A Piñata Mind
Whacking the Piñata
In November, 2002 I wrote a book at the urging of friends who are authors and media executives about my life changes following an alarming diagnosis of potentially fatal prostate cancer in December, 2001. I subsequently had prostate surgery in April 2002. While not cured, I now will try to manage the cancer as a chronic disease the remainder of my life via, well, a lot of work.
This is an updated version of the first book (titled Niches of Clarity at Gunflint.
And, by the way, that's a dog atop my head on the cover; not an aura. Read on to discover why.) The new title reflects the conscious journey I've pursued since writing the first book to examine how I came to be so cavalier, lazy and foolish about my own physical and mental health. This evolving blog "manuscript" reports on that journey.
What I’ve discovered – shockingly to me – is that I’m far from unique in believing prior to my diagnosis that I was a savvy “modern man”. Once I started whacking at my piñata mind while writing the first book, and since, I’ve become more attuned to what I hear and sense about how other men I meet are living their lives. Many are on a path to disaster and don’t know it, and won’t acknowledge it when challenged.
Has my examination of the attitudes and behaviors fueling my life – and my peering into the piñata minds of other men – led me to become an evangelist for any of the men’s movements, for devout Christian beliefs or for New-Ageism? No. Absolutely not. I’m all for those whose individual quests lead them down these paths, but picking one and become a nutcase about it being the one-and-only way is not for me. Why? For the simple reason that most of these paths have organizations behind them, and I don’t like trying to wedge myself into structured places. I like to dabble, and I like to think that my dabbling has yeilded a lot of benefit for me that perhaps can get other guys to perhaps dabble."The human mind is kind of like a piñata. When it breaks open, there's lots of surprises inside. Once you get the piñata perspective, you see that losing your mind can be a peak experience."
Trudy, The Bag Lady, a Lily Tomlin character in The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe.
Deborah Beaulieu, 1952-2005
The world of lifestyle magazine publishing, my career for three decades, lost a legend in Deborah Beaulieu in April at age 52 to ovarian cancer. While this site is aimed at men taking more control of their health, often with women's help, I hope any women viewers of this site will read this posting and sit back and ask: Have I done everything recently for monitoring my own health? Do I ask my doctors for all the tests?; No, do I insist my doctors do the tests that they say are unnecessary?
To learn more about Deborah and her career, click this Link to our LivingHome Web site.
Despite the promise of regular updates, this blogger has let more than five weeks pass since the last posting. This is not uncommon for the blogging world, where participants often are pulled away from their "hobby" forums for more pressing projects. In the case of this blog, I slowed the postings (but hope to get back in the groove of regularity soon) because of a need to slow the mind and get recentered around the health of the body when medical news, for me, and for other treasured friends, delivered recent jolts.
May: The promise of calm
Quick post this week as I prepare to travel. I saw the movie The Upside of Anger
with Joan Allen and Kevin Costner on DVD. If you do read deeper into this journal, you'll discover that replacing a tendency to get angry with being exuberant with life was a path I followed to better health. A stunning line near the end of this movie by a teenage girl about the upside once the flame of anger is extinguished is that the feeling you are left with has "the promise of calm."
March: Jim Owens, a compassionate fighter
If you want to see the personification of the word "resolve" you need to meet my new friend of one week, the amazing Jim Owens. For nearly two hours last week Jim and I shared our stories. For him, he's in the midst of his third reoccurence of brain cancer with many unanswered questions, yet he still took time to listen to my story of stable health. Jim has been one of Lance Armstrong's fellow cyclists on the Bristol-Myers Squibb Tour of Hope, and he is raising money for cancer research via other rides and events. Not only did Jim exude his quiet resolve at winning once again, he was one of the most compassionate listeners I've encountered in a long time. Please pop over and visit him at his Jim's Journey Web site,
and make a contribution to his fund.
March: Being compassionate
When a chance encounter changes you forever, the word “chance” must be replaced with something like “synchronous”. Throughout this journal I talk about the books I read and men’s health author friends that were vital to my dabbling in many alternatives for health. My chance encounter this week was meeting author Marc Ian Barasch and then reading only 30 pages of his new book Field Notes on the Compassionate Life : A Search for the Soul of Kindness.
I’m now convinced that this is probably the most important book that any man with a newly diagnosed disease could read. Why? After all, it’s not about “self”, it’s about compassion for others.
My reason for urging you to consider reading this book is this: I see too many men shutting down old friendships when facing trauma, and too many supposedly old, fast friends abandoning guys at the same time. Both quicken the progression of whatever is wrong.
So, how can men deepen old friendships and expand new friendships to then soak up the healing beams from others? Instead of asking others to hear your sob story, why not go marching out to others and beam them the kindness, the empathy, the listening ear, and yes, the passionate compassion you would expect to receive. Ask others to tell you their stories of hurt. Sit quietly and let them be buoyed, through breathing in the bad as they speak, and exhaling some relief as their stories unfold. If they then ask you for your story, tell it. If they don’t, no matter. You’ve already gotten the benefit.continued at the end of this journal. scroll to the end to read...
March: I me mine
Note: Blogs demand updating, and although this blog is a journal of a now three year journey, I don't expect you to wade through history to get the updates. This is the first of weekly updates to the quest chronicled herein. I'll attempt to post these updates such that you need little context from the broader story. Kim Garretson
"Coming on strong all the time, All thru' the day I me mine." The Beatles.
A friend last week gave me a jolt when she commented on my story: "You shouldn't call it 'my cancer'. It's not yours." It was such a jolt, I had to have her repeat this. Why? Because I realized that for three years I had given cancer a place on the shelf that defined me. I did a quick search of this entire site and sure enough, there are three references to "my remaining cancer".
I asked a healer named Jon MacRae whom I'm seeing about the concept of considering cancer, even though it spawns from my cellular structure, as an alien that I needn't consider in my possession. Jon said that Buddhism, a doctrine I've yet to dabble in, holds that the "material" body and the elements therein can be separated by a balance of mind and body. Later in the week another friend and college classmate gave me a poem titled The Guest House
by Rumi. This piece suggests that you treat honorably any uninvited guests in the "being human", even if they are "a crowd of sorrows". Why? The poet says these guests could be "clearing you out for some new delight" and that "each has been sent as a guide from beyond". What do you think? I'd like to hear your comments.
Highway 61 Then; Highway 62 Now
"Do you know where I can get rid of these things?…Yes, I think it can be easily done. Just take everything down to Highway 61."
The metaphor of two highways for my recent journey and my new one is right there in front of me to use. (I'm sorry if it's also a bit of a groaner.) I got rid of things on Highway 61, and now I'm replacing them with things picked up along the road where I now live in Edina, Minnesota: Highway 62.
The chapters that follow are labeled Then or Now, indicating when they were written. The Then's
are from my first book written in 2002 off of Highway 61 near Dylan's birthplace in Northern Minnesota. Chapters labeled Now
recount my quest over the last six months in search of reconnectedness to the good people and memories that got shunted off the track of a healthy mind, body and spirit by the detritus of daily life.
Now: January, 2005 and A Bolt of Energy
It's been three years since my diagnosis and two years since I wrote the first version of this book. In the story that follows, I'll ask you to tag along for quick tales about the many paths I've been taking. I sought and soaked up Christian prayer, although I don't believe in Christianity. I set aside skepticism and cavalier attitudes to dabble in what I previously thought of as New Age hooey. I became a nut about loving a dog. And more. And, you know what, here I sit in 2005 and the simple clarity of connectedness in all of this just hit me: It's all about some sort of energy.
Uh oh, you might be thinking: "Hooey!". I certainly thought this about anything unexplainable in this realm for many years. But I've been rocked by something for three years now, and energy is the best word I can conjure to describe it. So, I suggest that you consider the concept of energy from all around, energy inside you and others, and perhaps energy from divine forces when reading these chapters. And then ask yourself about the concept of tapping energy sources like this for your own benefit. I've actually seen this energy. A master of the revered Chinese medical practice of Qi Gong, Chunyi Lin, recently showed me how to see the energy beaming from my fingertips, and even how to get the mind to give that energy its marching orders.
A friend wrote me long ago: "I didn’t develop the toughies for nothing. They make sure I am firmly planted on the ground, even when I’m far away." I've twisted these funny words into a new metaphor for my journey. They say it all about connectedness. Stand tough while sifting through the cacophonous energy whirling about to find the rewarding beams. If you have any "far away" distance of head and heart, pull those energy forces together and become centered. But have big shoulders in this task, because there will be thumping leading to slumping along the way. This is my quest.
Briefly, here are highlights from the 20 months since publication of the first book:
• My health is stable. I get Lupron shots that shut down testosterone four times a year because this hormone fuels prostate cancer cells. During times of stress my cancer cell activity spikes, so I’ve become a rabid pursuer of a stress free life. This is one of the reasons I find myself back in the corporate world rather than the brain-boiling world of new media entrepreneurs. The noticeable side effect of Lupron is a propensity for hot flashes. I've turned these burning moments into a joke at Best Buy, where I work with an amazing team of much younger colleagues. When I sit there flushed and sweating I tell them I'm dreaming of knitting. The longterm side effect of Lupron therapy is osteoporosis. This is why I continue to tread down both the paths of traditional medicine and those trodden by other cultures in search of a way to kill my remaining cancer.
