January 17, 2005, had been a fairly normal day. I was teaching then, part-time, at Western Reserve Academy, just about two blocks from our home (I walked or biked to school just about every day; only lightning storms or an after-school appointment put me in a car). I was teaching English to juniors--American literature + Hamlet. I had three sections, and I was having a great time. Here's what I wrote in my journal for that January day (somewhat edited);
17th, Mon: [rose at] 5:25 a.m.; yesterday—read Joyce’s wonderful essay about living next to a funeral home; read a Trollope chap., then watched the end of Masterpiece Theater’s production of He Knew He Was Right—pretty good job, considering they had only 3 hrs.; this a.m.—walked up to school on bitterly cold day; prepped and taught 1st class; walked to Saywell’s [now-defunct coffee shop/drug store]; chatted with Joyce and graded quizzes and began new book for PD; walked back up; taught class; went to MLK, Jr., assembly, where they sang an arrangement by Bill Appling of an old spiritual (“We Will Walk …”); walked home; quick lunch with Joyce; fussed with computer, then worked on quizzes and PD book … chatted more with Joyce, then headed back up about 1:30 … taught class; stayed afterwards to grade papers/record grades/put grade-slips in kids’ mailboxes; walked home; drove with Joyce to Caribou for chat and reading (finished quota for PD book); drove home for supper (shoveled walk first); afterwards—worked on “Brad and Jenn” poem … headed with Joyce out to OfficeMax, where I got a 512 Jump Drive, then to Starbucks for drinks; drove home very slowly in the snow and ice and cold; we’d not been in the house long before Dr. X called: I do have prostate cancer. He was very nice—said it was in an early stage, said it is a slow-growing cancer … still. I was very surprised: I’ve felt nothing wrong, really. No symptoms. His office will call me tomorrow re: an appointment to talk over things. I was more dazed than scared, at least at first. Walked upstairs and told Joyce, who reacted as a lover does. She called Steve (I was able to talk with him only a little bit); tried my brothers but got only voice-mail and decided not to do that; called Mom and chatted with her. She was actually pretty decent about it. Downstairs: fussed with computer; e-mailed [a school administrator] to let him know what’s happening … though I’m not really sure what is happening …. Upstairs about 9 to read a little, I guess …
That urologist, by the way, was wrong about the biopsy. As the post-surgical pathology report revealed, it was not a "slow-growing" cancer; it was a very aggressive one that I've had to battle for nearly nine years now. I say "battle," but it's not really much of a battle. I try to eat right, exercise, rest; I neither smoke nor drink. But the cancer has kept growing despite the surgery in 2005 to remove my prostate gland, despite the thirty-five radiation treatments I had in January 2009. I can't really do much else.
When my PSA began rising again in recent months, signaling the cancer's return, I switched from the Cleveland Clinic (they'd failed twice to get it; time to let someone else fail) to University Hospitals. In late July 2012, my UH oncologist put me on hormone deprivation therapy (the drug is Lupron), and my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen), which had risen to 22.9 (it should be zero: I have no prostate gland), fell to zero. Lupron, as many of you know, is not a cure; it fools the cancer ... for a while. Puts it in remission.
I go to UH every three months now for another PSA check--and shot. I will be on Lupron for the rest of my life. My most recent visit was yesterday (January 13), and my PSA remains undetectable. When (not If ... When) my PSA starts rising again, it will be time for other therapies--chemo, one of them, will follow some others. And my "quality of life" will diminish yet another step. Eventually, like most everyone else, I will reach that borderline between "living" and "breathing." Until then, I plan to do a lot of both.
Next time: The ways my life has changed since January 17, 2005.