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My Personal Battle with Prostate Cancer … And Life!

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Priase the Lord…A Selfish Response to Tragedy

Priase the Lord...A Selfish Response to Tragedy

Priase the Lord…A Selfish Response to Tragedy

Leaving Alamogordo, New Mexico Friday morning, I set my gps for Joplin, Missouri and set my rain alarm app for push notifications. Our dog, Simin, developed a severe infection on his right-front leg requiring constant care throughout the day. Our plan for returning home was to spend around three nights on the road, stop off and see a few sights that we wanted to visit and arrive home on Monday. Those plans were shattered when Simin was diagnosed with this ugly infection. A friend’s daughter was kind enough to stay at the house to nurse Simin until we returned from our trip. But back to the point of this post.

Driving through Oklahoma City, the rain activity was picking up with storms tracking on either side of I-40. We drove on, with the bulk of the rain and storm activity either behind us or to either side. Pushing through Tulsa and on to Joplin, we arrived in Joplin tired and hungry. As we arrived the tornado warning sirens were blasting. We parked under the canopy to register but, rather than register, we were herded into the central hallway of the hotel and told that because we were under a tornado warning it would be best to stay in the hallway until the danger passed. They take tornados quite seriously in Joplin, Missouri, especially since the category five tornado that destroyed much of the town only a few years before. Once the danger passed we checked in, went next door to the hotel where there was a 24/7 Waffle House (hardly my first choice) for a light dinner and then back to the hotel where we went to bed.

From Joplin, we had about a 550 mile drive back home. With that in mind, I set my alarm for 6:00 AM so we could leave the hotel and be on the road by around 7:00 AM. At around 6:30 AM we were walking in the hallway toward the complimentary breakfast (which was, of course, included in the room rate) when a tiny, woman with a shock of tightly curled white hair greeted us. “Mornin’,” she said. “Quite a storm last night. But we’re okay…Praise the Lord.” That set me to ponder exactly what she meant when she so flippantly praised the lord. Was she praising the lord selfishly for her personal safety. If this were the case, then her praise is immoral, based only on her personal needs and desires and to hell with everyone else. If, on the other hand, she was praising the lord for the storms, including the tornado in Oklahoma City which killed at least five people according to the news that morning, then her praise for the lord was also immoral when one considers the fact that the storm was deadly as well as destructive to property. It begs the question, what did the people of Oklahoma City do to deserve this devine punishment of multiple tornados even as they were cleaning up from the Moore category five tornado which struck only a few days ago.

Either way, praise for survival when others lost their lives or praise for the occurrence of the tornado itself, the praiser is caught in a trap of immoral praise. Either the god to whom praise is offered is mean and capricious, offering a killer storm to some while saving others from wanton destruction or the praiser herself is acting from selfish relief that she wasn’t harmed by this god for whom she has apparently released her praise on purely selfish terms. It seems that one who insists on praising the lord does so without regard to the consequences suffered by others from the very act of destruction from which one is spared. This is an immoral, unethical act because it is self-centered, contained within the outcome of the self without regard for the outcome of the other. Shame on the woman in the hallway for her selfish response to the tragedy suffered by Oklahoma City residents.

A proper response to such tragic loss and one’s personal escape from the personal impact of that loss is not that of praise, for praise cuts a two-edged path. To the contrary, a proper response would be to consider one’s safety in terms of probability, a statistical calculation having little to do with one’s imaginary friend in the sky. When considering one’s own safety, one might also consider just what one is able to do for those who actually suffered devastating loss. In addition, one could consider one’s own contribution to the climate change that is bringing devastating weather events like category five tornados and super hurricanes to this small, rather insignificant blue ball orbiting a star which, in turn, orbits the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and work to reverse the harm to the planet we call home that we ourselves caused. Praise the Lord but Pass the Ammunition was a slogan that arose from the trenches of WWI. In the final analysis, it may be applicable here.  Go ahead and praise the lord if you must; in the end, it is what you personally do to influence the outcome that counts.

On a final note, an old Jew was praying by the Western Wall in Jerusalem, something he did for the past forty years of his life. He was asked what he was praying for to which he replied, “I pray for peace, for an end to hunger, for the Messiah to come.” The questioner then asked, “Does it help?” To which the old Jew replied, “It’s like talking to a wall.”