• Friends and media colleagues urged me to do more with themes from my first book, so I established the non-profit MansGland Campaign.
It's an experiment to see if trying to make the prostate funny via PG-13 funny pictures and a comedy call-in phone service can help with a basic problem in men’s health, especially for men under 50 who are years away from the dangerous prostate health years. The problem is ignorance of the function of the prostate. The campaign has received extensive national publicity, and rewardingly, other non-profits are adopting our materials for their own campaigns. Next, I'm expecting a national ad agency and university health communications research institute to take over the idea for a professional campaign.
• The campaign also has stirred debate – which is good. For example, a prominent financier starting a media company said that only fear would work in approaching men about prostate health. A retired advertising executive said that only very simple and straightforward key messages would work. I couldn’t disagree with both chaps more. But again, if my experiments spur this kind of debate among audiences, this is progress.
• I don't like the notion behind the phrase "publicity hound". However, in my campaign work, it's clear the media today is focused on "reality", and is seeking sources who will speak from the heart about guy issues. Recently (Jan. 2005), both the Los Angles Times and Time magazine have profiled and pictured me about parts of my quest. The Times piece even includes an embarrassing 3-column "Richard Avedon" style photo of me and my dog Morrie. And last year, two syndicated features on the campaign ran in more than 300 newspapers. As a result, I've started to get calls from strangers, mostly women asking me to talk to their husbands who are newly diagnosed with prostate cancer. I'm happy to make these calls. They range from frustrating with men clearly curled up inside their cement skulls, to uplifting when I talk to men who are eager to soak up my advice about hanging it all out there and trying everything.
With the publicity, loose strands from the past are becoming retied. An episcopal priest I had long ago lost touch with preached a sermon on the 25th anniversary of his ordination and talked about his friend Kim Garretson throwing a big party with a belly dancer that day. Then he went to a cafe, flipped open a magazine, and I reappeared. Other long lost friends also have begun reappearing in my email box.
• Speaking of strangers, I did question myself when starting this new version about why strangers might read a book -- in this initial online "blog" format -- about another stranger. That question actually forms the experiment around this site. If you visit my Emerging Media Audiences site,
you'll learn why blogs intrigue me (more below). Since blogs are rather new, and often are just journals of strangers' daily lives, I decided to experiment with a twist on daily journaling: repurposing a previously told story via a published book with constant updates as I set about on some of the quests I promised to take in the book. After all, as author Lillian Hellman said: "Nothing you write, if you hope to be good, will ever come out as you first hoped." Early results are encouraging. When I lead guys to this manuscript my only advice is to simply read it as a primer for opening the mind and trying a lot of things while also working on treasuring the right things, current and past. So far, this audience seems receptive to this mission herein.
Also, in my strategic development role at Best Buy, we are exploring related themes to what you'll find here, the increasing "connectedness" of people via technology. We're calling it The Connected Life.
• As a 30-year veteran of the media industry, from all sides including editorial, advertising, public relations and new media, I have begun to track and experiment with trends pointing to future problems for media companies in terms of attracting and keeping profitable audiences. These audiences increasingly are connected via technology to personal networks of friends, family and colleagues. And within these networks, the creation and sharing of information is beginning to supplant time normally spent consuming media companies’ products. That could quicken an alarming trend: men who don't read enough media content about their own health.
• Perhaps some solutions to these problems will come from innovations at journalism schools. I've started to work with students and faculty at the University of Minnesota, Northwestern's Medill school and my alma mater, the University of Missouri on audience trends. In fact, with the University of Missouri, I'm researching a book about the decade ahead for the media industry, with my class of 1973 as the focus.
• As you'll read throughout this book, when you go out and seek connectedness, prepare to be stunned. For instance, I only recently learned that at the place where I got a "D" in my first writing class, the University of Missouri, the luminary dean of the J-school, Dean Mills, and his wonderful wife Sue, are from my tiny, rural hometown of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. We recently compared notes on the influence of six teachers we all had in common in high school. As I've been talking to friends, old and new, about connectedness, sometimes the word "coincidence" creeps into the conversation. I used to buy that concept. Now I don't. Here's what Arthur Koestler had to say: "Coincidences are puns of destiny...two strings of thought are tangled into one acoustic knot...two strings of events are knitted together by invisible hands."
But, whoa there, you might think? Upfront I promised to be a Regular Guy who is not going to go blathery on you about wacko stuff, so I will occasionally prod my own words. I had to chuckle at all my connectedness content herein when reading a review of a fellow Minnesotan's work by writer April Fleming in the Kansas City alternative weekly newspaper Pitch: "Some may find this presentation a little heavy on the lovey, interconnectedness stuff, but it's less invasive than a ginger-root enema, albeit likely to prompt a few patchouli-tinged hugs."
I began my first book in 2002 with the following...
I count my story remarkable for its unremakableness. What do I mean by this? The people in this story just happened to be my family, friends, doctors and healers. Sure, my doctors Utz, Zincke and Gaynor, my healer Jon MacRae and author Denis Boyles all have spent careers dealing with guys’ health issues. But they were the exception. Most of the ordinary people I write about here have rallied around others in peril before, as your friends and family would do if you faced a fatal illness. And when I say that I have taken indelible benefit from even the tiniest moments of concern and support from others, I’m probably echoing most others in similar situations. So, when I add up the unremarkable happenstances, to me the result is remarkable. That means I believe almost anyone else could follow a similar, easy path with their trauma and likely come out way ahead.
I still don’t believe I did much to wage my battle with prostate cancer other than to simply open myself up to let others wage it for me. The niches they occupied in their fight for me took many forms. For instance, just hearing the words “Oh, Man” spoken over the phone. Or a note arriving in the mail and sparking a new perspective on events of 20 years past.
I had the first of many ‘niches’ of clarity about what I’ve been through on a six hour drive in November, 2002 to a narrow lake bordering Canada and a secluded retreat called the Gunflint Lodge, founded in 1927, the year of my father’s birth. I was in the parking lot of all places, a Subway restaurant in Two Harbors. It was very brief, but it reminded me of so many moments over the previous year since my diagnosis. But moments are fleeting; niches is the better word because it conveys the permanence of memories and their take-aways. And I simply don’t like the word epiphany. Too high falutin’.
My niche of clarity was as simple as taking a breath in the Subway parking lot. With four hours of driving behind me and anticipation of my hermitage weekend, I was in a state of relaxation similar to what some healing hands had done to me in recent months. And that first conscious breath felt so good. I took another. And another.
Then I wheeled the car backwards out of the parking place and found my car on one side of local-boy Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 facing not 20 feet away the spindly gates of Lakeview Cemetery. With a chuckle, I cranked the wheel left onto Highway 61, and thought of Dylan..."Do you know where I can get rid of these things?…Yes, I think it can be easily done. Just take everything down to Highway 61."
I’ve still not brought myself to read a book or article by a prostate cancer survivor. Not until I know I’m as close to cured as possible. So with no models to guide me, allow me to explain how I am attempting to find my ‘center’ and reconnect puzzles pieces of the past.
My healer, Jon MacRae, prescribed this vision quest for finding the center of who I am to be from now on, and I knew that a tent in the woods, as Jon probably imagined, wasn’t the prescription for this fellow.
I’m going to start with the questions for myself. So, how have I changed after learning a year ago that I had advanced, aggressive prostate cancer? How do I feel that I could get access to Mayo Clinic and its top surgeons, about the only people in the country doing surgery on cases as advanced as mine? How do I feel about meeting the healer Jon MacRae who sent me on this quest?
And finally, why are many of the people you’ll read about in this book actually not as much in my sphere of life anymore, at least right now?
Let me sum up the answer to this question with one of my ‘bolts of clarity’ in recent times. My friends knew me pre-surgery as always having time for everyone. I don’t really watch TV anymore, but I happened to be clicking through the channels recently, and something made me stop on Bill Moyers’ NOW. He was talking to a woman poet about poetry. He said something like: “I’d like you to read my favorite of yours. I kept it on this piece of paper in my wallet when I was recovering from heart surgery and when people expected me to be the same person I was before surgery.” The poem is “The Art of Disappearing” by Naomi Shihab Nye. To protect her copyright, I urge you to search for the full poem on the Internet, but here is a selection with advice for those who, as my healer Jon MacRae says, "have not figured out how to get centered."
“When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second. Then decide what to do with your time.” Here is a link to the Moyer's interview and the full poem.
Yes, for the most part since my surgery, I've been a cabbage as I work on shedding the crap from crappy people and getting recentered around who and what are important, now and from the past. So when I emerge from cabbageness, I know I will be back seeking -- maybe selfishly -- to reconnect with beams from some folks. I have to at least try, even if I come off as some wacko hanging out near the cabbage bin in the grocery store.
For those readers who might have trouble following my random and rambling, non-sequential order in the stories in this journey, here are the basics:
1. December 27th, 2001. Diagnosis of cancer too advanced for surgery at most leading clinical hospitals by Dr. Bill Utz in Minneapolis, with a prescribed five to seven months of drug therapy for tumor shrinking to be followed by surgery.
