There’s an old Who song (but then, aren’t they all?) wherein Mr. Townshend wonders how many friends has he really got. If you want to find out the answer to this question in your own tiny life, get cancer. Any type will do, really, but just make sure it’s of the documented and doctor-approved variety. Mine happens to be prostate, which, although it is a common, garden-variety type cancer, still qualifies as something serious and “not-to-be-taken-lightly”. As my urologist said, it’s like being a little bit pregnant; you either are or you aren’t. With cancer, you’ve either got it or you don’t. Nobody “sort of” has cancer.
I already had had a prostate biopsy that turned up negative, so when I visited my doctor after the second one I was fully expecting similar results, namely that my prostate, although the size of a gorilla’s testicle instead of that of a walnut, was merely inflamed and not housing any of those nasty “C” beings. Nope. I was calmly informed that one of the twenty-four needle cores that had been unceremoniously shot into my semen machine had turned up malignant and I would need some sort of treatment to be rid of the errant cells.
A prostate biopsy is a wonderful gift to mankind and a gentle pleasure for the patient, said no man ever. For starters, an attractive young female nurse tells you to take everything off except your socks, which is mildly exciting until she hands you the scratchy blue hospital gown and tells you to put it on with the opening facing the back. So you do. Five minutes later she leads your chilly buns and your little stocking feet out of the changing room and into the doctor’s wonderfully clean operating area, whereupon she has you lie down on your left side, thereby exposing your shiny, white ass to the full glare of both the harsh doctor’s-office lighting and the bemused gaze of the attractive young nurse. I’m quite sure young nurses are totally unfazed at the sight of yet another pair of elderly butt cheeks, but it was nonetheless pretty weird for me.
Then the doctor came in, thankfully not reeking of gin, and proceeded to pull out what looked like a swordfish brontosaurus dildo while I lay on the table. This huge, medieval-looking device is designed to be greased up and shoved deep into a grown man’s tender, aging bungie-hole.
“Oh shit,” I said.
“It’ll be fine,” said the doctor, whose name, believe it or not, is Heinemann.
“For you, perhaps,” I said. The pretty nurse smiled.
Well, shove it in he did, ow ow ow ow ow, and let me tell ya, the procedure is just as awkward and humiliating as I’ve described. The dinosaur dildo takes up a LOT of room in your downstairs, and once it’s snuggled in there it shoots a tiny, hollow needle into your prostate. Twelve times. Granted, the soothing shot of rectal anesthesia beforehand mitigates most of the sharp pain, but it still feels like an angry midget has charged through your sphincter and is viciously punching you in the taint with pointy brass knuckles. And the whole time Mr. Funny Guy doctor is making jokes and you’re actually laughing because the whole situation is WAY more horrible than you ever imagined and you’ve got a pretty nurse girl watching you go through the whole business to boot.
I waddled out of that horror about a half hour later and got the sad results in about ten days. Oh shit again. One of the twenty-four (twelve times two) ass core samples had come back bad, finally, which explained why my PSA score was beginning to look like a Met relief pitcher’s ERA. My choices for treatment were:
1. Active surveillance, a process whereby I get the aforementioned butthole invasion every six months, or every year, depending on which doctor you’re talking to. Then they just wait around till I get more cancer. Or not. If I do, they move to numbers two or three, which are
2. Radiation treatment, where they either shoot me with lasers or implant little bitty radioactive seeds into my porthole region (which I guess frightens away the cancer cells, or something like that), or . . .
3. Prostatectomy, which means rip the squishy little sucker outta there once and for all.
Now, radiation seems rather benign when compared with having your ass torn open like a damp Christmas package, but what happens with the radiation is that it welds your bladder and your diseased prostate to your pubic bone while it’s wailing on Mr. Cancer, which means if he decides on a return visit, the ensuing prostatectomy now has to address a region that’s essentially been crazy-glued together into a pink, fleshy clump. Not good. The computer-assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy (ahem), on the other hand, is a done deal. Once the procedure has proceeded, there’s no PSA, no prostate to get cancer. You spend several weeks leaking into bags and pads and onto mattresses, and praying that your oldest, one-eyed friend will be able to stand proud and tall on his one leg again, but after that’s all done you have no chance of ever getting prostate cancer ever again, because you ain’t got one no more. Piece of cake.
People in my life have reacted to news of my latest fun adventure in several different ways. My incredible wife, of course, has been wonderfully supportive, loving, and understanding. Without her, I probably wouldn’t give a shit at all about treatment or anything else and just let the damned thing rot out of me.
My brother and his wife are similarly, genuinely concerned. They offered sound medical advice and in fact are helping to cart my aging carcass out of New York City (a horrible place to live but a GREAT place for surgery) when the operation is finished and my insurance company throws me out of the bed. My gratitude for their love and kindness cannot be adequately expressed.
Other friends and family members have offered help and shown interest to varying degrees. Some have made time to share meals with me and ask how I’m REALLY doing, face-to-face. These are the folks I treasure, the ones who make me hope that we really do live forever because I want to spend way more time with them than I’m able to down here. My true friends.
Some ask how I’m doing through a card or a text or an e-mail or a telephone call, which is very nice, considering how busy most people are here on The New American Plantation.
Another group shows tremendous concern for my wife, which is certainly welcome and reasonable, since she’s going through at LEAST as much as I am in terms of stress and worry, not to mention legwork. I’m happy that she has such a strong support network, especially since she gives ME so much of her time and support. Since most of them are women, they apparently feel icky about asking me directly about my new disease, which I find bewildering, but I also realize their good intentions since so many of them are praying for my ass. Literally.
The final group is, thankfully, very small. These are the ones who have sought my help when they were going through tough times, but now that I could use someone to talk to, have vanished into their own lives and concerns. Oh well. Probably not much of a loss.
So enough with the whining already. I’ll come through this leakier and weaker, but I will no longer have prostate cancer, which means I can spend a few more happy years with my sweet little wife and my real friends, and for that I am happy. How many friends have I really got? Enough to realize how grateful I am for the ones who stick around.