It’s been a while since I wrote anything and to those who follow my apologies.  It was not for lack of topics, I’ve had lots, but rather life in general getting in the way, consuming all that I have in the way of time and energy.  It is also caused by a lack of discipline – when I get a moment, I tend to goof off rather than to turn to things such as this blog.  I’ll try to be more diligent, more regular in my posts going forward, but no guarantees.  Here is something I began drafting in early June and which I will now finish.

For those who follow regularly, you will know that with the exception of December 2009 I’ve had a PSA taken quarterly.  The “anniversaries” are September, December, March and June.  It is now June and typically I would have had the number taken the first Thursday of the month – it is always taken on a Thursday because that is when the hospital clinic see patients for things other than treatments.   This time there were some interesting twists and for me, a lesson learned.

Typically, in the weeks surrounding the test there seems to be a large number of movies or programs on that deal with death in some way.  I’m not sure if the timing increases my sensitivity to these things or if it is a matter of providence.  The other thing that came to the fore was another immunotherapy being reported, this one for melanomas.  Anyhow, the whole idea of prudence, of following the “standard of care” comes up during this time period.  It begs the question, one I ask my doctors – is there value in getting a number?  If it is going up, as it most assuredly is, what is the plan, what is left to do at this point, what is the action plan?

This time I once again travelled to the cancer center and once again “gave blood”.  In some ways it has become  a sort of ritual, seems that way for all the “regulars” I see when I go for the test.  The one difference is the building is new, a recently constructed building of multiple floors, with a circular layout and with the center almost like a tube around which one must travel to get to your destination.  In the center of the tube on each floor is a patio of sorts with some sculptures depicting something, that something being whatever the viewer can imagine.  Most see them as suggestive of some facet of life, of the beginnings and ends, of its ups and downs.  Mostly, for me anyhow, they are just peaceful and kind of serene while brining beauty to a place where most feel the dark cloud of cancer and its ominous implications.

In traversing the tube one invariably encounters those who’ve been diagnosed for some time and others in the discovery stage.  Some are quite open about their travails, about the disease they harbor, that may have been held at bay or that is consuming their being.  It’s an interesting exercise in people watching in that it offers insight into the variability of the human psyche.  There are those who openly express tremendous fear, others who profess their intent to fight to the end and others who treat the whole thing in a very matter of fact way.  As usual, I met some of each ilk, but more of those who saw the disease and their condition as just another thing in their lives, I like those types, it is “my type”.

In conversing with some of them I shared the reason I was visiting, simply to get blood drawn for the PSA.  Most of them were waiting to see their doctor along with getting some of the diagnostic tests.  We were chatting a bit and in the conversation something came to me.  I thought it quite funny and so did those with whom I was speaking.  It came in a somewhat convoluted manner, the origins of which I can’t remember, but we all started laughing quite a bit with the thought.

Now I suppose you are interested in exactly what a bunch of cancer patients could come up with that was so funny.  And I know there are some who wonder how, in such an ominous setting we could be so gregarious as well.  The explanation is quite simple really and for those who are sick, quite comical.  However, what I was to learn shortly thereafter, was that so-called “healthy” people did not share the same sense of humor, that they found it moribund and disgusting.  And again you probably wonder what the idea was and I will tell you nothing remarkable, but it does require some background.

As some might know there are a number of measures, different for different cancers, that indicate the presence of the disease and if present, the severity or possibly its stage.  In my case and with all those with prostate cancer, it is a PSA test.  So when we were talking about the whole ritual of coming in to get our various numbers, it came to me that we should each form a pool which included a small wager.  In short, it would be like any office pool were each participant guesses a number and then the one closest without going over, wins.  I will also concede the whole idea was bourne of my remembering an acquaintance who fathered 13 children (same wife and all in wedlock) and who, with each birth, had a pool where his friends would guess the weight of the new arrival.  It seemed pretty fun to me.  In our case, the entry “fee” would be nominal, maybe $1 for each guess with the proceeds being split – 50% to me and 50% to wherever the winner wanted to send them, or keep them if they chose.  In our tossing the idea around, we further developed it along the lines of a lottery with multiple other iterations.

Well when I got home everyone wanted to know the result of the test, what was the number?  I responded with the idea of the pool, first noting I wouldn’t have the number until the next day.  I then went on to explain my vision for the pool and emailed it to a bunch of friends and family.  I did not get the reaction I expected.  With the exception of my brother and a cousin, the cousin and I think quite a bit alike, I was hammered, chastised and lectured about making light of something so serious.  One person went so far as to suggest it was unbecoming of me to play the role fo the victim, of feeling sorry for myself and thinking in such a negative manner. 

I must say the reactions were totally unexpected and the characterizations of my attitude were quite foreign to me because I felt nothing of the sort, I just thought it would be kind of cool and really fun.  I was so wrong and it took quite a number of conversations to turn the tide and make the point that while a serious side to the number exists, it is only that, a number.  However, it seems that with the healthy people in my life it is much more than a number, they view it as a measure, an indicator of sorts, of how long I’ll be around this world.  Truthfully, I never saw it that way and eventually I reassured everyone that if I were taking the number very seriously, that when it came to a point where I couldn’t joke about it anymore, then they should worry, it would be then that I felt the game was over.

The whole of this experience reminded me of a previous post, the one where I discussed the need to manage people.  It seems that while I had thought my efforts to move people more toward some sort of acceptance of the likely outcomes, outcomes that fall within a statistical probability and not necessarily the defined path, my humor around my disease could flow more readily without offending those around me.  It seems though, at least with this experience, that movement has not happened, that those around me are less “accepting” than I thought, that they remain very sensitive to my condition if even I am not equally so.  The really interesting thing is that with all my statistical modelling, all my following of “the number” and all my predictions derived therefrom, if there was indeed a pool, I would have lost.

So there it is, another realization on life with a disease that can kill.  A story of how we are not necessarily alone in anything, of how we who are afflicted with things like cancer, must also see their way to framing their condition, not as we may like, but in a manner acceptable to those who share our lives.  Since my next number is coming up in a couple of weeks, I guess I now know the limits of my sharing and equally important, how I share.  It also seems I may want to predict the next number, but I’m not sure why since there will be no pool.

By the way, the number was 16.3 and I would have predicted it to be between 20 and 25 based on historical trends.  It was a pleasant surprise for everyone.  I’m wondering what the next number will be, another surprise or perhaps it will “make-up” for the last one.  My guess this time is it will be between 30 and 35, maybe I’ll be wrong and if so, perhaps the pool wasn’t such a good idea after all.

As always, feel free to comment or you may email me at lifeabstractions@gmail.com

Ciao

LifesAbstractions

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