2. Late January, 2002. Second opinion confirming diagnosis by Dr. Horst Zincke at Mayo Clinic, with the urging that the surgery occur before five to seven months to reduce the risk of cancer spreading to the bones and brain.
3. Valentine’s Day, 2002. Appointment with oncologist Dr. Mitch Gaynor in New York with a prescription to begin taking 23 nutritional supplements, alter my diet to eliminate most fat and begin practicing guided imagery meditation.
4. Late February and March. Visits to a healing hands practitioner, Jon MacRae.
5. April 12th, 2002. Radical prostatectomy performed by Dr. Zincke at Mayo Clinic.
6. July and October, 2002. Post-surgery visits to Dr. Utz with news that while I’m not cured and will have a chronic disease the remainder of my life, I have outcomes from surgery that are in Utz’s words, ‘miracles.”
Late in 2004 I did emerge from cabbageness. Triggers included the loss of my father to cancer, and the discovery in dusty old boxes in his basement of letters, photos and other reminders that before I "tumble any second" I need to rejigger some puzzle pieces.
Three of my favorite authors have advice for me in this quest. Lillian Hellman said: "People change and forget to tell each other." Oscar Levant said: "Happiness isn’t something you experience; it’s something you remember."
And lastly, my favorite Garrison Keillor monologue is titled D.J.
Keillor relates the story of a young man who went to college to become a writer and ended up acquiring permanent, richly textured memories he never forgot about a brief encounter with a young woman. For instance, he imprinted every detail of a one room second floor apartment. Garrison says we only have so much room for permanent memories and it's ironic that many of these morsels take their place in the piñata mind in youth. "What do you do with a permanent memory?", Garrison implores, almost in a whisper. Then he brightens and says: "Well, you treasure it. That's what you do...We need these things to keep us warm..."
I'm not talking about "yearning" around my dusting off this rickety old memory sled. Yearning to recapture a past that is way past recapturing. I'm talking about the solace of simply keeping the puzzle pieces in place versus scattered about or lost under the sofa.
Now: A quick aside for guys under 50
If you've been led to this site by our national men's health nonprofit, the MansGland Campaign, and you have a bit of curiosity about your own health, please read on. If you're a viewer here from other emerging media experiments, while the following quick chapter is preachy, I invite you to scan it. Or skip it.
Gentlemen, I hope you don’t have prostate cancer and never will. If you do, this book isn’t going to shove on you too many scary details about what’s going on with your little walnut-sized gland – and what the medical profession wants to do to you and it. There’s plenty of that material in other books, articles and the Web.
First though, back to those who don’t think they have it. If you have never had a blood test for the Prostate Specific Antigen, or PSA, listen closely. Also, if you assume your doctor includes the PSA in your blood tests during physicals, I’m sorry, but you’re a fool like I was.
So, put down this book and call for an appointment for a PSA test if:
1. You’re over 40 and you think you have to pee more often than your buddies.
2. You’re 49 or older.
When you call or visit your doctor, if they try to talk you out of the PSA test for any reason, don't let them. You need to know something, versus knowing nothing.
Am I angry that some docs don't do enough PSA tests? Yes. Am I completely informed about the debate over the PSA test? No. But since I am now missing my prosperous gland, I choose not to wallow in the muck around this topic. A PSA test is a cancer alert. A doc’s finger up your ass is, as I discovered, very unreliable in the hands of a doofus.
If you’re a woman reading this, also put down this book. Go find a guy, any guy, yours or a stranger. Carefully remove the TV remote control from his hand and click off the tube. Take an object – like a book -- and give him a pretty good whomp on the forehead. Then say: “Now that I’ve got your attention, we are going to make an appointment for a PSA test now, and you’re going to keep it.”
Am I making this suggestion because I subscribe to the popular poke-fun-at-men’s-ignorance media culture? Several men’s organizations have taken me to task with this accusation. My answer: I could give a whit about what you think. I personally needed whomping. I almost died. I’m allowed to promote whomping.
You may have read about many of the famous guys who are now glandless, as you'll read later in a chapter called 1-800, many of them were whomped by a woman before they got themselves to a doctor.
Now, about the stories that follow. My hope is that although they recount personal actions and encounters on my path to trying to survive, perhaps you'll be more motivated to do the following:
Reach out to all of your family and friends and ask them to help. Be open-minded and adventurous about every suggestion and offer. One strong personal recommendation is to love a dog for its healing power. And take this circumstance to seriously start acting healthier in your diet, exercise, stress levels, mental baggage and so on. There. That’s it.
Then: On the Gunflint Trail, November 2002
For those readers who count themselves as “regular guys”, what’s your reaction when I tell you that need to go on a Vision Quest after successfully battling a disease, or going through a trauma like a divorce or loss of a loved one? Are you thinking I’m some wacky New-Ager who wants you to go dance around in the woods and chant? Or, some evangelical Christian who wants you to go on a vow-of-silence retreat to a monastery and talk to Jesus? I’m neither.
I’m simply urging you to find a place to escape for three or four days where you can shut out as much of your life as possible and just think about how whatever happened to you is the best damn excuse ever for changing yourself for the better.
In my case, six months after surgery, I chose the Gunflint Lodge to fulfill a request by my healer Jon MacRae that I escape to do some work via quiet reflection about what I had been through.
My quest was to take me a cabin on a narrow lake off the famous Gunflint Trail in Northern Minnesota with Canada 500 yards away on the other shore of the lake. And the Gunflint Lodge, known for its food, was hosting the Hibernating & Feasting Weekend. Hibernating referred to the added service of delivering breakfast and lunch to your cabin.
The following is what I first wrote on November 1, 2002:
Here I am on morning one having just finished a breakfast of fresh fried walleye with homemade tartar sauce, scrambled eggs with wild rice and Monterrey Jack, and a slab of hash browns. (The hard work of writing justifies an occasional fall from the grace of a low-fat, cancer-fighting diet.)
Now shield your mind’s eye because I sit here shirtless with my stomach fuzz just beginning to fully cover my eight-inch scar extending from my navel to the netherland. The fireplace beside me is finally crackling after this lapsed boy scout cursed it for 30 minutes. And with me? Atop the dining table I pushed over next to me and under the window looking out to the lake, is a three-foot round dog bed covered with an old flannel sheet. And holding court in the middle of it is a 15-pound silky white dog, Morrie. But Morrie doesn't like to stay long on his bed. Instead he is climbing atop my head to get a better view out the window and to woof and scratch at the squirrels scampering by inches away and the birds dive bombing and bonking the glass. When he's on my head, I have to resist the urge to get up and leave this writing, so in essence he's keeping me on task.
Arriving here at the Gunflint Lodge in the afternoon yesterday, I did plunk myself into this chair and spent nearly six hours pounding out a bucket of words that seemed at the time to be the beginning of this book. Reading perhaps half of this work earlier this morning, I didn't hesitate to highlight the stuff and hit the delete key. The words were so obviously oozing from the head rather than flowing from the heart.
Can I hit the heart this weekend? I don't know, but allow me try.
Then: Her Questions
Men, if you have both a wife and an illness or are dealing with a trauma, then your wife has a big job to do to keep you on course and honest in your belief you can successfully battle your monsters.
My wife, Carla, steered and veered me through my journey with compassion, love and humor.
You’ll obviously get the same from your wife. But the most important job she can perform is for you to let her ask all – well most – of the questions.
Consider the benefits of my wife's questions. My very organized case manager got a binder in place, did the Web surfing and ordered and read the right books. Then she hovered over the doctors like a cobra dancing before its prey. “Ah ha! Just when you think I’m done with my questions. Here’s another one.” Although I never saw it from the docs, I’m sure she had them squirming.
Carla’s questions – of anyone she could ask – led us to a healer named Jon MacRae, and put us on a wheel of pursuits that yielded other pay dirt. I discovered how to boost the immune system with extracts of mushrooms and other odd concoctions. I started listening to people banging on Tibetan metal bowls, with amazing results. In short, she created a job for me: the seeking of answers to stave off paralysis. When Holly Hunter tells Albert Brooks in the movie Broadcast News
that she feels empty, Brooks says: "It's like you know the best part of your life is over, and you don't want to get up and start the bad part." Carla got me up, and damn if it wasn't the bad part I found, just a different part.
My wife read intently, wrote down questions and answers, talked to friends I didn’t feel like talking to, and kept my two children centered on their lives with her demeanor.
Again men, it's quite simple. You need to open yourself to your wife's skills as an investigator in tough times. Whatever you do, do not construct and hide behind a curtain of quiet, cavalier maleness.
Then: My Kids
All parents naturally tell themselves – and sometimes others – that they have absolutely outstanding children. But I suspect rarely is this supposition put to a truer test than with a parent’s health crisis or other personal trauma.
When I think about the equal, but very different, support and comfort I received from my two kids, and put their two roles together, I simply can’t imagine having any kind of good outcome without them.
I’m nervous about what I write here because I know they are still young and developing their egos. And nothing is more vital to a child than trying to determine their pecking order in the love from their parents. I’m afraid that whatever I write, whenever either of them reads this, they’ll look for that order. So, I’ll come right out and tell them here on this page: you each were equal pillars propping up your weak old dad and making him stronger.