Natural Beauty, Humility and Stature: Thinking in Jewish 45

Natural Beauty, Humility and Stature: Thinking in Jewish 45

Natural Beauty, Humility and Stature: Thinking in Jewish 45

Last night at dinner our server, a delightful woman named Amy, and I got to talking about places to visit in order to take in the natural wonders of the Southwestern United States. I think the conversation began when Amy and my wife began comparing ski resorts but it quickly evolved to places we have been. We spoke of the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and Saguaro National Park when I mentioned that I had just checked off Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park from my bucket list. Amy then commented, “It surely makes you feel small, almost insignificant, when you see the beauty of this world. The time it took to carve these magnificent landscapes and the short time we are here to enjoy them.” The only thing she left out of her comment, but it was clearly on the tip of her tongue, was the God which obviously created these landscapes. I don’t mean to put words in her mouth, for she didn’t actually add the bit about God, but I was certain that she didn’t want to offend by making God a central character in the drama of nature.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

To a large extent, her restraint was refreshing. I have been in similar situations where my interlocutor was not so thoughtful nor so humble. More often than not, the fundamentalist Christian response to such a conversation about natural wonders includes the notion that the creator God made this beauty in order to humble mankind, to make us feel insignificant in order to understand the power of the creator. To that I generally respond, “Poppycock!” There is no reason to believe that there is a creator God because of the natural forces that shaped the wonders of our planet. In fact, there are geological explanations that trump the mystic late Bronze and early Iron Age mythologies, no matter whose mythologies one chooses to adapt.

While natural wonders tend to humble the viewer, one does not require a creator God in order to be humbled by the grandeur of the natural world. To the contrary, humility comes from the eons required for a small, rather insignificant, river to carve through layers of stone to create a canyon which one can stand in awe of. The geological forces required to converge to create the canyons and mountains that make us breathe a bit quicker as we stand in their glory (religious terminology need not be exclusive to religious belief) explain a great deal without removing the humbling effect of these natural wonders. Standing on the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, looking nearly straight down on to the Gunnison River some 2,000 feet below, hearing the rush of the water as it continues (albeit more slowly than ever because the dams upstream limit the flow of water through the canyon floor) to carve through layers of rock, is truly something to stand in awe of but not something to attribute to the whims of a creator God. Beauty need not be compromised by failing to understand the science contributing to the creation of these magnificent structures. Amen.

Weathering the Storm…Nine Months Later but Who is Counting

Weathering the Storm...Nine Months Later but Who is Counting

Weathering the Storm…Nine Months Later but Who is Counting

At six-o’clock in the morning on Sunday I am sitting in my hotel room in Kansas City, Missouri listening to the thunder as the tail end of a violent Spring storm passes by. Looking at the weather radar I can see another small cell approaching from the southwest. Last night the weatherman reported that there was a 60% probability that one would be exposed to a violent storm, possibly a tornado during the afternoon hours when I will be in Denver. Lucky me.

All this got me to thinking that I was and always have been lucky. Most recently, when I was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer in September of 2012. What could be lucky about hearing the words, “You have cancer,” you ask? At the time, I didn’t think it so lucky either but then, after all the testing, the poking and prodding, I learned that the tumors were likely (but not positively) encapsulated in my prostate and that surgery would be the most aggressive ‘cure.’ The decision to operate took place in October but, because of the swelling of the prostate due to the needle biopsy, surgery had to wait until late November. That thirty day run-up to surgery was a nervous time, a time in which I thought a lot about my own mortality.

As long time readers know, the surgery was successful, the tumors were, in fact, contained within the prostate; it became clear that life would go on. Of course, I was left with two significant side-effects of prostate surgery. I suffered significant incontinence requiring me to wear diapers for the next five months. As I write this today, I am confident that the incontinence will not be a problem much longer if at all.  This, of course, answered a significant question I had for many years, namely, “Just who would wear Depends for Men anyway?” The surgical procedure was said to be nerve sparing so that sexual functioning would not suffer. Oops, that side-effect remains intact. I think of this as a small price to pay for a long life expectancy; who knows, I’m told this is likely not permanent either.

