Last night presented an interesting experience.  I was attending an alumni event, I’m a co-President of our regional club, which included area alum from other schools of the same ilk – it was a “mixer”.  In socializing with those in attendance I settled on conversing with a small group composed of an oncology doctor, 2 veterinarians (sisters), Realtor (MBA from a top 20 school), a computer programmer, a lawyer (husband to one of the sisters) and another woman who left the conversation before I was introduced.

The conversation started out in the typical fashion for a group who had little knowledge of each other.  The single, veterinarian is friends with the oncology doctor, but other than her sister had only met me in a cursory fashion at another event.  As the discussions progressed, the youngest of the group, the programmer and unknown person left the group.  That left myself and going to my left, the lawyer, his veterinarian wife, the oncology doctor and the married veterinarian’s single sister.  Based on graduation years I’m guessing the lawyer and his wife to be in their mid-30’s (33 – 37), the oncology doctor in her mid-40’s and the remaining sister in her early 30’s (31 – 34).  In short order, I seemed to gain the attention of the single vet and her oncology doctor friend.

The discussion was interesting, got relatively lively and evolved such that myself and the single  veterinarian sister splintered off on our own although still at the same table as the others.  The conversation involved politics and in particular as they relate to the media.  With the introduction of media came a discussion about “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart.  Now, at this point something that became quite noticeable were the mannerisms of the veterinarian (I’ll call her Mary).

Mary started becoming very animated, very social and “leaning” toward me.  Shortly thereafter she began the little “touches” on my arm and so forth.  Now, I harbored no illusions about any of this in terms “possibilities” with Mary, as I mentioned she is likely 20 years my junior, it is that I only attempt to set the scene/mood.  The conversation continued between Mary and I at the exclusion of the others in the group.  Then, something changed.

The MBA realtor (call him Max) began a discussion about breast cancer with the oncology doctor.  That caught both my ear and that of Mary’s.  I forget the point being made at the time, something to do with the current healthcare legislation, something about unneeded mammographies, the cost benefit and presumed waste associated, for younger women.  In listening I found I had a point to be made and took it into a domain of familiarity – prostate cancer, no one at the table knew I was afflicted.  I made the point that men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer early in their lives typically get the very worst forms, the most aggressive types and overwhelmingly die therefrom.  Almost immediately Mary mentioned a male relative who died from Prostate cancer and affirmed my point about the severity of prostate cancer in young men – her demeanor turned sad.

In the introduction of prostate cancer I asked the oncology doctor to affirm the approximate $40 cost for a PSA screen, which she did.  I followed up with the typical costs associated with treating a patient with an aggressive form of prostate cancer, her response, hundreds of thousands.  I asked about the probability of “cure and cost avoidance if the disease was found very early and she agreed – much lower cost and higher cure rate.  I did the quick math on how many PSAs could be done for the cost savings – she got the idea, but retorted with the number of false positives (for both mammographies and PSA).  I asked if treatment was initiated by positive tests or if biopsies are taken, her answer – biopsies.  Then, how many false positives on biopsies – almost none.  All the time Mary had been listening to the exchange with what appeared to be some degree of interest, but with the same posture toward me.

At this point in the conversation the doctor moved to the trauma caused to patients who receive false positives as a result of the test.  I asked why that was, why would someone get so traumatized by the possibility and not be happy to know that if disease was present, it was caught early with a higher probability of cure?  The doctor started offering some explanations but was quickly cut off by Mary who began listing all the trauma points – possibility of loosing a breast, stress and costs of treatments and vanity issues – loss of hair for one.  I acknowledged them as real, but then asked if those reactions were a result of societal or personal issues.  Someone in the group asked me “how do you think you would react”.

At this point I was faced with a decision, one that plagues me often when meeting new people and in particular, when having an enjoyable conversation with a woman – in this case Mary.  It came to me that “the cause” was more important then the situation and so I revealed my cancer.  Not unexpectedly the doctor and I exchanged names of doctors we both knew well.  The question which provoked the revelation seemed to have been forgotten.

Now then, the point of today’s writing.  I began observing Mary’s reaction, mannerisms and posture.  Things were decidedly different.  Rather than leaning toward me she leaned away.  Gone were the smiles and cheerful banter – none of which I could resurrect with “diversionary” comments.  It seemed I became somewhat of  leper in her eyes, someone to be avoided.  It reminded me of a dilemma I often encounter when meeting women.

Since my divorce, I have been somewhat casual in seeking female companions.  I have met some very nice women and in two cases came into what I will call a relationship given their duration.  In other cases I’ve met women with whom I’ll say had potential for relationships, but really never got past the “exploratory phase” – those several weeks or perhaps a month or two where you become more intimate in what you share.  The one common thing here is the whole of when and if to reveal my cancer.  In the past, I’ve been very upfront, telling the person of my condition prior to even meeting them.  More recently, I’ve reserved the introduction until I have found whether potential to move further exists.  In the one situation where that occurred, it was fine and the revelation well received – it was a situation where a short-lived “relationship” evolved (we are still friends).

In considering my approach to revealing my disease I’ve discussed it with many of my women friends, one in particular whom I find to have provided exceptional clarity to my “romantic endeavors”.  It was with her, and others inputs that I’ve gravitated toward my current policy.  The point made by them is that why say anything since you may never see the person past the first meeting; made lots of sense to me.  The other point was that if there was no “relationship” potential, i.e., the possibility of being friends remained, what would it matter.  Lastly, the point was made that if there were grounds for a relationship and if the woman was at all open minded, it would be “dealt with” in a positive manner.

Now then, back to Mary and her reaction.  I’ll never know if Mary and I would have ever become friends, the reality is that while I found her quite interesting, intelligent and so forth, she was too young for me – not chronologically, but mentally; she needed to grow more to keep up with me.  It would have been nice and it may still be possible, to be her friend, to do things with her and be part of her world.  The reality though is that as in many situations, and perhaps as with life in general, cancer may be the toxin that not only plagues me, but also those who may, or I may, wish to enter my world.

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