When my (now 19-year-old) son Mark finds his gift in the future, many people are going to benefit from this young man. Whereas my (now 15-year-old) daughter Jessie has a psychic gift, my son has the gift of intuition about people’s cares and pains like no one I’ve ever met.
My daughter inherited my passion for creative pursuits, but where her quiet ‘center’ of knowing comes from, I do not know. I just know we are peas in a pod.
My son’s gift – when applied to my situation -- for a time was a curse on him as other things swirled about in the complicated life of a 16-year old boy. He could intuit that my wife and I were on edge, but he couldn’t get the truth out of us. For one thing, we really never knew the truth to share with him.
Where my son’s gift shone, and where he felt less helpless, was post-surgery for the two weeks I had to wear the catheter. Sleeping was a problem. You have a dangling rubber hose that needs to connect to a 12-inch round collection bag at night with the bag beside the bed resting in a wastebasket because of how bloated it becomes. There are Velcro straps, and other stuff to manage all this. And add to that the wings. Two little two-inch wide plastic squeeze bulbs somehow attached to each side of your belly button area with drainage tubes extending into your body at a depth I still don’t even want to think about. The fluid collecting in the bulbs is another topic needing no description.
My son, with his gift of invention, figured out this Rube Goldberg apparatus in relation to how I liked to sleep and he did his job admirably each night in equipping and positioning me for bed.
Now my daughter, when I look at her and listen to her create a story or hatch an idea, I see myself at the same age. Creativity. That’s what life is about. Have no fear. Care not about anything negative, or any possible less than ideal scenario.
What gave me strength in my daughter was her unspoken optimism at the core of her being. I could tell from her face, her expressions and words, and even the thought of her when not around: She knows something. She said little and asked little throughout. But what I knew was that this child was prescient and had already concluded that I would emerge with an excellent outcome.
I have marveled at some of Jessie’s flashes of a psychic gift. Once outside my childhood home in Iowa, an 8-year-old Jessie suddenly ran over and hugged me in fear because of a feeling when glancing at the house across the street of ‘dead people.’ And this was before the movie The Sixth Sense
. She was right. There had been two deaths of the mother and father of the girl who lived there.
Many friends have told similar stories of psychic flashes by their kids around this same age, a time when a child emerges from the bonds of parents and begins to learn the lessons of living in our culture. Unfortunately, those life lessons teach our youngsters to snuff notions that they can sense the unseen. I only wish
that there was theory and practice of nurturing a gift like Jessie’s. What there is in this realm mostly seems to come from the wackido world.
I still take a lot of comfort from memories that Jessie knew better than anyone what was to come. She didn’t realize it, or verbalize it. She just knew.
Then: A Dog
I’ll admit it. I’m a nutcase about a dog. My (now four-year-old) dog Morrie is a Havanese, or a Havana Silk Dog, Just recognized by the AKC in 1999, this ‘national dog of Cuba’ first came to the US with the Cuban refugees in 1958, but it took many years for the small breeding community in Miami to spread the delight of what has been called: “The Sweetest of the Companion Dogs.”
If you do not have a dog, get one. If you have a cat – or like cats better than dogs – well I’ll begrudgingly accept that at least you have an animal for its healing beams.
As I was editing this chapter, I read the book The Healing Power of Pets.
The first page I turned to had this passage: “The powerful effect a pet has in breaking the downward spiral of cancer patients is something Dr. Edward Creagan, oncology professor the Mayo Medical School, has seen repeatedly in his own practice. He’s…a strong believer in the ability of pets to ameliorate the devastating emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis.” The book goes on to say that Creagan even records the pet’s name on a patient’s chart and always chats about the pet during visits. He said the patient opens up with such passion to the topic that he can see the healing power.
My over-the-top nutty actions around my little guy Morrie, who was there with me in the hospital (read on) and never left the top of my head (keep reading) during my recovery at home, recently exposed itself when I drove an hour and a half each way to Morrie’s breeder’s house. Why? There was a puppy open house for viewing eight new Havanese puppies. And I wanted to show off Morrie to all of the aspiring Havanese owners who would be there.
So, how was Morrie with me in the hospital? The amazing Chris Conyers and my wife plotted to have Chris, a graphic designer in Des Moines, blow up a photo of Morrie, mount it to foam core and cut out its outline so it would be life-size representation. My inventor son Mark suggested wheels which was the crowing touch. And ‘Flat Morrie’ was even adorned with an actual engraved dog tag with well wishes. Flat Morrie appeared in my hospital room the evening after surgery while I was still in the fog. He sat on a shelf at the foot of my bed.
And Morrie atop my head? Pre-surgery, anticipating what I was told was going to be a six- to nine week recovery, I went bargain shopping for a chair like Frazier’s dad. I found it at Cort Rental Clearance. An ugly brown recliner on the tilt from a broken leg complete with cigarette burn holes. $40. My father fixed the leg when I was in the hospital, so it was ready for my recovery. And even though Morrie, who grooves on sitting up high to look out a window (like he did at Gunflint), had a perfect perch atop another nearby chair during my recovery, he insisted on jumping gingerly, mountain goat style, onto the narrow perilous top of my recliner. And the only way he could stay there, facing a nosedive to the floor with a sudden movement by me, was to rest his hind end on top of my head.
Ever since those days, MoMo and I have a healing morning routine. When he senses me stirring while waking, he creeps up onto my chest, plants his face a couple of inches from mine, and beams a bunch of good stuff right at me.
Now: A Dog Year
During the latter half of 2004 I read a book that was at once devastating and joyous. It was A Dog Year
by author Jon Katz. It contains my favorite book dedication: "To my wife Paula, who loves dogs. But not this much."
Reading this book prompted me to take an action that marketing executives reviewing my MansGland Campaign had long suggested: tackling the topic of prostate cancer, not just the basic function of the prostate. I doubt that any of these executives figured I would tackle the topic of prostate cancer focused on the love of dogs as therapy for cancer patients. But, research from the University of Missouri shows that petting a dog positively affects serotonin levels to an equal or greater degree than many drugs. Although in an early beta stage, see what’s developing in this experiment at a site with the odd name of Pups N' Prostates.
Every quest needs an anthem, so whatever quest you face, I suggest you find yours.
Me? I still don’t know what made me make a special trip to Best Buy the night before the trip to Gunflint to buy a Neil Young album. Long an admirer, but never an owner of a Young album, I knew only the Harvest album by name. But this night before my trip I just knew I wanted some Neil Young. Part of my admiration stemmed from a memorable evening I’d spent with Neil’s uncle Bob many years ago when I was auto editor at Better Homes and Gardens and Bob headed PR for Chrysler Canada. Bob spent the evening spinning yarns about the whole Young clan, all musicians, and weekend gatherings to just play music. So every time I saw Neil on TV or heard a song, I smiled at how cool that must have been. By the way, after Bob Young told all the stories, he went to the piano in the hotel bar and spent another two hours playing and singing every request, even Neil Young songs, with amazing talent and skill.
So, thumbing through the Neil Young selections I instantly stopped on the title Passionate
and something said: "This is the one." Something else said: "Didn't you read a review about this album months ago and told yourself then to buy it?"
The first bars of Mr. Disappointment
on track two told me this was my anthem. Even though this is a song of lost love, it hits me over the head with every line about losing my good qualities over the years from laziness, the workaday world and demands as a parent. I still cringe at the memory of my wife once exhorting me after hours on a weekend with some work project saying: “Your son is up there doing nothing in the family room. He needs you to be a parent. Just go do something with him.”
I’ve now listened to Neil repeatedly for hours here at Gunflint, and all the other CDs remain unplayed.
I won’t copy the lyrics of Mr. Disappointment
, but I will supply a snippet: “I’m takin the blame myself for livin life in a shell. But now I’m breakin’ out…I’d like to shake your hand, Disappointment. Looks like you win again, but this time might be the last.”
Then: Care & Prayer
While you’ll learn later that I do not trust most doctors now, I firmly believe that everyone needs to keep searching for a doctor whom you trust unequivocally when fighting a disease.
I found mine in Dr. Bill Utz. Dr. Utz dropped the biggest disappointment on me on the worst day of 2001, December 27. That’s when we got data from the biopsy and scans. Nine days earlier, going only on my PSA score of 159 (it should have been about a 2) and what he had felt via a digital exam, he was pessimistic.
Me? A cliché applies best, so I’ll use it: "This couldn’t be happening to me."
Utz was one of the ‘Top Doctors’ in the Twin Cites as selected by fellow doctors for Minneapolis St. Paul
magazine. I first saw him on December 20, following the call from my general practitioner about my high PSA. Utz did a digital exam, shook his head in concern, and my wife Carla fainted, becoming the patient instead of me. A nurse was dispatched to get a Coke to give her a sugar fix and she returned to the upright position.
Now it was the end of the worst day a week later, and Carla and I with friends Mary Melbo and John Witek sat in Utz’s office. We should have been a lot more stressed were it not for Nancy Ness.
