Surviving In This Very Moment…

My Personal Battle with Prostate Cancer … And Life!

Overlapping Circles of Community

The impossibility of approaching the other (autrui) without speaking to him signifies that here thought is inseparable from expression . . . consist[ing] in the intuition of sociality by a relation that is consequently irreducible to comprehension.
Emmanuel Levinas, Basic Philosophical Writings, p.7

Overlapping Circles of Community

As the new year approaches, less than two weeks away, I think it is important to reflect on the past year, the ups and downs, the natural fluctuation of the randomness of time, in order to digest the traces left behind that continue to affect me. As I age I find that life presents new, often unique, challenges that simply come with getting older. I also find that concurrent with those challenges is a desire to connect with friends and family through increased social contact. Additionally, while I have always been struck by nature, I find myself increasingly being in awe of the beauty and violence of the natural world. Both of these connections require one to approach the other (in the case of social contacts) and the Other (in the case of natural phenomenon) with a speaking, a conversation or perhaps as Levinas equates this use of language, with a (non-theistic) prayer (more like a polite but insistent asking or imploring) said without reservation or expectation.

Two major medical issues seemingly exploded, disrupting my life since May. The first of these required a total replacement of my left knee, a procedure from which I am still recovering. I am no stranger to orthopedic surgery having had two hips replaced and a L3-S1 laminectomy fusing my lower spine with titanium rods and screws but I had no idea how difficult it would be to recover from knee replacement surgery. After three and a half months of physical therapy I regained nearly full extension of the knee but I remain plagued with a stiffness that seems to haunt me during the day.

As if that were not enough, I was diagnosed in September with prostate cancer. Considering that the biopsy of the prostate found an aggressive strain (Gleason score of 4+4) and a spike in my PSA to 23 (a range from 21 to 26 over three samples) there was every reason to believe that the cancer was metastatic. This proved not to be the case on bone and CAT scans but the CAT scan was inconclusive because of the amount of metal surrounding my groin. In consultation with my urologist and internist and long talks with my wife, we decided to undergo a robotic radical prostatectomy, a procedure performed on November 28th, nearly one month ago. Once again I dodged a metastatic bullet when the biopsy of the prostate found the tumor completely contained within the organ and the lymph nodes free of disease. At this very moment I can look forward to many more disease free years.

As a result of the prostatectomy, I am left with two side-effects. I am currently required to wear diapers due to incontinence and I am unable to become aroused. I don’t know if these are permanent or temporary and I am not certain I want to undergo additional surgery to correct them. I meet with my urologist on the 27th of December and expect to have a frank discussion with him to see what he thinks. While he will be handing me off to a new urologist, one of his partners, as he moves to a new position out of town, I believe he will be more than straight forward with me about these two side effects.

So the point of retelling these two medical tales is simply this, for me, most of 2012 was consumed with medical issues. It was also met with family tragedy as my youngest cousin, Steven, passed away from multiple myeloma, a particularly virulent cancer that simply consumed his body but never his spirit. About a month before he died I was in Los Angeles to celebrate a 60th wedding anniversary of my wife’s closest friend’s parents. While there I had breakfast with Steven, my sister and several other cousins. Steven, I believe, knew the end was near but he never let on. We talked, laughed, shared stories of our younger days and, without knowing it, said our good-byes. A month later I was back in LA to attend his funeral.

When I let my family know that I was diagnosed with prostate cancer the outpouring of love and support was absolutely overwhelming. What I learned from my cousin Steven was to never ever give up on life, to live life on life’s terms, to experience every moment of existence as unique and filled with the joy of breath; there will be time enough for whatever the antithesis of celebration might be in the grave so there is no need to feel sorry for oneself for a life well lived.

None of my lived-experience of the past year comes close to my being able to comprehend the consequences of these events. There being no intentionality causing the events to occur (I see the universe we share as a gigantic random number generator where probability trumps intentionality) I find that I take great solace in the long and sometimes quite brief conversations I have had with those closest to me. I am learning to extend myself to others in powerful ways and even find myself making new friends along the way. I am buoyed by a fresh look at the natural world in which I exist and the awe inspiring power ranging from the smallest micro-organism to the power of a tiny river’s capacity to carve a Grand Canyon, to the ravages of a blizzard in winter. Taken together, these events, these conversations, my ability to see the absolute beauty in nature and to be awed by the universe itself make this life a life worth living.

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