Since the surgery, however, I have suffered two major setbacks. First, I had a significant urinary tract infection, one that was resistant to many antibiotics, requiring that a permanent line be attached to a vein in my arm for daily injections of some potent antibiotic. While this seemed to do the trick (the infection is gone) I was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure with a kidney function of under 20%. While the reason for this seems to baffle both my internist as well as a kidney specialist I am seeing, the last kidney function test showed a marked improvement in kidney function. The worst seems to be over. Lucky again.

Good, because on Wednesday I will arrive in Las Vegas to play a little poker. While I don’t think of poker as a game of chance, winning always involves a bit of luck as well as a great deal of skill. So, as I go to Las Vegas, I’ll wear the cloak of luck I seem to have been wearing for the past 70 years, one that has allowed me to weather most every storm I have encountered. 

Private Ryan’s Question

Private Ryan's Question

Private Ryan’s Question

Just the other day I saw again the movie Saving Private Ryan. Near the end of the film Captain Miller, dying from a gunshot wound, tells Private Ryan, “Earn it.” At the end of the film we are returned to the beginning where the old man and his family are visiting the military cemetery above the beaches at Normandy. The old man turns out to be Private Ryan. Kneeling at Captain Miller’s grave he turns to his wife and says, “Tell me I’m a good man; that I’ve lived a good life.” While this question tugs at the emotions of the audience, I believe we are left with more questions than answers at the close of this film.

It would seem that Private Ryan carried a great deal of guilt for having survived when his savior dies. The question he asks is rhetorical, requiring no answer, unless, of course, Private Ryan’s life was anything but good. The fact that he had to ask this question of his wife, a person who would likely not tell him the truth if his life had been less than good, makes the question all the more absurd. One knows whether one has lived an ethical life, a life in which one fulfills one’s obligation to the other before thinking of oneself. One knows whether his or her life was earned rather than given simply by the measure of regret one has as time passes.

As I look back on my own life I am satisfied with my contributions to the world in which I live. I have no regrets and were I to drop dead in this very moment I would traverse into the unknown happy, joyous and free. This is not to say that I would do everything exactly the same if I were given the chance to do things over again; to the contrary, each mistake proved to be a tool for change. I learned, sometimes the hard way, that doing the same thing over and over expecting different results did not work for me. Learn from the mistakes, do things differently and one need not ask the question that Private Ryan asked in the end. He would simply know the answer so the question would be left unasked.

In war, as in life in general, events are random yet predictable through applied probabilities. If something can happen it will happen, we just don’t know when or to whom. One can calculate the odds in war as to how many people will die as a result of battles waged as well as how many will survive. While the probabilities do not say exactly which people will live and which will die, in the end the numbers are accurate. The fact that Captain Miller dies and Private Ryan lives to return to Normandy those many years later is a result of randomness and does not suggest any purpose in the two instances, rather, it confirms the very nature of the odds of survival. It is something like this quote from “Nuke” LaLoosh. “This [baseball] is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”

The point is, if you have to ask whether or not you have lived a good life, if you are a good person, chances are the answer is no. Private Ryan asked the wrong question and the audience is left without a resolution.

The Impossibility of Response-Ability?

I have frequently written about the very idea of ethical response-ability; that the foundation of ethical behavior rests on the notion that I make myself available for the welfare of the other (person). In this sense, to be response-able requires the interiority of the self to turn outward to the exteriority of the other, to expose interiority to the existential world in a selfless manner without reservation or expectation of reciprocation. In the ideal world, the world in which ego plays no part, this form of ethical behavior would seem to come naturally. It is, however, a fact that we do not live in a Utopian society. Quite the contrary, the world in which we live is anything but ideal; it is a world in which everything depends on everything, where things are messy and outside of measurable probabilies, quite unpredictable.

Let’s say that you agree with the idea of ethical response-ability, that your intent is to live according to the principles of ethical response-ability and you make yourself available to the other by announcing “Here I AM!” thereby achieving a state of proximity. Now you wait for the call of the other, the cry of response to your “Here I AM!” which, in turn, obligates you to action. It is precisely here where the rubber meets the road. Just what happens when you receive the call, the cry of response? Imagine you are walking in a park near a lagoon when you see someone splashing about in the lagoon crying out for help. You just heard the cry of response to your ethical announcement obligating you to jump into action. Because we do not live in a Utopian world a certain calculus begins to churn in your head. Is there someone closer than I am that can help? I am dressed in my best clothes and on my way to an important meeting? Can I swim well enough to help the person in distress? Am I trained to help the person in distress? What if the person in distress is a criminal attempting to evade capture? Is there an alternative to swimming out to provide aid to the person in distress, a life saving ring, boat, or pole I can use to offer assistance?

