More than seven-and-a-quarter years ago, I joined a large, all-male club of prostate cancer treatment survivors. I underwent surgery. I thought that any more concern about prostate cancer was unnecessary.
I was wrong. I was too optimistic.
Cancer is persistent and resistant. After seven years of undetectable testing results, my PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen)—an indicator of prostate cancer and its recurrence—rose to a level that both my primary care physician and urologist immediately called for an onslaught (bit dramatic) of radiation.
My regiment is eight weeks, Monday through Friday at an appointed time in the early afternoon. My life has changed, beginning last week. According to the oncologist, my treatment will be curative, not palliative. That’s encouraging. It’s still drudgery; often the right things to do are difficult and inconvenient.
The headline for the treatment is “salvage.” Of my life. That’s a sobering thought. My oncologist, skilled and personable, wrote the headline, not me. His terminology is clear and direct. He leaves no doubt that if I follow the regimen, my treatment will be successful. No time for a cavalier attitude.
About the regimen, it is challenging. I must arrive for “table time” (not a joyous invitation) with a full bladder. Hmmm. I should have warned readers that this column should not be shared with children—or those in denial of cancer.
Why is this requirement difficult for me? Because a full bladder necessitates restraint and control. I lack both due to my June 2015 surgical removal of my prostate. I best stop here for the sake of discretion.
The doctor and the attentive technicians are aware of my condition. They offer no magic solution. They are empathetic. The rest is up to me. I spend most of the 20-minute laser beam therapy, provided by a linear accelerator, valued new at $750,000 to $1.5 million, steeling myself and praying for discipline and determination. And a friendly voice announcing completion.
At our weekly confab, my oncologist urged me to view the radiation process as a “team” effort, literally pointing at me as the captain. Now that’s a clever perspective. I leave medical matters and the operation of the large, expensive scanner to him and his crew of capable technicians.
I question my ability to lead as I spend my time lying absolutely still—and being quiet. I feel more like the victim of a medical assault conducted of course with professional (and hopefully precise) care. Maybe my leadership is subtle. Maybe it’s the doctor’s sales pitch; we will help you if you help us.
I question the “team” metaphor. I feel as if I am a medical football serving at the mercy of cancer-killers. Hopefully, the result will justify the inconvenience.
I learned last week that the cancer being radiated is not identifiable, only probable based upon the elevated PSA. No lumps or bumps are there for the zapping, fortunately. Instead, the approach, according to be oncologist, is bio-chemical. The beam radiates the prostate “bed” or cavity, eviscerating any evidence or possibility of cancer. While I anticipate no recurrence, I didn’t seriously consider that the cancer would appear after the robotic surgery conducted so efficiently at Hopkins Hospital.
Dreams rarely come true. I normally discount them. Life is not a Disney movie. Hope is a healthy ingredient.
I am trusting oncological medical advancements. I am trusting a hugely expensive machine operated by skilled technicians. I am trusting a highly regarded doctor. I am trusting that I can “salvage” my life with patience and acquiescence in my role in enhancing the process.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.