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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Unreal Time: Bill Maher Doesn't Get It--Not about Prostate Cancer

Last weekend we were watching Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. During his monologue he was dismantling L. A. Clippers' owner, Donald Sterling, who'd brewed for himself last week a nice cup of hemlock, which the NBA was forcing him to consume. His racist comments had pretty much ended his career, and although (like many Americans, I suspect) I was uncomfortable with public consequences for private words (just think of the things we say when we believe no one's listening! or will never know! or we're with a trusted other!), I knew that he had a sordid history, so I wasn't all that sad to see him tumbling down the slopes of Mt. Ego.

We watch Maher's show pretty much every week. Both Joyce and I are old-fashioned liberal Democrats, and we enjoy hearing Maher pillory the excesses of the Far Right. Not that we always agree with him. I think he has a streak of misogyny running the length of his spinal cord (he does not conceal it well all the time), and he also has some ego issues: He wants to have it both ways--to have us take him seriously as a political commentator and to view him as a comedian (when he gets something wrong--or says something egregious--he has that fallback line: Hey, I'm a comedian!). It's a hard road to travel, and he sometimes hits the potholes, veers off into the woods.

And every now and then he says something just plain stupid--well, ignorant. The other night, for example, talking about Sterling, he noted that the Clippers' owner had recently received a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Here's what Maher said:

... prostate cancer [pause], which is very treatable and very survivable, so no crocodile tears there ... and think how cancer felt when it was told "You've got Don Sterling."

And then he went on to say that he probably got cancer because of all those years when the NAACP was blowing smoke up his ass.

(Here's a YouTube link to Maher's entire riff on Sterling last Friday night.)

Very treatable and very survivable, so no crocodile tears ...

Really? For a man who loves to tout the views and discoveries of scientists on evolution and climate change and all sorts of other issues, Maher seems to have skipped the chapter on prostate cancer.

The website of the American Cancer Society predicts that during 2014 doctors will diagnose about a quarter of a million men with prostate cancer, and nearly 30,000 will die this year of the disease and its complications. (Link to their information page.)

Discovery Channel's website has a long list of celebrities who have died from the disease--Dennis Hopper, Charlton Heston, Frank Zappa, Langston Hughes, Linus Pauling, Walker Percy, and on and on and on ... very treatable and very survivable?  (Link to the entire list.)

Now, in one simple sense, Maher is right. Many prostate cancers are mild, slow-growing, and if they're detected early--and if the cancer is confined to the prostate gland itself--many men do experience life-saving treatments, though many of these same men become, as a result of surgery and other treatments, incontinent, impotent, depressed, etc.

One problem with the disease: There really are no symptoms until it's late in the game. The cancer, undetected, likes to move into the bones, and there it becomes painful and deadly. Men who do not have regular physical exams--regular PSA tests (Prostate Specific Antigen, a blood test)--sometimes discover, too late, that they have the disease. It killed Robert Frost. It contributed to the death of my father.

But many other men--I among them--face odds more dire. My cancer is a Gleason 9 (there's only one level worse--link to National Cancer Institutes's information about Gleason scores), and by the time I had surgery, the disease had escaped the gland . (The surgeon did not know/could not have known this until afterwards.) Subsequent radiation failed to kill the disease. It is back, and I now receive quarterly injections of Lupron, whose odious effects you can Google and read about. (Oh, hell, here's what WebMD says: Link.) This very treatable and very survivable disease is, in all likelihood, going to kill me--and tens of thousands of others this year alone.

So, yes, Donald Sterling is not a sterling human being. And he deserves all the heat he's been taking in the past week or so.

But, Bill Maher, cancer is never funny--and ignorance is always frightening.

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