It was December 7th, 2010, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I was sitting in my office, where I work as a cost engineer. I was working on a residential project, taking off the quantities for construction and pricing it. The kind of work I’ve been doing for the past 32 years. After lunch around 1:30 PM my cell phone rang. It was my urologist, Dr. Taylor. He asked how I was recovering from the effects of my prostate biopsy a week ago. He was just sort of chatting. I told him I was doing fine. I knew he was calling in response to my calls to him. I was anxious to find out the results of my tests. Soon I would know. I knew that if my test results were in consequential he would have had a nurse call me. He had called me himself, directly, so this had to be IT. He chatted a bit more about the impact of my recent prostate biopsy, and how long it took to get fully healed. I could tell he was stalling a bit, establishing a personal connection, before he dropped the bomb I sensed he was about to drop…
Over a month earlier my physician, Dr. Vincent, had noticed a high Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) level on my blood tests during a routine physical. My PSA level was 8.0. This could be an indicator of “prostate cancer,” a disease older men are often afflicted with. Given I was 57, she advised me to go and see a urologist, even though she physically didn’t feel anything abnormal when checking with her latex-gloved finger. I always go along with Dr. Vincent’s recommendations and knew she was always careful. The mole I had removed from my back, the bump on my right arm, even the polyp found in my lower intestine during a colonoscopy exam, ALL proved to be benign and NOT cancerous. It was always better to have these things checked out. I had always complained to myself and others of the frequent blood tests Dr. Vincent would order. I called her a vampire, and said this is probably why vampire shows are such the rage on television and on films. These days doctors didn’t really examine people, they just examined a series of reports from blood tests. Oh well, better safe than sorry.
I called and scheduled an appointment with a urologist, a Dr. Taylor Bradley. I found this to be an unusal name in that both first and last names could be the last and first names. I was confused if I was seeing Dr. Taylor Bradley or Dr. Bradley Taylor. A week later I was sitting in Dr. Taylor’s waiting room. I saw that this was a LARGE practice. There were eleven doctors who worked here. The waiting room was very spacious, almost as big as an HMO waiting room. The majority of the patients sitting around waiting were older men, like me, in their late 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s. The attendents, and nurses were mostly women, and I couldn’t help but notice how attractive and well their make-up and hair was done. This seemed a bit odd. Maybe the doctors here had the nurses all make themselves up so pretty because they would provide a more of a cheerful environment for the old, ancient men, like me who came here to have their plumbing repaired. Maybe this was a “girl’s-night-out” day and after hours they were all going out clubbing together. Then again, maybe the doctors were all just dirty-old-men, like me (wink, wink). After a wait of around 30 minutes, I finally met my urologist. He was a tall, well-tanned, older man, maybe in his early 60’s. He was balding, and had a kind and gentile demeanor. At first he performed a physical examination, using a latex glove and large handful of lubricant. (I was amazed at how much lubricant he used). He repeated what my physician had said, as he felt nothing abnormal. He then said just to be careful, I should get another blood test. “No hurry,” he said. I was surprised that he said there was no hurry. Wasn’t this something to be urgent about?
It took about a week and a half after my blood test that I finally got a call. I had shared about my blood test with my wife, and other family members, and they were concerned and wanted to know what we found. I started to get concerned about it, too. I didn’t want to get lost in a paper shuffle. I had to call the office two times before I finally got a response. I was told by a nurse that my latest PSA level was 8.1. This was a bit higher than my last test. The nurse told me she was NOT authorize to tell me what this meant, but that the doctor would call me back. I didn’t like that it was higher, but maybe that was just a margin of error. Later that same day, Dr. Taylor called me back. He said that my PSA was higher, and that he recommended I have a biopsy. That way we could be sure if the higher PSA was due to cancer or something else. There are other things that can cause a high PSA level. He told me the biopsy was a procedure which would take about an hour, and that I could call into the scheduler and schedule an appointment. I agreed to a biopsy. They mailed me some papers to read and sign. I found that a prostate biopsy is a bigger deal than other exams. I had to limit my diet the day of the procedure, and also give myself a FLEET enema. Oh joy!
The prostate biopsy was performed in the doctor’s office. I laid on my left side, and being innoculated with something in my left buttock, which was left very sore. (I wondered if the male nurse realized he had innoculated the very buttock I would be lying on. If he had innoculated my right buttock, I could have laid on my left-side more comfortably.) I was totally conscious during the entire procedure. I had taken anti-biotics the day of the biopsy. I had the uncomfortable feeling of having an instrument inserted into me rectally. It was an amazing device which the doctor explained was both a camera, and a surgical device. The two of them could view my prostate on a video screen. I guess the device was also a kind of a sonagram imaging system. The doctor told me my prostate was smaller than normal. As he twisted the device to view other quadrants of my prostate, I cringed at the sensation of something plying around down their. I had the thought that I couldn’t for the life of me see the pleasure that homosexual men or WWI Greek-soldiers found in this sensation. (I thought about making this observation out loud, but decided I didn’t want to offend the male nurse, just in case he was a homosexual, or a WWI Greek soldier.) As he twisted the device around, the doctor would call out quadrant numbers, then he would fire which felt like a staple-gun in my rear end. (Ouch!) He had taken a tissue sample. I then heard the male nurse deposit the sample in one of the twelve viles he had laid out on the tray next to me. The doctor warned him never to pre-label the viles, but to only label them as he called out the location to avoid errors. I counted a total of 8 samples taken. It was very uncomfortable, and kind of like pulling teeth, (As if I did have teeth way, down, there.) Maybe he did take twelve samples. I just kept praying for him to stop. Afterwards, I was a little dizzy, but in a few minutes would be steady enough to stand up, walk out to my car, and drive away.
