There are many stories in the naked city. Stories of heroism, courageousness, brevity in the face of danger and perhaps, even stories of derring-do.
There are as many stories as there are people. This is not one of those stories.
What’s with the title? I’m glad you asked. Way back in ancient times, or like 37 years or roughly 13,215 days ago when I was a mere lad in High School. I took a class in creative writing. I was actually pretty darn good at it. We had to write something like a 300 word piece. It could be a short story, several poems etc, as long as the word count was right and you didn’t try to fake it, the teacher accepted it. I would usually wait until Saturday or Sunday and bang out something semi decent for Monday morning. I really wish I had kept it up. What was once easy for me has become an arduous task. I fight tooth and nail for the words to come. I can still pop out a decent story, just not as easily as I used to.
One of my friends was a guy named Rick. He was a pretty cool guy. He was also a damn fine writer. He created a story in class. There was him (stick) Mike was spike and as you may have guessed, I was Vague. The details of the story escape me but the names stuck. I still sometimes use those names to this day.
I really enjoyed that class and my friendship with Rick. He went off to join the Marines. I’m not sure if he knew then or knows now, I almost followed in his footsteps and joined as well. I’m not really sure if I can pinpoint the reason or reasons I didn’t. However it is on my list of deep regrets. The “almosts” in life if you will. I know quite a few Marines and wish I could count myself amongst them. Life had different plans for me and maybe 6 months or so,the exact time frame escapes me now, I joined the Navy. A decision I never really regretted.
Just recently, Rick told me he listened to my podcast. For this, I am humbled and flattered. I do the podcast to share things that matter to me or catch my interest in some way and I am glad that others get something out of it. Don’t worry Mr Rogan, you have nothing to worry about here.
He asked me, if I felt up to it,to talk about my cancer experience. I have nothing to hide and I am far too old now to be embarrassed by any of it. If you’ve heard this before, feel free to skip ahead. If not? Buckle up buttercup, it’s a heck of a ride.
Let me go back a few years, back before I was diagnosed the first time. Dateline: Norfolk Naval Base circa 1992. I was being given a physical before I was discharged. The doctor was talking about self checks. A thorough self exam of the “boys” if you will. Being a cocky, healthy 22 year old,I wasn’t really taking him too seriously. (Little did I know how handy it would be later on).
Flash forward several years. I did one of those self exams he had talked about and I found a lump. Like any smart person, I went to see my doctor about it. He also did an exam and concluded I should have an ultrasound done. Up until that exam, I hadn’t really been too worried about it. So, I got the test done and I knew something wasn’t quite right in whoville. The tech, who had been laughing and bubbly throughout the procedure, was now quiet and more serious. When I asked what the prognosis was, she simply said, “your doctor will contact you”
The drive home was probably 10-15 minutes. Before I had made it home, my doctor had contacted my wife who in turn had called me. This was in the days before I had a cell phone. He wanted us both back at his office. So, I turned around and went back.
He was a great, compassionate doc. I still miss him to this day. He had us go into the exam room and delivered the left hook I never saw coming. It was cancer. Luckily, we had caught it early and there would most likely be no need for chemo. However, I was about to be a few grams lighter. About 25 grams give or take. Then everyone swung into action. Surgeons were consulted, dates for surgery discussed etc. Of course, the insurance company was perfect… Oh wait, no they weren’t. I had the surgeon ready to go. Remember a bicyclist by the name of Lance? I had the same surgeon, so I felt like I was in good hands, so to speak. But, those wonderful folks at the insurance company? Not so much. They denied my procedure. Seriously? I mean, we had certainly paid our premiums. Why would they take such a stance? The world may never know. I had to call them and essentially beg. I told them, this wasn’t like an elective, like I wanted a nose job. This was life or death. There was an insidious killer inside me, actively trying to kill me like some ersatz assassin. Eventually, they saw reason, I suppose and approved the Surgeon, the procedure and the location. How dare he want to have it in the center where he worked. What nerve! The day came, the surgery happened and the offending bit went in the bin(after a biopsy) I suppose. What followed was some time for healing and 18 rounds of radiation treatments. This entailed a short surgical gown, a cold table in a cold room. A room by the way with a door about 3 feet thick. So, I was laid out, alone in the room under a death ray that bombarded cells, good and bad alike with radiation. My stomach is still not right all these years later. This all happened in 2001 or so.
I was given a clean bill of health and told I was good to go. What they don’t tell you is, for the rest of your life, you will spend most days worrying about the next time. Now, I don’t know the statistics. But, I know, cancer patients have a higher rate of getting it again. Every lump, bump and pain has you worrying “what the hell is that” “has that always been there”?
Fast forward to 2017. Another self check, another lump. Guess number 2s days were numbered as well. Who wants only one anyway? I was older, I had my kids, he had a good run so…
This time, the urologist was great. He agreed with my expert diagnosis.
Let me backup, my patient navigator or care coordinator was a godsend. She helped arrange appointments and anything else I needed. I called her when I first found out and she helped me through. If by some chance you ever read this Janet, God Bless you. You may never know how much you really helped me under the guise of “just doing your job”.
Anyway, the urologist was on board. He sent me to the Oncologist. Oy vey! This guy.
We went through all the steps, exams, questions etc. Because it was a teaching hospital did I mind med students jumping in? Why not? The more the merrier or something. I submitted to questions and probing. This is when I should have known this guy would be trouble. He didn’t find the lump. Was I sure? Was I just imagining it? I told him I had been down this road before, trust me, I know my body and I know something is amiss. Off to another ultrasound. Huzzah! They found the mass. It was tiny, but it was there. Vindication! Back to the Oncologist. “Well I guess you were right, there is something there.
Surgery number two. Everything went fine. We caught it super early. No need for radiation or chemo. Although, the surgeon really wanted me to have one round of chemo to make sure everything was really,cross your fingers dead this time.
I went back for the post surgical follow up. The first issue: Some med student that spent 30 seconds with my chart came in and tried to talk to me. I had clothes older than him. I’m sure by now, he is a competent medical professional. But, I had questions he couldn’t answer. So he said “Let me get the doctor” hooray, now we’re getting somewhere. In comes the oncologist, I realy the urologist's concerns and suggestions. Without any real consideration he tells me “I don’t think we’re going to do that” Strike 2 and 3. In the following days, I would wind up firing him. When the nurse asked why, I told her and I was reassigned to another guy.
All in all, I am glad I got the second surgery. I probably could have opted for chemo instead, There are even days I still feel guilty 22 years later. Why? I don’t know. I suppose it’s some twisted version of survivor’s guilt. I got off easy compared to others I’ve known with cancer? I may never understand it.
So, yes, it’s an uncomfortable topic, and you guys can uncross your legs now. I cannot stress enough the importance of self checks. If something seems off, go see a doctor. This is not an area in which you really wanna be macho and down play it. It’s a cancer with a stupidly high survival rate IF you treat it quickly. Many guys end up in serious trouble if they ignore it or downplay it. Don’t be one of them.
Parts of this will serve as a basis for my next podcast. It is both helpful for planning as well as cathartic to write this out in long form instead of 140 character snippets or something
I hope you enjoyed this. As always, just my .02¢ worth. YMMV