Each of the questions above turns the very idea of ethical response-ability on its head. Each question begins with exteriority and turns inward toward the interiority of self rather than beginning with the interiority of self and turning outward to exteriority. The questions are all geared toward notions of ego and self-preservation rather than a selfless act of providing for the benefit of the other (in need) raising the question of whether or not ethical response-ability is, in fact, even possible in a world in which ego and self-preservation are valued over self-sacrifice.

Other questions are also raised in a world in which uncertainty is the norm. Let’s say you were walking by a lagoon and you saw a baby flailing in the water. Without your assistance that baby would surely die. You save the baby however twenty years later that baby takes an AK 47 with several 100 round magazines to a school and murders 50 second and third grade students along with ten of their teachers. Did you do act ethically in saving the baby or would the ethical thing be to allow that baby to drown thereby saving sixty lives? While this is a different question than earlier posed, the problem remains. Is ethical behavior on the part of the self dependent on future bad acts of the other? If this were the case, would any act of ethical response-ability be appropriate?

The point of this post is that in an uncertain world, the very idea of Utopian ethical response-ability may be impossible. On the other hand, there is absolutely no reason that one cannot aspire to the ideals contained within the very standards of response-ability.

With Apologies to Emmanuel Levinas…Otherwise than Being

With Apologies to Emmanuel Levinas...Otherwise than Being

With Apologies to Emmanuel Levinas…Otherwise than Being

When faced with one’s own mortality, no matter whether this mortality is imminent or simply a close encounter, it is only natural to examine what life means and what contributions one may or may not have made to the world exterior to the self. My current bout with prostate cancer is a clear case of a close encounter with my own mortality and this encounter prompted me to explore just what it means to be able to draw breath, from where that ability originates and what contributions I made to the world that I inhabit as a sentient being. In fact, I have reached three basic conclusions:

  1. My being is defined by my being-in-the-world as I encounter other human beings and objects of the world around me.
  2. The so-called gift of life comes as a simple mathematical calculation, the probability of a single sperm uniting with a single ova during or shortly after coitus. A different sperm and I do not exist. The odds of my existence are astronomical, but here I am. To attribute my existence to a deity exercising control over everything is a waste of time unless that deity is, in fact, mathematical probability at work; a concept that leads one to understand the existential world I and you inhabit to be purposeless and absurd.
  3. As a teacher and scholar I have contributed a great deal to the world I inhabit. I am the co-author of a book on teaching writing, I published numerous articles, many of which have been cited by others as they extend the knowledge base about teaching and learning, I presented hundreds of scholarly papers at academic conferences and did so internationally, as a consultant I interacted with teachers and their students to expand their knowledge of teaching writing and, finally, I influenced many of my students to strive for excellence and many of those students are in contact with me to this very day.

In short, I am able to say that my life has made a difference in the world to which I am intimately connected by my very being-in-the-world. In ethical terms I stood (stand) ready to be responsible for the welfare of the other, to share my knowledge and skill with others, to stand ready to answer the call of the other without reservation or expectation of reciprocation. This level of responsibility, while not perfect, is a contributor to the most important aspect of my own lived-experience, that of personal integrity.

In this sense, I am able to honestly report that I am grateful for my cancer. It provided an opportunity to explore, in practical terms, those things that I hold theoretically dear. In the final analysis, it helped me confirm the practicality of those ideas offered as without practical applications. I am even thinking about a book exploring practical aspects of Levinas’s fundamental ethical obligation.

Probability and the Meaning of the Universe

Probability and the Meaning of the Universe

Probability and the Meaning of the Universe

An age old question that human beings have asked since the beginning of our species (not the beginning of time because we weren’t around at the big bang) is what is the purpose of the universe, of life, of anything at all. The underlying assumption is that there must, of necessity, be an entity that decides on said purpose and it is up to us to figure out just what that entity has in mind. The question itself is absurd on many levels but, perhaps, most profoundly on the level that presupposes that one is able to understand the ineffable, the mind of whatever god or gods you attend to. The supposition that there is a purpose to the universe also presupposes that there is a purpose to war, pestilence, famine, hurricanes and tornadoes, earthquakes, disease, love, compassion, empathy, fear, hatred and so on an on we go.