After the procedure I had to endure the shock of passing blood, and finding blood in my urine and semen. I suddenly had a big appreciation of all women and what they have to endure with their menstrual cycles. (I am now so glad I am not female.) The blood was a normal result of the biopsy, and it continued for around 3 days.
Anyway, now let me get back to the top of this blog for the moment of truth. After all of that, here I was, several weeks later, waiting for the doctor to tell me the results of my biopsy. I recall at first telling my doctor that I was fine, and pretty much healed and recovered from the effects of the biopsy. Then he said it. Those terrible words… “We went over your tests and we confirmed it. YOU HAVE CANCER. My body shuddered, I felt a hot flash, a cold sweat, the world seemed to tilt a bit, and I grasped what he had just said. I HAD CANCER. My mind fluttered through some quick thoughts: “This can’t be happening, maybe there is a mistake, damn it, what did I do to deserve this? How do I get out of this? Why is he so damn calm?” Then I spoke: “Okay, I see.” He then proceeded to describe my cancer. He said it was a in stage one, and on the “Gleason-scale” of 2-10, it was a 6, or “intermediate” form of cancer. It was “encapsulated,” and not spreading outside of the prostate. He said they had taken 12 samples (I recall them only filling 8 of the 12 bottles), out of the 12, eight were cancerous. It was a high density. It was located just below the bladder, and NOT at the apex, which is a good thing he said. He asked if I had any questions. My mind was in a whirl. I asked him what we should do about it? He said there was no rush. (Again that calmness, NO RUSH? This was my life which could end!) Dr. Taylor said that he would email me some material to read, and that his scheduler would call me to schedule an appointment to come in for a sit-down meeting with him to discuss my choice. MY CHOICE. I realized, that this was going to me MY call, and not his. Whatever we would do next would be my decision. Clever, I thought, that way they can avoid lawsuits, if I should make the WRONG choice. I read to him my email address, and said good-bye.
So I called back in for the doctor’s scheduler. Her name was Melinda. She was a lot easier to reach by phone than the doctor. Here it was December 7th. Melinda told me my doctor was going to be gone for the holidays and the soonest appointment I could get was, December 16h, my BIRTHDAY. I also had a 60-person seminar I needed to lead that night too. I asked if there was anything sooner and was told no. So I booked my sit-down appointment with my urologist for my birthday. I couldn’t believe that I HAD CANCER, and that they were so relaxed about it, that they would wait nine days before seeing me. I made the appointment, then it hit me. I needed to tell people. Maybe I shouldn’t tell anyone yet. I had to call my wife, Vicki. She was at work. I found it difficult to go back to work. My mind was racing. I had to tell people. I had to talk about this. I called my wife, Vicki. She was probably busy at work. Vicki is a floor manager for an airlines. She is the person who checks you in, and boards people on the jet airliners. She usually is pretty busy during the late afternoon. The time was around 2:00 PM. I called her and after a few rings, she answered. Before I could say anything Vicki was asking me if I would consent to posing as Santa Claus at her company’s Christmas Party. I felt my heart sink. I couldn’t deal with Santa Claus and Christmas parties at this time. I told her I couldn’t think about playing Santa at this moment.
I told her that I had prostate cancer. She was kind of quiet, and also glum. I told her I was going to decide how to deal with this, and that the doctor was sending me some information to review and that I was going to see him on December 16th, my birthday. She said, okay, and that she wanted to go to support me, and that we would talk about it later. This reminded me of when we had Vicki’s breast cancer check-up when they thought she might have a tumor. (It turned out to be nothing). I hung up the cell phone, and tried again to work. I realized that this was futile. My mind was racing. I was in survival mode. I decided to just go home early. This news had really shaken me up. Before leaving, I decided I needed to communicate with people. I sent an email to my friends that I volunteer with at Landmark Education. This organization has always been a support and source of inspiration for me during difficult times. I sent the email out. I then realized I needed to call my mother, and email my sister and brother. I sent those emails out. I called my mother. She had been worrying about me. After I told her about the bad news, she proceeded to talk me about HER bladder problems. (I rolled my eyes) I told her I had to go and didn’t want to hear about it and that she should tell her doctor. The next step was a big one. I put a post on FACEBOOK, my internet, social network site. This went out to over 800 people. Finally I decided, should I or shouldn’t I notify my co-workers. After all, I’m a civil engineer, and so are my co-workers. We are not a very tight, emotional, or informal bunch. Why would they care? Oh well, I sent out a company-wide email too. Now, everyone who needed to know, now knew. It felt like a load was off my shoulders. Funny, it was actually about other people that most of my concerns seemed to well up. What would they think? What would they say? How would they look at me differently? It was all about “looking-good” and “being well thought of.” So personal, and superficial. Now that I had let the “cat-out-of-the-bag” I felt relieved. This amazed me. It was like, the worse thing about cancer was that it made me “look bad.” It was now 3:00 PM, I couldn’t concentrate on work, so I just drove home. There I found my wife, Vicki. “What are you doing home?” I asked. She replied, “they sent me home because I broke down and started crying while at work.” I hugged her. I said, “I’m going to be okay, I’m going to beat this. There is a 98% survival rate for the kind of cancer I have…” (I felt like the brave, hero in some kind of dramatic movie.)
(To be continued)