Monday, October 6, 2008 at 4:00 AM
The doctor told me that my outlook was really good. I would be having no further treatments, other than semi-annual blood tests and scans to make sure that no more tumors were showing up. Another milepost on my journey through a mysterious medical world - a world of tubes and drains and staples... a world of pain, pain-killers and obscure acronyms... a world of spurts, leaks, and challenges to my masculinity.
The only other time I had ever been in a hospital was during the last years of my parents’ lives. Back then, there were many times when a doctor or nurse would give me an update on my dad or a report on my mom, but exactly what they were saying just blew right past me. I didn’t totally understand some of the health care lingo, but I kind of got it. So, I would nod my head, probably out of some deep-seated desire not to be seen as dense. That’s not the way to deal with your health or that of your loved ones.
Add to that the fact that the hospital world can be strange and alienating. They are in control and you are wearing a gown with an open backside. Doesn’t exactly give you the confidence to question what these men and women in white are telling you. But, you have to. It’s important to keep asking questions until you understand what’s going on.
And be sure to have someone there with you, who can take notes, keep track, and otherwise help translate during an emotional and potentially life-threatening time.
I remember being slightly shaken last December when I read the obituary of singer Dan Fogelberg, who died at the age of 56. The death notices are generally populated with vaudeville-era entertainers or World War veterans, not by people closer to my own age. “What happened?” I wondered. “Motorcycle accident? Drug overdose?” No, the short article said he had died of something called prostate cancer - something I associated with old men. Avant garde musician Frank Zappa was also a victim of prostate cancer, as was actor Bill Bixby. And the list goes on.
But, there are also a number of prominent people who have survived the disease, running the gamut from Harry Belafonte to Robert DeNiro to Colin Powell. And, in this political season, men such as John Kerry and Rudy Giuliani are both prostate cancer survivors, as well. So, the news doesn’t have to be bad, especially if you get a regular check-up and pay attention to early warning signs. Now, I haven’t always painted a pretty picture of my prostate cancer treatment experience. There is some discomfort involved. And there’s the prospect of some temporary inconveniences, like the use of a product that provides “discreet protection for men”. But, quite frankly, I’ll take discomfort over dead any day.
I’m even open to changing some of my habits to promote good health. The other day, I had dinner at a stainless steel diner known as Plato’s. The temptation was great to get a gyro platter or some other meat-heavy dish, but instead, I went with something called the “Vegetarian’s Paradise”, which featured a plate full of falafel, lettuce, peppers, olives and tomatoes. I complemented the waiter on this tasty repast, though I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy by the painting on the wall behind him. It seems that the owner of Plato’s hired an area muralist to illustrate the interior of the restaurant with a Greek theme. So, there were a number of nicely rendered columns and some sweeping Mediterranean vistas. But, the artistic focal point of the room was a depiction of Socrates drinking hemlock. That’s probably not the greatest image to choose for an eating establishment.
Just before I went into the hospital, in August, a Polish friend suggested I try a more palatable drink: “Whit…gress…juice…” She carefully enunciated each syllable. “It is a very healthy drink for the cancer; very high in anti-oxidants.”
It took me a few seconds to understand this prescription. “Oh, you mean wheatgrass juice?” The thought of throwing some amber waves of grain in a blender didn’t strike me as all that appetizing, but she was on a roll.
“Also, you must go outside and be in the sun.” She wagged her motherly finger at me. “I know you are working 20 hours a day.”
Guilty. It’s true. I have a reputation among my friends and colleagues for working late hours to refine a radio or TV piece. The overnight guards at the Idea Center know me well, and more than once I’ve been busted by the 90.3 morning crew for staying up all night. So yeah, okay, I can’t get away with those late hours anymore. Of course, no one will believe me when I make that pledge. So, I’ve got to back-up my claims about getting serious about my health.
As I head back to work, I think I’m on the right path. I certainly dodged a bullet in the operating room - for now. But, it’s time to start being more proactive. Regular check-ups with my doctor…more sleep…exercise and better food. And the next time I visit the smoothie shop, I’m going to walk up to the attendant, adjust my cuff links, and order a tall glass of “Whit... gress... juice. Shaken, not stirred.”