I am an atheist which is to say that there is not enough evidence (other than the pronouncements of sacred textual material such as the Bible, Koran, Upanishads or other texts written by people for people) to justify the existence of an all knowing, all powerful, all loving god. While I am open to changing my mind if the evidence were to prove me wrong in my rational conclusion, in the absence of such evidence I must accept the fact that the universe itself is an absurd construction of human beings. Others on distant planets that have evolved to the point of intelligence may also think they are so important that they must too find meaning in that which we don’t understand.

I find it quite absurd that people think that success is a gift from god while failure is a punishment for sins, real or imagined. That health is a gift from god while disease is a punishment for sins, real or imagined. I rely, not on god or gods rather on the notion of probability. Probability is not luck, good or bad, it just is. If something can happen it will happen. If one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in the course of their lifetime then the odds of my getting prostate cancer are 5 to 1 against. The fact that I have prostate cancer is not a punishment, it is a simple roll of the dice and my number happened to come up. The same thing is true about the fact that I have osteoarthritis, while I don’t know the precise odds, I do know that the probability of my having arthritis was enhanced by the fact that my family has any number of members that have this disease.

Probability is not purpose, it is a simple mathematical calculation that, for the most part, can be done on the back of an envelope, on a napkin in a restaurant; no computer needed. While understanding statistical concepts like central tendency, variance and standard deviation, for example, is a more complex calculation, it is not rocket science (which is also based on mathematical formulas), it is still something that flows from and is dependent on math and math is neutral when it comes to the very notion of purpose.

I am content to know that I experience the world in infinitely brief moments of now, embedding traces of memory that allow me to find meaning in and through the existential moment of existence. I find meaning in my family, my wife, kids, grandchildren, multiple nieces and nephews, and cousins. I find meaning in the worldly relationships I have with my friends, colleagues, and others that roam in and out of my life. As to purpose, well no, I don’t pretend to find an answer to purpose because I don’t think there is such an answer. What I will do is find meaning in my life, try to always do good, and refuse to hate because it is arrogant to think I am so important as to decide that the life of another human being is less worthy than my own.

Back Home After The Doctors Visit

Back Home After The Doctors Visit

Back Home After The Doctors Visit

Making an appointment with one’s urologist on his last day in this office was more interesting than I had ever imagined. For the first time in my memory I was buzzed back to the examining room on time. The efficiency of the staff was at its best. I first was visited by a resident who laid the groundwork for the ultimate visit from my urologist. Blood was drawn, fluid samples left and then some genuine time spent talking about how normal my recovery was up to this very moment. Absolutely nothing unexpected, unheard of, abnormal, or even slightly out of the ordinary. Good news once again. I’ll wait for the PSA results which are expected to be significantly lower than they were before this whole cancer thing began, maybe even undetectable but who knows. More than likely, given the time frame of four-weeks since surgery, a number slightly under 2 can be expected. Four weeks from now, however, a PSA of around 0.1 would be more like expectations. We’ll see. For the moment, however, everything looks quite positive.

As Guy Clark (a Texas singer-songwriter) once wrote,

Nothing lasts forever
Say the old men in the shipyards
Turning trees into shrimp-boats
Hell, I guess they ought to know.

Clark’s words have often been of great comfort to me. Change is a constant; randomness in this world is the grease that lubricates the entire machine. Accept that and the very idea of turning trees into shrimp-boats is something one must not only expect but accept as a rule of living in this world.

In my mind the universe is a very large random number generator, run by probabilities, predictable to a fault but not to the detail of any single individual actor in the play. If something can happen, if something is possible, no matter how small the probability, it will happen. You can absolutely count on that. It may not happen to you but if it is within the realm of possibility it will happen to someone or something. One cannot live in fear of the possible. That is a waste of one’s time and effort and gets you absolutely nowhere other than, just perhaps, causing significant stress, a factor which could actually trigger the unwanted. No, the only rational place to be emotionally is to be in this very moment, a time in which we deposit traces of an existential life and think about our own potential future by creating goals, hopes, and dreams.