The four of us had waited silently in Utz’s waiting room for nearly an hour to get the news about whether my cancer had spread to the bones, when his office manager Nancy Ness, the wife of Dave Ness, a work colleague of Carla’s, came out and sat beside Carla. With a nonchalant manner, she simply said: “Your bone scans were negative.”
Mary, John, Carla and I are all in agreement: the sound we made simultaneously added up to one big YELP.
The day before, grim faced and looming over me while finishing the biopsy, Utz had said he didn’t like what he saw and he suspected widespread cancer into the bones. (next destination for prostate cancer after the bones: the brain)
Now, at least, that grim possibility was behind us.
“I can’t cure you,” Utz told me when the four of us finally sat in his office that day, “At least not yet. But what I’m going to propose is somewhat radical. I’m going to give you a testosterone-blocking drug to shrink the tumor over the next five to seven months and then we’re going to do surgery.”
Carla and I, and Mary and John, himself a physician, looked at each other and had the same thought: That doesn’t sound radical at all; that sounds logical and reasonable.
Then Utz provided insight into the American medical community. Utz himself had trained at Mayo Clinic with his father who headed urology there. A little over 10 years ago Mayo began performing radical protatectomies on patients with cancer that had broken outside the ‘capsule’ of the prostate, a radical departure from conventional medicine at the time. And Mayo’s 10-year data indicated that these patients as a group did better than patients who previously merely received testosterone-blocking drugs or other therapies, with patients and doctors doing practically nothing else but keeping fingers crossed. This practice is called "watchful waiting", and it sounded mind-ripping to me.
We listened, and then Carla asked the obvious question: So why doesn’t every surgeon do this now? With professional courtesy, Utz described the influence of the Johns Hopkins clinic in Maryland. It long had ranked in higher stature than Mayo for urology, but its surgeons did not perform many surgeries on advanced cancer patients like me. In fact, Hopkins performed 25 percent the number of surgeries each year as Mayo. So, we left very comforted with the fact that Mayo had developed over 10 years outcome data on more than probably 12,000 patients with all stages of prostate cancer.
As we were wrapping up this session, with Carla gulping her Coke to stay sugared and faint-free, Utz turned to her, looked her in the eye with a laser-focus and said: “Carla, listen to me. He is not going anywhere. Let me say it again. He…is…NOT…going anywhere.”
I got a shot of testosterone blocking Lupron that day and I started to try to visualize the walnut sized prostate shriveling up.
Thus began the struggle over the certain impending surgery. A couple of weeks after the diagnosis, Carla said: “You know how much we admire Mayo Clinic for fixing my first bad hip replacement. And you know your father is going to insist that you go there for a second opinion.”
We asked Dr. Utz on the next visit refer us to the best of his colleagues at Mayo. He immediately said that would be Dr. Hans Zincke, one of his mentors, and the surgeon there known best for aggressively dealing with the most advanced cases.
In the end, we selected Zincke and the Mayo Clinic for surgery for two reasons, one the place and our family history there and, two, a comment made by one of Zincke’s residents, Dr. D’Angelo. “One thing about this place. We do so many cases here, there are never any surprises.”
An uneasiness about telling Dr. Utz we’d selected Dr. Zincke for surgery turned out to be silly. Utz immediately embraced our decision. He also concurred with Zincke that we shouldn’t wait his initial call for five to seven months of drug-triggered tumor shrinking.
A story unrelated to my case confirms my admiration for Dr. Bill Utz. I was visiting longtime friend Jeff Heegaard in his office and dropping the shock of my diagnosis on him for the first time in early 2002. When Jeff asked me who my doctor was and I told him Bill Utz, I’ll never forget the look on his face: it was the most affirming, confidence building flash of expression I’d ever seen. “You’ve got the right guy,” Jeff said. Turns out his father-in-law, John Hartwell, was one of only about 100 cases a year of an especially virulent form of prostate cancer and Bill Utz was the reason the family said the outcome was so outstanding, and this despite the fact that Bill didn’t do the surgery. He sent Jeff’s father in law to MD Anderson in Houston to a surgeon who had done similar cases. Jeff related a story that Bill later also told me about the entire family and Bill praying together in Bill’s empty waiting room at the end of the day after he had first relayed the bad news. Bill also told me later: There is truly some divine intervention in that family because that fellow should not still be here.
Jeff also told me the story of he and his father, a physician, retreating to a restaurant after being told Jeff’s mother would probably not pull out of a sudden disease. Jeff and his dad, deciding the only thing to do to fill their time before returning to the hospital for the inevitable, was to pray. And, upon returning, Jeff’s mother began to come out of her horrible condition and within days was fully recovered.
I never asked Dr. Utz to pray for me, but I suspect he did. And it helped. And the truest words I’ve spoken in the last year, other than to my wife and kids, I said to Bill Utz: “I’m really glad you’re my doctor.”
I write this on December 18, 2004: I am still deeply saddened by today's funeral of Jeff Heegaard’s father-in-law, John Hartwell. John died at age 75 on December 13th, four years after being told by Bill Utz that he might have three months to live.
Then: Great Hands
While you need a caregiving doctor you trust inherently, when it comes to a surgeon, you just need great hands.
Dr. Horst Zincke, the German-trained surgeon who operated on me, spent only 15 minutes with me prior to surgery. Obviously world-class and world-renowned, Zincke didn't practice a warm ‘bedside manner’. He was all business. He merely had to look at test results, do his own digital exam, and he knew instantly the course of action he’d follow.
Carla, armed with white binder and printouts from the Web, even a video script where Zincke was the on-camera expert, tried to begin her questions with Zincke. But he was gone in a flash, and we had resident Dr. D’Angelo to field the questions.
I only saw Zincke once more. When he shook my hand over the operating table before I was put out, I said something stupid: “I feel ready.” Zincke probably thought: ”I don’t care how you feel. I’m splitting you open now and going deep to get the bastard out.”
Carla talked to Zincke immediately following surgery, when he was already dressed in a suit and heading for the airport on a business trip. And again, this was a five-minute "just the facts m’amm" encounter.
I'm still amused thinking two scenarios. When we showed Utz the list of 23 nutritional supplements that oncologist Dr. Mitch Gaynor prescribed in February, 2002, a couple of months before surgery, his only comment was: “Don’t show this to Dr. Zincke. He’s been known to simply get up and walk out on patients who talk about alternative therapies.”
Also amusing is the thought of Zincke spotting at my bedside post-surgery a colorful folded cloth filled with little sticks and stones. “What’s that?” Zincke would ask. “Oh that’s my medicine bag from my shaman healer who came down from the mountaintops of South America,” I’d reply.
Most of us now have families widely distributed around the country and globe. That’s why friends are so vital to any journey with despair. But I think you must find one close family member to be, by proxy, the collective care giver for everyone else in the family.
For me, it was my father. And the first words I uttered to him on the phone call in late 2001 were hard to get out: “Dad, now it’s not as bad as it sounds, but I have prostate cancer.” I could hear – and feel – the energy and air going out of Keith Garretson, the strongest man I’ve ever known. His only words were “oh, no” before I jumped in to reassure him with the facts that I should be OK. After about a minute of this, he simply said, the tears felt through the phone, “I have to call you back.”
Throughout my journey I was constantly comforted by the fact that my Dad had emerged unscathed from a health trauma when I was a teenager. But this was a stinging memory of my Dad suffering through kidney stones. Etched indelibly is the sight of him in the shower for the little relief of warm water while he bawled like a baby at the pain prior to his procedure. And the other memory is of his description of the rigid stainless steel tube and grabber that went up there and broke up his stuck kidney stone.
I took the most strength from my Dad and this story during a pre-surgery visit to Mayo clinic where – despite assurances to the contrary – I was going to face a cystoscopy, a fancy name for invading the inside of my bladder with a scope for a little look around. I remember stoop-shouldered shuddering at this impending procedure while trying to chuckle about the absurdity of someone tip toeing through my bladder.
1944 to 2004 & the decade ahead
Throughout my Dad's life, and especially near the end in August, 2004, he frequently told the story of his most richly textured permanent memory from youth: a month spent camping with buddies the summer after high school. The year was 1944, and I imagine that this life-defining month ended in late August that year, almost precisely 60 years before my Dad died.
That summer, many friends already had shipped out to the War, and that's where these friends were heading soon. I was amazed that my Dad remembered details such as who visited their campground for what kind of revelry, the girlfriends who came and made omelets for them over the campfire, and more. (Keith is the handsome lad in the middle of this photo.)
This story rattled me after Dad's death on August 29, 2004. Why was this simple event so pivotal to his life? In seeking the answer, I began to form the impetus for this new journal version of my first book and my quest to reconnect.
That I had to lost my treasured 77-year old father to an 18-month battle with lymphoma was wicked irony. Cancer had been virtually unknown in our family prior to my diagnosis. Now, my Dad's lymph system tumors had snuffed -- actually brutally squeezed -- the life out of such an amazing man a mere two years after surgery saved my life.
While I pursued the best of traditional medicine and alternatives you’ll read about later, my father’s condition really was never helped via traditional medicine, the only path he followed. His supposedly top notch doctors seemed to ignore the cause of his disease – an immune system deficiency – and instead simply blasted away at his symptoms with chemotherapy. This was a horrid and painful way to putz around with the inevitable.
