rode along on trips/vacations/weekend jaunts kinda liked the fact that I stopped first to hit the head . . . though they would usually quickly say something like “I may as well go too . . .”.
“You were sure in there a long time . . .” Susie would say. Yep – It. Took. Forever. To “finish my business”. Heavy sigh . . . well, I was over 50 after all.
By August 2002 my body knew something was off . . . my head was really arguing against it all . . . nope things are fine!!!!!
Mid-August I found I couldn’t set aside the “concern” that was nibbling at the back of my mind. I had lots of windshield time with work and anyone who has been in that spot knows how a person’s mind simply spins. So, I made an appointment with my Doc.
I heard the usual – Brian looks at me and says – “you really need to lose some weight, otherwise your blood work is OK but I want to draw again so we can recheck your PSA – it was quite a bit higher than I’d like to see it.” An alarm bell began to go off fairly softly in the back of my mind. “It’s probably nothing, I just want them to take another look.” Off to the lab I go and an appointment is set for the following week.
The results of the second lab aren’t any better. Honestly, summer is about over – kids are going back to school and the business is truly busy – when Brian lays out my options – see a specialist, let it ride for a bit or do nothing – “let it ride for a bit” sounds good to me. A new test is set for just before Christmas. Yippy – Skippy.
It is stunning how fast 4 months can go – and again I am seated across from Brian, fresh test results in his hand. Brian and I aren’t particularly close – but I like him because he’s very direct. Tells you what he thinks, no candy coated stuff – I like that. “Your blood came back the same, your PSA is much higher than I’d like, I want you to make an appointment with Dr. R for next week, have him look at things.” The alarm bell goes off with just a bit more urgency and I consciously quiet myself – already thinking of the evening’s conversation with Susie.
We’d had an experience with the “C” word with her in ’82-’83. A gut wrenching, profoundly life altering 6 months followed by 5 years of “what if it comes back” then followed by another 5 years of just confirming our challenge was over. We just had our 42nd anniversary – her challenge remains over.
The conversation goes as I expect – white face, tears, body shakes . . . fear of the unknown. Heavy sigh. On my side I button that crap up – hard. I use mental shoe boxes, throw the shit in there and put it in a “closet” until there’s time to deal with it. Until then I have a business to run, an exchange student coming to our family the next year and a son and daughter that needs my attention. No time to invest in worries – I simply need to slap one foot in front of another.
The Holidays insured nothing was going to happen immediately, the appointment is set for mid-February on a day the Urologist visits our community. Another two months were really nothing for me – boxes – closet – I was good. It was tough on Susie – her mind running full speed reliving her experience and seeing me going through the same thing. Tough couple months. The February appointment was short – more blood, a bit of a “meet and greet” with the doc and a new appointment set a couple weeks down the road.
Doc R came into the exam room with “that” concerned doctor face on. Honestly, they must teach that in med school because every time I’ve been in a doctor’s presence as things were about to go sideways – I’ve seen that exact face. The PSA count is higher, he wants to do a biopsy just to confirm what he fears. Neither of us say “the word” . . . but it’s hanging in the air. The appointment is set for mid-March. And another long evening for us and a challenging month until the biopsy.
I could describe the appointment . . . and the biopsy . . . the use for the 20 ea. 18” long, hollow stainless needles . . . the rectal probe . . . but I won’t. Honestly, there was no pain for me while they did this . . . discomfort – yep . . . some embarrassment at the level of exposure – yep . . . but no pain. The result of the biopsy leads me back to the start of the story, seated in a roll around chair, knee crossed and looking at Doc R. He’s a good guy, warm, intense, focused and direct. “Well Bill, the test was positive for Prostate Cancer. It’s in about 25% of the right node. You have a couple of options – radiation, chemo or I could simply remove it totally. Some doctors are doing a new freezing treatment – I won’t do that. You have any questions?” Hell of a question to ask . . . yep, I had a few – but I was throwing them is “shoe boxes” as quick as I could!!! “If you were older – I’d tell you to just take a pass. Most men have Prostate Cancer when they die – over two-thirds. But that isn’t what kills them. You’re 52 . . . we need to do something about it.” I’m thinking so . . . I have a newly married daughter, kinda like to spend time with future grandkids. The boy – 13 – and I are headed to Philmont in July – only 4 months away, for a 70 mile trek. I got things to do, places to go . . . damn right we’re gonna do something about it. A new appointment is made for the following week to review my choice and get the ball rolling.
It was a tough call. Sitting in the car I call Susie at work. She’s a hospital pharmacist – knows way too much for her own good about cancer, drugs, reactions, probabilities . . . “Hey Kid!” “So . . . what did he say??” You can hear the tension in her voice . . . “It wasn’t what we wanted to hear kiddo . . .” and I hear the gasp, squeak, cry on the other end . . . Heavy sigh.
She came home. A friend offered to drive her home but she sucked it up, gritted her teeth and headed home . . . to help me/us decide on a direction for me.
I’m a data geek – more information is better. Even in March of 2003 access to information was pretty damn good so I searched . . . and read . . . and searched . . . and read . . . and finally we decided full removal was the way to go. It’s very successful when the cancer is found early. The only downside is possible incontinence . . . full incontinence. At the appointment the following week I lay my choice out there – and Doc R has no issue with the choice. In fact, he did little to recommend a specific path – just wanted to know that I fully understood my options. The date for the surgery was set . . . for the day after my birthday . . . April 14th, 2003. Before we get rolling I ask him what the chances were for incontinence . . . 40% chance of full incontinence was his reply. I encouraged him to “have a good day”. Next I’m in the OR, nurses being busy and Doc R telling me to start counting . . . .
. . . and I can feel them lifting me on to a bed, asking me to wake up . . . seemed that things were over. I had reminded the Doc I had a 70 backpack trip coming up in just over 3 months before I went into surgery. He needed to make sure however he patched me up, that it would heal quick enough for me to make the trip . . .
And he came through on all counts. My son and I made the trip and I’m still kickin’ a little over 11 years later.
So why even tell this tale? Well, September is Prostate Cancer Awareness month. While many of the Big ‘Cs” get lots of press, the little walnut sized gland that causes guys so much trouble . . . not so much. In the gunny community there is a movement called Kilted for Cancer. Three if the driving forces behind the effort is Ambulance Driver, JayG and Borepatch. All look rather dashing in kilts . . . and I have no intention of joining them. But, please, head over to their sites and click on their team donation buttons. Each have a personal stake in this disease and go the extra mile every year to raise awareness for this all too common male malady.
And finally, if you’re a guy and notice some of the symptoms I’ve mentioned . . . get to a frickin’ specialist! Found early, this is very treatable. Found later, it’s very manageable. But you ignore it at your own peril . . . so please pay attention to your own body . . .