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Prostate Chronicles - Chapter 1: Kings of Denial

Monday, August 18, 2008 at 7:30 AM

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Last spring when doctors told ideastream®’s David C. Barnett he has the disease he decided to use this very personal life event as a vehicle to do what David does so elegantly in his reporting for 90.3 WCPN and WVIZ/PBS… tell a story.

I’ve got prostate cancer and I’m about to get it cut out.  My urologist broke the news last May.  “You do have cancer, but the good news is that it’s very treatable,” he said.  Marvin McMickle, the pastor at Cleveland’s Antioch Baptist Church, got a similar report from his doctor in 2003.  He says he spent the next two months assuming that he was going to die.  All he heard was the word, “cancer”.  Five years later, he now figures that he over-reacted.

I heard both the words “cancer” and “treatable” and decided to remain optimistic.  But, it was another one of those chinks in the armor of immortality that many of us wear.  Especially, us guys.  A former professor of mine at Kent State, George Harrison, got the prostate cancer diagnosis 22 years ago, when he was the same age as I am now, 56.  He’s come to the conclusion that men are kings of denial:

“Perhaps this is too generalizing, but I don’t think men treat themselves being sick like women do.  It’s not just macho, but it’s just a kind of thing that you don’t share.  You don’t open up, so to speak.  Women are better than we are.  They’re better at going to the doctor.  If they feel pains in their chest --- and they’re severe --- they go to the doctor.  And the man is more prone to say, ‘That’s indigestion.  That’ll be alright, as soon as I take a Tums.’”

For me, the denial came in the reaction that this was going to mess up my schedule.  I had a big TV project and several radio pieces to get done.  That concern shifted slightly when my surgeon said we could schedule the operation in mid-August.  Great!  I could probably get most of my work finished up by then.  That scenario didn’t go over well with a former colleague of mine who protested that I should have the operation immediately.  I assured her that the doctors told me it would be fine to wait.  Prostate cancer is one of the slowest-growing forms of the disease, which gave me some scheduling flexibility. 

“Okay,” she replied, after a doubtful pause.  “It’s your funeral.” Another pause, and then a quick, “No, no.  I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that!”

For the past few months, I’ve been reading up on prostate cancer and talking with some survivors.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned and how I and others have dealt with it as well as documenting the experience of operation and recovery first-hand --- the good, the bad and the ugly.  This is a subject that many men find very uncomfortable, because it touches on such topics as incontinence and impotence.  And ignorance. 

But, I’ll report it all as honestly as I can.  George Harrison will regale us with the story of a “marital aid” that he refers to as his “erector set”.  Marvin McMickle will discuss his continuing struggle to pronounce the word “prostate” instead of “prostrate.” No doubt I’ll encounter my own miss-steps and awkward moments.  That too you’ll hear about in an unvarnished way.

I’m going under the knife Tuesday, so I may be a little too woozy for an immediate dispatch, but I’ll have a blog posting in a day or two.  One thing I’m sure of.  It’s not my funeral.  I can’t fit that in my schedule.—David C. Barnett

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Prostate Chronicles

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