With the loss of my Dad, the "cabbageness" began to melt away. I began to emerge from a narrow focus on only the vital people and activities in my life today to a reexamination of what about my past should be dusted off and made whole as a healing technique.
Following a celebration of my Dad's life in October, 2004 at the hand-hewn A-Frame cabin near Mt. Pleasant, Iowa that he and his lifelong friends built 40 years ago, one of my high school classmates came up to me quietly, gave me a hug and whispered in my ear: "You are just like him." With that simple gesture, I thought about my Dad's passion for being the fulcrum of connectedness with vital persons in his life: his blood relatives, his high school chums, Navy buddies, business colleagues, and even his kids' friends, old and new. He asked me frequently if I was still in touch with people he remembered fondly from my college days. And he fretted endlessly in recent years about how to preserve more than 3,000 emails from hundreds of folks.
When my classmate walked away, I stood there musing over this notion. Then I squinted my eyes in the fall sunshine and peered down the length of the luminous forest meadow surrounding the cabin. The setting was the near-sacred Garretson farm, which is Iowa's oldest farm continuously owned by the same family. I imagined this same spot 175 years ago, when old Quakers with names like Isaiah strode about. The calm jolt that emerged was this: I knew that my quest of recentering and reconnectedness was far more important than just to stave off rouge cancer cells.
In November, I trekked to my Dad's favorite place, which is now my place: his cabin at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. It's too clichéd for me to write that I felt his presence there. What I did feel is that by retreating to this secluded (and empty) place during fall weekends while going to college nearby -- with a companion or two -- I certainly developed a centeredness coming out of college that I wouldn't have gotten from on-campus weekend revelries.
It was on this trip to Missouri that I was invited to the Missouri Journalism School's Walter Williams Society dinner. And this is when I first met the J-School dean, Dean Mills and his wife Sue, also from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. I discovered that Dean's family farm is a mere seven miles from the Garretson homestead. At the same dinner, a reunion with classmates got me thinking about the book I'm now researching about my classmates of 30 years back and their views on the next 10 years for the media and related industries. Through a reconnectedness with classmates, I believe we collectively can add a fresh voice to the debate about the next decade.
I admit to some nervousness about this project. I don't want to touch any nerve endings arising from the decades of disconnectedness -- or from pain points in lives and careers. I'm trying to send the message that even if someone declines to participate, there is still benefit in merely learning about our collective and individual perspectives on what's ahead. And I'm not talking about just profiling success. I've spoken to a half dozen classmates so far, and received puzzling silence from others. I imagine there are any number of reasons for this. I just hope the silly reasons are sorted out from the good reasons.
Then: Healing Glass
The following W.H. Auden lines are inscribed on his stone at Westminster Abbey: “In the deserts of the heart / Let the healing fountains start.”
Instead of traditional healing fountains, Mayo Clinic, where I had my surgery, now has healing glass. Thirteen huge glass chandeliers created by the amazing artist Dale Chihuly now hang in the new Gonda building there. It was impressive to me gazing at these swirling globules that something like glass could have the same calming effect as water.
While this book is mostly about how other people can help you fight a disease or get through a trauma, I still want to say that the mere knowledge that I was at Mayo Clinic gave me a lot of comfort and confidence to help my mental state. As you’ll read below, when I contrast what the feeling of place gave me from Mayo Clinic versus my diagnostic tests at the crappy Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina, MN, I’m certain that believing in your place of treatment or healing (such as a church) is essential to a good outcome. If you have any doubts about your physical surroundings when tackling something tough, I suggest you walk. And find another place.
Mayo Clinic exudes ‘world-class’ but doesn’t wear it on its sleeve. Garrison Keillor said it best in Time magazine. He wrote that because Mayo is both a world-draw and a clinic for local residents, you’ll likely see some exotic shrouded 12th wife of a Middle Eastern poohbah sitting next to Ole and Lena from Podunk Minnesota.
I remember the 90-mile trip to Rochester the day before surgery in April, 2002. I was listening to the Sounds of Healing guided imagery meditation CD continuously, but I remember thinking about and yes, actually feeling, the buzz of worldwide mental effort honing in on me. Many of the people I write about in this book had asked for my schedule this day and the next morning of the surgery so they could direct and intensify their own praying. Also, I took solace in the fact that I knew I was on dozens of prayer lists across the country, and I even had a European contingent rallying for me. I knew that friends who didn’t practice prayer were sending their own kind of vibes my way. Jon MacRae had told me he was going to call on his own mystical wonderments on my behalf.
My few memories of surgery start with the prep room. It’s massive, because with 40 operating suites at Methodist Hospital, there were 40 flat slabs of poor souls laid out on gurneys flanking the side of the rooms with at least five or six staffers for each patient scurrying about. It’s no wonder you’re treated wonderfully, but childlike, due to these crowded conditions. Whenever new attendants arrive at your side for a step in the prep process, they look at your wristband and then ask you to state your name and the procedure you’re having.
The prep room scene could have easily been a movie set from an old film like Soyvent Green or The Matrix about evil bio-engineering.
On the gurney ride to surgery, only two things stick out. I had my portable CD player on my chest listening to Dr. Mitch Gaynor’s guided imagery CD, and as I traveled down the hallway, a passing doctor pointed to it and said: “That’s a good idea.” And the hallway. Think about a single hallway with 20 large operating rooms down each side. Imagine how long that hallway has to be. I don’t know about others, but you read stories about near-death and ‘going to the light.’ Well, that hallway was so long, that its end was merely a distant glow of light. In retrospect, I’m glad I had no thoughts of ‘going towards the light’ at that moment.
My next memory? I was back in the recovery room with my wife and friends Mary and John. The next morning, Jessie and Mark showed up, and I treasure their first expressions. I could see a mix of relief with a quizzical, slightly worried look at the apparatus surrounding me. My dad and his wife had brought them, and it was good to have the six of us gathered round. Count that seven, because on the wall shelf past the foot of my bed was flat Morrie. And the kids took great delight in being in on this plan to get the dog into the hospital.
To conclude my Mayo tales, I have to comment on my nursing care and my roommate. The nursing care was so exemplary that I wrote a four page letter to the nurses as my first act upon returning home. I have such admiration for that profession now. I was just one of a bunch of sad prostateless guys with white spindly legs sticking out of flimsy robes strolling their catheter coat racks down the hall. We were but a handful of the 1,400 guys a year losing prostates each year at Mayo. But all my nurses on every shift treated me with compassion, humor and patience. And every one was always quick to boost my spirits by saying that the next day would be a big step forward in feeling better.
A cautionary note to regular guys: Despite eschewing New Ageism at the start of this book, I am going to skate across a favorite concept of many New Agers here. I suggest you learn about the zones of your body, called Chakras, in relation to your life and health. Among the books I read coming out of cabbageness was Anatomy of the Spirit
, in which author Caroline Myss talks about psychological damage to persons inflicted by other people showing up as immune-system deficient disease in the Chakras, such as the second and first chakras that encompass the sex organs, including the prostate.
Why should you care? Because it's easy to point to bad diet, a lack of exercise, and even laxity in staying stress-free mentally as the likely cause of disease. But I now believe you must consider longterm persistent psychic battering by outside forces too.
I'm convinced about the damage of allowing longterm Chakra battering to go unchecked when I recount the story of my roommate in the hospital in 2002, name now forgotten. He most definitely was a victim of Chakra abuse by his wife. He was a 53-year dentist from small town Illinois. He gave a memorable answer when I inquired about how he was feeling: “I guess I feel OK, but I’m missing my prosperous gland.”
The chap’s bitchy wife obviously had slapped the poor soul's Chakras around for many years. I don’t even recall her beef with him, but here he was on day two following this major surgery, and there she was, knowing full well I was there behind a curtain, and she was lighting into the guy: “You’re 53 years old, and if you can’t do it yourself, and you think I’m going to do it, and blah, blah, blah.” I left the hospital thinking: "I hope this dentist puts her in the dental chair someday and performs some Chakra therapy on her flapping maw."
With this story, do I blame the wife. Absolutely not. This guy should have skedaddled a very long time ago. I'll borrow part of a quote from Jay Cocks in Time magazine in 1984 here: (First, insert any phrase about negative outside forces like "just sitting back and taking it", and then read:)...is not only a good way to go crazy but also a pretty good place to hide out from hard truth."
If you’re a Christian, I hope you are taking full advantage of the help and strength of others in your congregation, and other Christians in your life. If you’re not a Christian, you know what? You’ll find plenty of them standing ready to help you when you are in peril at the drop of a hat. Seek it and soak up their beams. Please.
Christianity had been of no importance to me since purposely flunking confirmation classes in the Episcopal Church at 13. Even today, I am an avid proponent of Jesus Christ as perhaps the luckiest prophet of his time in his tiny part of the world. That the tradition of storytelling carried his tales to the first novelists several hundred years later and that these novels gave meaning to quests for power among some peoples is merely historical happenstance.
Yet, while this is what I believe about Christianity, I grant that I could be wrong, and that Christians really are the chosen ones to know the only true path to the unknown.
The power of prayer, as practiced by Christians (and other peoples throughout the globe) is another matter entirely.
