Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Why I Write About It
I do feel a little odd, writing about my health issues now and then on this site. For a number of reasons. I grew up in a home whose adults did not talk about their health issues. I don't know if unseemly is the most accurate word to describe their attitude about it, but my parents (who were Puritans in some ways--not so in others) rarely spoke about their illnesses and operations (when I was young, Dad had two full-meal-deal kidney stone operations, one on the left, one on the right, each of which left him with a scar from spine to navel; he looked, at the waist, like Frankenstein's creature).
My mother was even more reticent. We never knew she was sick until we saw her in bed. And she would not really discuss it.
So--what I'm saying: It's not really "natural" for me to write about my eleven-year tussle with prostate cancer.
I feel a little odd for another, reason, too: Every time I go to Seidman Cancer Center and sit in the waiting room, I see see many people--of all ages--who are patently sicker than I--much sicker. People of all ages (cancer gives not a whit for your birthday). People in wheelchairs, on walkers, on oxygen--even on gurneys. People who slump in their chairs and need help to move back to the examination rooms.
That's the thing about prostate cancer. Until it metastasizes and finds another home (bones, bladder, etc.), it's not really evident to the man who has it. The sad story is generally a true one: If you wait until you have symptoms, you are already in deep trouble.
In my case, my family physician caught something "odd" in a routine prostate exam (not that any man feels there's really any such thing as this!) during a routine physical late in 2004. I then had a biopsy (a horrible experience, by the way), followed by surgery in June 2005. No one was too concerned about me at the time: My biopsy had revealed a Gleason score (which measures the intensity/severity of the cancer) at a 5 (the scale runs from 2-10). Mid-range.
Ah, but the post-op pathology put it at a 9. And suddenly everyone was worried.
Anyway, I had not felt "sick" in any way when my doctor found the "odd" thing; I have not felt "sick" since--except, of course, during the period of recovery from the surgery. The radiation treatments (six weeks of daily treatments, M-Fri) were mostly just inconvenient. And, as my radiation oncologist promised, I grew ever more tired as they proceeded. But the process itself? A bit like getting six weeks of daily dental X-rays--though, admittedly, in a far more complex way.
As I've written, the medication I'm on (Lupron) has delivered some unpleasant side effects, but I don't feel "sick"--just ... depressed and weary much of the time.
So--what I'm saying (again!): I feel a little odd writing about my illness because in so many ways it's not really like an illness in its physical manifestations. Not yet.
Now, psychologically--that's a much different story. I know there is no cure, and that the meds I'm on (and will subsequently be on) are all temporary. Delaying tactics. And a time will come when my oncologist will shrug, and ...
So, as I said, why do I write about it? Well, it's not for sympathy, believe me. And although I love and am very touched by all of those who write such kind responses--such encouraging and warm things--I am almost embarrassed at times by it all (reasons: my family history, my knowledge that I'm not "sick").
No, I write because (as I told one kind, concerned friend yesterday) I've come to see that if I can put it on the page, it somehow becomes more manageable. It's out there, not in here.
Of course, I know that it is in me--and will ever be. But transforming the worry and all into words is somehow transformative for me, too. And I feel better. More in control. An illusion, I know. But it's a profoundly comforting illusion in which I will continue to believe until someone draws back the screen and shows me that the Wizard of Oz is really just some very ordinary guy, who, looking at me, throws up his hands and says, Well, we did the best we could, didn't we?