On Friday, I shared the news of losing my hound Joe, my cancer diagnosis and my surgery and so many people sent me touching notes of support and encouragement. I’m immensely grateful to have a lot of friends to share my life’s ups and downs.
I’ll be honest though, I was a little reluctant to share this news with you or really anyone. I’ve known that something was going to happen to me since early in the summer but what exactly it would be crept up in increments. Sharing my doctor’s suspicions with anyone but my closest relatives would have seemed unnecessarily upsetting.
My reluctance was also because I was afraid.
Deep down, I realize I felt that sharing this story would make it more real and an ineluctable part of my identity. It seemed that if I told lots of people, that would be all I ever ended up talking about. It would be like a sickly yellow filter that everyone would see me through. Being a cancer person is just not who I am or want to be.
Another excuse I would give myself was that my condition was so banal and common it would be unseemly to make a public fuss about it. Prostate cancer, I’ve been told time and again, is just an inevitable part of being a male, hitting most dudes if they live long enough. My father apparently has it, though at 80+ years old his doctor told him he’d die with it, not of it. I was lucky to be diagnosed at the tender age of 57, maybe because I have a great doctor who found it early, and was given the choice of living with it for another few years before I absolutely had to deal with it. Maybe if I had some sort of exotic tropical disease or a rare and newsworthy condition (an extra eye! alligator skin! a tail!), I would have been more forthcoming.
And maybe it was just good old-fashioned embarrassment. I’ll gladly talk about most things but generally prefer keeping my wiener, bladder and butthole off the table.
Fortunately, and thanks hugely to Dr. Tewari and his team at Mount Sinai hospital, my prognosis seems to be very good. My operation was textbook and I was back home overnight. The pathology reports indicated that they had gotten all of the malignant bits. The next day I walked three miles around the park— Dr. T said I had to walk the equivalent of an entire marathon in the next week — and was off pain meds a couple days later. My fantasies about getting hooked on opioids was sadly not to be.
Over the next six weeks, I got progressively better. Many of my systems are back on line, my scars are healing and, the day after Christmas, my doctor called me with my latest blood test results. The cancer markers were undetectable. He was very happy. So were JJ and I. I won’;’t be completely out of the woods for another decade but in the meantime, I can skip through a sylvan glen. So the story isn’t over but hopefully the drama is.
Facing this most primal of my fears has been a real education. I’ve always been a particular type of hypochondriac — not the kind that rushes to the doctor with every symptom, but one who avoids the doctor and lets the monkey diagnose me instead. Many’s the night I’ve lain awake predawn wondering if I have this or that terminal malady and knowing I wouldn’t do anything about it but just die. Attending so many doctors and hospitals with Patti didn’t diminish this dread. If anything, it meant even more reason to never face my fears and fail as the sole bread winner.
I once read a book on hypochondria that described the condition as “woeful imaginings.” It prescribed one effective cure: having an actual serious disease. That resonates with me. Having a fairly treatable form of cancer has shocked me into taking my health a lot more seriously. I am less of a hog and exercise every day. I shed the 30 extra lbs. I’d acquired since Patti was pregnant. And I have cut back on the 4 Hs: Hooch, heroin, hang gliding, and hurling abuse at the TV news.
My drug of choice has always been Control. Maybe it’s because my childhood was fairly out of control, particularly my control. My body and its health seemed like something I couldn’t trust so I opted to live in denial— ignorant, dread-filled denial.
But now, and thanks largely to JJ, I know that there are of course ways to be healthy and have a measure of control over what happens to me. And, as she always reminds me, I have dealt with a fair amount of shit in my life, shit I did not create, and was able to survive and even thrive nonetheless. I am pretty damned resilient. In fact, most humans are.
So, thanks again for your good wishes. I may not live to be 98 like my grandfather, but I hope to stick around for a whole longer. And in the meantime, I hope to live with clarity, joy, creativity and as if, to coin a phrase, every day matters.