In recent years before my diagnosis, I’d noticed that some of my best friends and favorite people were embracing various Christian faiths and activities with more vigor. My friend Smith McClure really got serious and active after having the stroke of luck to have his lung cancer discovered by accident, then surgery six weeks later, followed by a good outcome. Smith is firm in his convictions that prayer to Jesus Christ, by himself and others, led to this outcome.
Pat Weas, a colleague even when he was a young PR guy in Milwaukee, then a friend and booster of my various start-ups while he was rising in the ad agency world, never talked much about his faith, but I knew it was strong. Steve Becker, one of the gurus of Twin Cities advertising, and a former colleague of Pat’s, liked to talk about his faith and activities such as his prayer group that helped people who were sick.
While noshing with each of these chaps they all made the offer to pray with me. So, the yenta in me said: Hey, why not a group session? Smitty volunteered a conference room at his downtown office, and the date was set a week before surgery.. Pat invited a friend who’d been through my upcoming surgery, but he couldn’t make it. I invited another friend, Jim Frey, who also worked downtown, and we gathered as if we were going to have a business meeting. We spent a half hour with each of these gents telling stories about their faith, such as Steve talking about miracles and successes from his prayer group. Then Steve, said: “Let’s pray with you Kim. I brought some oil to anoint you, and you simply sit back in your chair.”
Steve drew a cross of oil on my forehead and he and the three others gathered round and placed their hands on me. I closed my eyes and leaned back in the chair.
Then they chanted. And within a minute they hit an amazing vibe. Only Pat and Steve had done this type of praying together before. But it was incredible to hear these guys imploring Jesus to work miracles on me. One would start a plea, and another would finish it, or pick up its theme and go to new places in their groove. Improv Praying. How cool? Me? I felt it. The calm. The energy of their caring, faith and conviction through their hands on me. It made a difference in my outcome. No doubt.
Men, unless you’ve grown up a hermit, you have some very longstanding and very close male friends who would do anything for you. Right? They’d probably rally around you without asking if you were sick or going through a trauma. Right? So, why not ask them for help to get more support sooner? Go for it. I'm afraid too many men never ask.
Me? When I think about the chaps I’m going to write about below, I imagine a figurative bookshelf and on it are volumes for each of these guys. When I needed a dose of a particular kind of friend-therapy, I’d pull the right volume off the shelf. Meaning I’d call that guy. Or, when the phone rang, I’d wonder which book was going to open in my mind.
These guys occupied niches in my healing that they never realized. One was for pure stupid humor. One was for thoughtful examination of things like the power of prayer. Another kept me up to date on my industry and contacts I had to abandon for the fight. Still another was amazed I had started to seek answers to spiritual questions I’d never asked before, but that he had been asking for years.
And then there was one particular friend I avoided for dumb reasons with detrimental results for us both. What follows are a few of the stories of the guys who helped me.
It was an hour-long call from Italy, and when it was over, I felt humbled about my problem and lifted out of my funk. Denis Boyles talked about moving his family half way around the world to Italy so he could make trips to Albania. Risking life and limb, he was committed to writing a book about how the clergy of a minority religion in the country was taking on the impossible to rebuild the basic infrastructure of a modern society – because no one else in the country or global community was stepping forward.
Blessed is not a common word in my vocabulary because to me it’s so ‘Christian.’ But I feel blessed to know Denis Boyles. Carla scolds me for my slovenly ways and sloppy manners by holding out the example of Denis, and she’s never even met him. She’s only read his books and columns, especially the ones pleading with guys to return to civility. I first showed her Denis’s work when I gave her his December, 1997, Life’s Little Lessons column from Men’s Health magazine. I’m merely lifting snippets here, but listen to Denis’s advice:
“By simply affecting the artifices of civility, you can cut to the front of the line…In a culture in which those most elevated are often those most vulgar, everybody’ll admire you for your civility. The basic elements (are good manners)….the main thing about manners is that they aren’t so much a set of rules as a way of behaving so you make as many people comfortable as possible. All you need to know, I swear (includes)…Be quiet and don’t interrupt; Show deference to women and those older than you; Smile from time to time. (So), if you really want to stand out in this mayhem (modern civilization)….elegance – which is what you get if you wear your manners on your sleeve – is your ticket.”
One of my first thoughts after my diagnosis was a story Denis told me in 1996 about being one of the founders of Men’s Health magazine. “Yea,” he said, “We knew guys didn’t want to read articles about their prostates (having no idea what a prostate was, it was still very funny.) He continued: “Instead of writing about failing eyesight as men age, we wrote about – and illustrated – how much harder it would be to hit Sandy Kofax’s curveball at age 45 as opposed to age 25.”
No one can put today’s guys’ jumbled up feelings and lives into words like Denis Boyles. Author of books and articles that are at once hilarious, that request the return to civility and are a helpful guidebook (like A Man's Life
), Denis was constantly in my thoughts, even though we only spoke a few times leading up to and through surgery.
And Denis passed on his interest in old men’s pulp magazines to me, so that became one of several pursuits via the Internet during long days leading up and after surgery. With apologies to the long-gone creators of these fantasies for what guys could be back then, I also began playing around with altering old magazine covers to suit my whims. So, when I needed to take a break from writing this document, I started to search and peruse pulp magazine cover galleries on the Web. Lacking the graphic design and software skills to just create new titles in similar old type faces to found cover art, I had to scramble the letters of title words already there to construct new titles and phrases.
I would never have acknowledged and basked in wonder at all the Christian prayer directed my way were it not for Denis. He told me at great length about scientific studies proving prayers’ power. He told of a local parish priest in rural Pennsylvania where he lives about ready to pack up and go to Rome to die until the parishioners said: No way, we’re going to cure you with prayer. And they did.
Denis urged me to read the book The Way of a Pilgrim
. It’s a classic work of Russian spirituality about a pilgrim who wanders the country trying to answer the question about why someone should pray constantly. I’ve not read J.D. Salinger’s Franny & Zooey
since college, but Pilgrim is the book Franny clutches throughout that tale.
Denis is one of people I regretted most about becoming a ‘cabbage’ after surgery.
Then: Surfer Dude
Channing Dawson is perhaps the coolest guy I know. I remember asking someone at a trade show more than 20 years ago: “Who’s the guy in the biscuit-colored linen suit with the blonde/gray long hair?” (not my real words of course). That’s Channing Dawson, editor of HOME magazine in LA. Oh, and he's a surfer too. “Wow,” I thought, “To be named Channing, and look like that, and carry himself like that. I could never reach that status, Iowa boy that I am.”
I didn’t meet Channing at that first event. I can’t remember when Chan and I actually first met. Probably through our mutual friend Bill Crosby when Bill was at Sunset magazine. But Channing and I became fast friends after he ended up as one of the television industry's leading emerging media gurus at Scripps Television Networks where I was consulting.
Putting his good reputation on the line, Channing took a flyer on my start-up Internet professional services publishing firm by agreeing to partner with our company for the launch of LivingHome.com in 1995, a project that won us the first ever interactive marketing award in the advertising industry's premier competition.
It was Channing who insisted during my recap call with him a few weeks after surgery that I write this first book.
In January, 2002, with surgery 10 weeks away, Channing and his wife Whitney hosted me for a dinner in Atlanta at a place way too tragically hip for this old fogy. There was practically no talk about cancer at this dinner, especially after Chan made sure the wine kept flowing. But I never forget the glow – and no it wasn’t just the wine – leaving that dinner and knowing that I had some of the coolest friends in the world supporting me.
Having worked in most areas of marketing communications, I liked public relations the least. When I had to do PR for my own creation, the Hometime Weekend Home Projects CD-ROM, in 1993, I wasn’t very good at it, even though I had just finished eight years as a partner in a large PR firm. Late that year, I flew seven hours to and from San Francisco in one day to have an hour-long meeting with Bill Crosby at Sunset magazine about my title. It was the first time we’d met. And, I don’t know about Bill, but I left the meeting knowing this guy would become a great friend.
We stayed in very close touch through my journey because he was at the start-up Improvenet.com, thanks to my recommendation to the founder, trying like a lot of us to be one of the rare winners in the dotcom craze. And our running joke leading up to and after surgery was that what I was going through was all about ‘devices.’
I’m still not sure if Bill has ever been to Mitchell Brothers in San Francisco, dubbed by Playboy magazine as ‘one of the top men’s clubs in the country.’ But Bill was a constant jokester about my stories of having visited there twice. (To all concerned: my visits were for observation only.) Bill took great delight in my Midwestern amazement that patrons of Mitchell Brothers could actually pay to occupy various booths and then select from what looked like a gangster’s ‘violin’ case various devices for the female staffers to use in probing their own anatomy. Other items on the menu included lap dances.
While describing the various devices that probed me, like the nasty biopsy gun, or the scope for inside the bladder, Bill took great delight in joining me in amazement that I was now a ‘probee’ and not an wide-eyed Midwesterner watching the probing.An update:
Lucky for me, best friends Channing Dawson and Bill Crosby are now colleagues at Scripps Networks in Knoxville, TN. Scripps owns Home & Garden Television and other cable networks. And their work and mine in emerging media audiences are intersecting, so despite their distance, we remain in close contact.
