Shortly before my scheduled appointment with my Florida oncologist I had received an early morning surprise from a friend in Saint Lucia. When it came to overseas calls his fist was normally tighter than Mick Jagger’s jeans.
On the recalled occasion, I had naively imagined he’d considered it worth the price to fill me in on the latest hot-button issue. How nice, I thought, until I realized he wanted only to let me know what “they” were saying about me on the Rock of Sages; in particular, about my “suspicious sudden flight to the States.” (Damn! As I think about it, it was I who paid the pound of flesh that Digicel charges for roaming services, not my skinflint caller!)
Ah, but we do have a way with words, don’t we? What “they” were saying, my friend breathlessly informed me, was I was near death with prostate cancer. I reassured him. While I had always thought it best not to comment on pseudonymous exaggerations, I reminded him, it was nevertheless true I was in a couple days scheduled to undergo a procedure not available at home.
“What!” he exclaimed. “So the rumors are true? Man, but you’re a helluva guy. You have something like that yet you left without a word? How is that possible? You’ve never been sick before?”
And I said: “What the hell has any of that to do with anything?” I proceeded to instruct him that as sure as night follows day one out of every six of his boozy buddies was destined to have a date with an oncologist. No ifs or buts.
“And while we’re at it,” I went on, “when was the last time you had your prostate checked?” He could not recall, so I let it go at that, knowing further talk would lead to another dumb discourse about the sanctity of his rectum. I turned on my laptop and set about putting out of their misery all who, for whatever reasons, might have discovered a sudden interest in whether I lived or died.
Much later, after I had returned to Saint Lucia, several total strangers accosted me to offer their lusty congratulations on my “openness,” as if indeed I had just won the Nobel or, doubtless far more impressive, gotten away with ripping off the Consolidated Fund. Other individuals with whom I had on occasion had pointless exchanges evidently thought it vital I should know who was secretly suffering from what horrible disease, as well as details of how such disease had been contracted. Predictably, the whistle blowers proffered not a word about their own health status—or how they had acquired the unsolicited information.
But to rewind: My published story apparently touched STAR readers everywhere, judging by the generated phone calls and e-mails. The greater number offered not only comfort and encouragement but also advice, whether related to bush remedies or diet. I never would’ve guessed the number of people I’d previously imagined I knew so well though obviously not well enough to realize they or their relatives and friends had survived cancer in one form or another. The statisticians certainly know whence they cometh!
I also received letters from women who’d had to cope with breast cancer. A reader from Denmark e-mailed me a magazine article entitled “Ticking time bombs!” I might never have guessed from looking at the pictured Playboy-type boobies that accompanied it, what the article was about. Which proves the truth of the old saying that “what’s good for the pecker may not be fun for the pudendum!” Okay, so I made that up, but you get the message!
Then there were the two most remarkable of the received e-mails. Writing from home, a former friend with whom I’d had a falling out that in retrospect seems absolutely puerile, the other an ostensible buddy of long standing with whom I’d often shared a restaurant table. Suffice it to say it was the first mentioned that featured words most encouraging, put together in a fashion that parodied my supposed writing style, and side-splittingly hilarious.
The other character on the occasion took on the gruesome double role of psychologist-witch doctor to let me know before I passed that I had brought my condition upon myself with my longtime “suppressed hatred for Kenny Anthony.”
My suppressed hatred? For Kenny Anthony? I who had countless times openly declared my feelings, and written extensively about the man and his politics? My friend the oracular voodoo-man would discover not long after sending his e-mail, and in just about the worst way imaginable, how little he knows about cancer, whether of the prostate or the uterus!
Several days before I kept my appointment with my renowned surgeon, I was required to visit his clinic in preparation for my procedure. Measurements were taken, as were photographs and scans, all connected with the process of brachytherapy—which involves the implanting of what are called “seeds” in the prostate gland.
The process lasted about an hour, with no incisions, no pain or lasting side effects. Less than forty minutes after surgery I was discharged. A month or so later I returned five times a week, over a three-month period, for further internal radiation treatment that (here we go again!) required the insertion of a greasy instrument into my rectum the better to afford my doctors a clear view of my insides.
Ninety percent of the time, specialist female nurses inserted the tool. And then I had the misfortune of having it done to me by my one of own gender. It will doubtless surprise some (then again, maybe not!) that what went through my mind during the process had nothing to do with homophobia or same-gender sex. I thought instead about women and the gentleness that it seems they alone can administer, especially in intimate circumstances.
Perhaps they know from their most private relationships with boyfriends and husbands precisely how not to be, well, like the majority of us, selfishly concerned only with our own thrills, and seldom with the possible discomfort of the provider. Indeed, for some their pleasure comes from the pain their women are forced to endure!
In the first place there was their tone, so soothing, so reassuring, and yes, so motherly. “This is what I’ll be doing, dear . . . this is what you’ll feel . . . the reason for that is . . . if you experience any discomfort please let me know immediately . . .”
You can’t help feeling these obviously well-trained ladies know all about being prodded and probed and manipulated by hands seldom removed from sledgehammers and truck gear sticks. Before you even realize it, their instrument is up your rectum (I refer to the Nightingales) and their colleagues in another room have begun performing their life-saving functions.
On two occasions the expert at my bottom was a man about 24-25 years old. Not a word escaped their blank demeanor. The second time around, I couldn’t help mentally comparing the male and female touches, and I grunted a little too loudly. Only then did my male nurse actually speak.
“Did you say something?” he asked. I said I’d been contemplating the difference in bedside manner when the nurse was male. His face remained deadpan. Later, I thought about the macho brothers at home who can barely contemplate the possibility of any doctor, regardless of gender, messing with their rectums, even though their lives depended on it.
Perhaps male oncologists and nurses put on their stern demeanors as a precautionary measure. When dealing with male patients, black patients in particular, to appear even the least bit bedside friendly is to risk being misunderstood—and a whole list of consequences altogether embarrassing, if not downright deadly!
A week or so following my final radiation appointment, my PSA reading dropped from 11 to 1. From information earlier received, I had expected following treatment “a bump upwards.” Six months later my PSA reading dropped further. Six weeks or so ago it was 0.171—as if I had never had a problem in the first place. Hopefully things will stay that way.
Meanwhile, there were and are the rumors. One local publisher phoned me twice (out of friendship, you understand!) so I might personally confirm or
deny whether I was at death’s door.
A self-declared true professional, he wanted to get his facts from the most
reliable source. Talk about trying to teach your grandmother to suck eggs. In any event, while my prostate had never caused me any trouble, it was altogether a different story with my previously mentioned long-standing back problem. We’ll
get to that next time.
Stay tuned for the next installment!