Wasting time on the what could be, the what might be, the otherwise than what is wanted, the worst possible outcome without accepting what could be, what might be, the otherwise that what we want, or the worst possible outcome opens the door to negative energy and outcomes to occur. By accepting the worst, the otherwise, the could be, the door is open for us to work positively toward a more positive outcome.

Let me give you an example. After a radical resection of the prostate, even with nerve saving techniques and the steadiest of surgical hands, it is quite likely that one will suffer from some form of urinary incontinence. I know this for an absolute fact. The truth is that it is possible for this condition to be permanent, the worst possible outcome I can think of; the otherwise of desired outcomes. That being said, if this were true in my case, that the worst outcome possible were to occur I would not allow that to interfere with my zest for living. I have accepted that possibility. It would be something I would simply have to get used to. But I am doing everything humanly possible to assure that this outcome doesn’t occur. I do pelvic floor exercises on a regular basis. I left the urology clinic with a new, quite difficult, pelvic floor exercise that I do twice a day, morning and evening. This combination is expected to produce results sometime in the next 11 months, yes 11 months; I have already experienced some positive signs from just doing the pelvic exercises regularly.

So there you have it, accept the worst, work toward the best; it is a combination guaranteed to provide one with a serenity beyond one’s wildest dreams.

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.

Here I Am!

Abstract

Abstract

Sometimes I wonder just how many significant opportunities to escape the mundane, day to day activities of life are offered up in a single lifetime. A group I belong to, one that relies on platitudes to make a point, drills into its membership that one must live life on life’s terms. For the most part, that means accepting the humdrum of a random life, one that offers up both challenges and boredom, and mostly boredom. So perhaps the question of escaping the day to day absurdity of the lived experience is not the goal, rather the challenge is to learn to live with the chores of existence while being open to the challenges that sometimes come along.

Challenges appear without notice. There is no announcement that a challenge will present itself on Wednesday at 7:47 AM so be ready. No, challenges strike randomly from apparently nowhere in particular. They are random occurrences that follow the mathematical laws of probability.  Most challenges sort of creep up on you. Once noticed, they don’t seem to have a point of origin. They are suddenly just there, presenting themselves in a way that causes one to remark, “Where did that come from?” Others present themselves suddenly, without any real warning even when a point of origin can be readily identified. The evening after my bone scan and CAT scan, sitting at the dinner table, when my urologist called and said, “You have prostate cancer,” proved to be one of the latter challenges. Those words were like a glass of cold water being thrown in my face, a wake-up call that, while perhaps anticipated, came as a shock.

Challenges offer one some choices. In the case of my diagnosis of prostate cancer, the choices were quite simple. I could turn inward, sit on the pity pot, sink into a depression or I could choose to become an advocate for life, to turn a theoretical ethics into a practical ethics, to become available for myself and for others. I chose the latter as being the only reasonable approach. I chose to live life on life’s terms. This is not to say that I didn’t make aggressive treatment choices, I did. A prostatectomy is major surgery even when done robotically. I chose this approach because it provided the best possibility for a long-term “cure,” although I don’t believe there is ever a “cure” for cancer, only a set of survival statistics, probabilities, percentages. If I understand my own mortality statistics, there is a 15% probability that I will die as a result of prostate cancer in the next ten years. Certainly nothing to go into a grand funk over. After all, I am 69 years old and I would think that I have around a 15% chance of dying from anything over the next ten years.

What this challenge has provided for me is something that I could not have anticipated, the ability to turn my humdrum lived-experience into an ethical one. This is not to say that daily living will not still be filled with routine, be commonplace, rather it means that I am always already present for the other. Here I Am! does not mean that sudden changes will occur in my life. To the contrary, I am creating proximate space that may or may not be addressed by the other (person) but the moment it is, the moment I hear the call of the other (person) I must act for the benefit of the other (person)…period. I see this ‘calling’ to be concentrated on benefiting prostate cancer patients but it is not limited to that sphere of influence. To be truly ethical it must not have walls to contain the effort. So, once again, Here I Am! I stand at the ready in proximity simply waiting to be called.

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