Then: The Seeker
I think I’ve driven 20-year-friend David Mitchell nuts with my tales (related below) of enlightenment from Jon MacRae’s healing hands and his years on the mountaintops of South America. David is the most passionate seeker among my male friends.
What did David do when I told him of lightening bolts and sun spots at the hands of Jon MacRae? He went to see Jon. And he didn't see lightening bolts. But, with no disease to trigger the bolts of healing energy and his years of reading and meditating about similar unanswerable alternative paths, I think David was trying too hard. My advice to him was to pick up his sax, and find his center via jazz.
By the way, David, retired several years after selling his Inc. 500 computer services company, is so big-hearted that he calls high schools and says something like: thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, my jazz combo is available for a workshop at your school. Then he pays his band mates for these gigs.
Then: He Feels It Too
If my various tests and scores like the PSA test could have all been crammed into a spreadsheet for enlightening what-if scenarios, Mark Kuipers would have been the guy to do it. Mark is one of preeminent direct response marketing minds in the country (think magazine ads for Nordic Track, Select Comfort beds, and many other products).
When I think back to all the phone conversations I had with Mark pre- and post surgery, the groaning utterance “Oh, Man” rings in my ears. With mere words spoken over the phone line, Mark was joining me in pain and, unknowingly, he was pulling some of the burden off me in the process.
Mark also didn’t know it at the time, but his stories about his selfish abandonment of wife and family in the pursuit of fly fishing nirvana -- necessary for his mental health -- struck a cord. I know I tucked away the desire to escape similarly. And when I trekked to Gunflint I felt less guilty.
Mark, a friend for nearly 20 years, hunted down through his work a little known research service by a California based hospital. With the Internet having the habit of dumping too much unfiltered information in your lap, this group used expert medical librarians to sift through books, the Web, etc. and deliver customers a custom portfolio of data. After a brief interview with the researcher about my case, within a couple of weeks my portfolio arrived.
At the time, I thumbed through this stuff – and visited various Web sites – but each time I kept telling myself: When I’m cured I want to read this stuff. Reading too much of this material made me more confused and concerned. I know Carla, who did a ton of reading, mentioned several times her frustration at wading through a flood of information when she realized there probably wasn’t much actionable in it to change any course in our actions. Instead, she often just became more confused because of all the statistics and therapies for all the variations found among prostate cancer cases. And, since we didn’t know the specifics on my cancer pre-surgery, it was frustrating trying to relate much of the data to me.
I’m not suggesting that you avoid the Web in pursuit of answers to ease your traumas. But simply put in its place by accepting its shortcomings.
Then: My Anonymous Compatriot
In addition to my guy friends I've written about, there is another chap to mention. I’ve never asked this anonymous friend why he is keeping secret his prostate cancer and surgery from his and his wife’s family and most friends and work colleagues. He only revealed his story to me, and reluctantly at that, when he happened to call in the fall of 2002 after being out of touch for a couple of years. We're good enough friends that I can tell him he's being a bit of a baby in staying so silent.
As an attorney with a Washington, DC Federal agency, he was lucky to live near and have access to one of the top hospitals in the country for prostate cancer, Johns Hopkins. As mentioned before, Johns Hopkins turns away many cases as advanced as mine. But, while my friend’s cancer was less advanced than mine, since surgery he has had to go through radiation after a blip up in his PSA.
As friends of 20-years plus, we were former musketeers in rather stupid behavior for guys in their 20’s. We even once entered a car in a demolition derby at the Iowa State Fair. He drove, got disabled early, but still climbed atop his smoldering heap and thrust his helmet in the air in triumph – a lifelong mental picture for me.
Now we could laugh about our mutual predicament. We reminisced about the past when we actually had testosterone coursing through our veins. We got a lot of chuckles out of sharing stories of hot flashes at work from our Lupron shots. We both sit in conference rooms with unknowing colleagues and wipe our brows while being embarrassed about looking flushed.
But I’m not happy about my friend planting the worry of ‘man boobs’ in my mind. Until he laughingly said one day that he worried about growing man boobs as a side effect of Lupron’s testosterone blocking, I’ve never heard that this could happen. So now I’m fairly regularly checking these protuberances. And thinking about the Seinfeld episode where George’s father benefits from Kramer’s invention of the Man Bra.
So, in honoring his request for anonymity, I still have to wonder if this secrecy is good medicine for my friend. The whole point of this book is to encourage you to get any story you have to tell -- of distress or not -- out there in a wider circle. Don't shut out old friends who just want to want to say hello because you can't bear the thought of sharing, well, whatever it is.
To conclude my tales of the support of male friends, this is story not so much about reaching out to friends for their support and help, but instead unconsciously (well, maybe not completely) not reaching out. Michael Yap (a.k.a. Chino; meet him at Chino.com) is to my mind one of the country’s most brilliant and creative software programmers. I’ve been a business partner of Chino’s in the past and his work then and since always amazes everyone he touches. Chino also has been over the years one of the few friends where I consciously would tell myself every couple of months: “Slow down with all the crap of the day-to-day and find a time to just go hang out with Chino in his basement studio.” I knew these would be rewarding sessions.
But here’s where it gets painful to say: I never called Chino once after my diagnosis and even failed to return a couple of voicemails from him asking about my disappearance.
The reason is obvious to me, and totally selfish. Chino lost his wonderful wife Pam to breast cancer the year before, and I simply couldn’t face going over there when my own cancer was so all consuming. I just couldn’t imagine sitting with Chino and either pretending it wasn’t top of mind with other banter, or actually telling him the latest on my case. And damn it, we both probably would have benefited from me doing that. I know Chino would have had the words to help me.
But there’s another reason. Chino and Pam’s little Bichon, Max, was Pam’s ‘Morrie’, her constant companion. And Morrie’s breed, Havanese, is a ‘cousin’ to the Bichon Frise breed. After Pam’s death, this poor little creature wandered the house in a slow gait day-by-day, shoulders slumped, head down, either looking for Pam or simply showing his deep-seated depression.
Yet, Chino held him so dear because of his obvious connection to Pam. And, one day when I was over, Chino suddenly straightened and said, “Where’s Max?”, sensing something was amiss. He bolted up the basement stairs only to find that the door leading outside was ajar, stuck on a rug. And Max was gone.
For the first time in Max’s 10-plus years, he had wandered off, obviously looking for Pam. Panic ensued. There was a very busy street only half a block away. Chino and his two staffers spread out on foot through the neighborhood. I jumped in my car to drive up and down the many streets, feeling so dreadful about the prospect of Chino losing Max and so helpless in a neighborhood of curving, hilly streets with lots choked with trees and brush.
It took 45 minutes to find Max about three blocks away.
Only now as I write this do I realize that I felt so guilty about this incident, because I could have been the visitor who left the door ajar. An update:
Sadly, I must report that the Bichon Max has now had to be put down during the summer of 2004. And I’m urging Chino with my full powers of persuasion to find another canine companion.
Now: The Virgin Sex Slaves of Arabia’s Whip-Mad Sheik
What’s your hobby? Whatever it is, I urge you to find excuses to pursue it with more passion and more time. You can make the time because by shedding the ancillary people and their requests for time and favors, for a more centered soaking-up-of-good-beams life.
In 2002, during long days with Morrie to take my mind off my journey, I spent a lot of time with a software program for manipulating digital photos. I’ve long desired to be a graphic designer, not just a writer, and this software let me feel like I was honing my chops as a designer. Of course, this really wasn’t the case, because I simply don’t have the eye or the software skills to create like real designers.
Learning this software led me to manipulate the old pulp magazine covers and movie posters for my first book and then my non-profit, the MansGland Campaign. And my search through online galleries of old magazine covers and posters provided me with great insights into what made guy’s psyches pulsate in the past. And surprisingly to me, it was a pretty easy stretch to transfer the terrors of old as depicted in magazines and movies into the terrors surrounding what I consider today’s men's health crisis: apathy to men's health media and cavalier inertia and fear about doing right by oneself.
In the 30’s and early 40’s, the pulp magazine terrors were monsters and other assorted hooligans, including a lot of Fu-Manchu-mustachioed alien invaders from the Far East. Most often these nasty characters put damsels in distress, so that manly heroics could save the day. Sex as a topic was taboo, but of course when a damsel is in distress, she is not too concerned about how revealing her ripped and disheveled clothing is to her captors and the reading public. And, when the topic is an evil medical experiment, then the artists could lay the ladies out horizontally for lascivious eyes to traverse.
In the late 40’s and into the 50’s came the march of the Japs and Nazis, and again they were after ‘our’ women, damn them. Or in hilarious cases, the Japs and Nazis employed women to inflict sadomasochistic pain on our guys.
On the heels of these dastardly deeds came the pre-Playboy ‘sleaze’ magazines, and finally sex became a topic and not just a wink-wink enticement via pictures. Titles like All Man, Man’s Peril and Man’s Life featured horrible grainy cheesecake photos of ugly women, and scintillating fiction with titles like The Virgin Sex Slaves of Arabia’s Whip-Mad Sheik.
Many movie posters through these periods featured a couple facing some peril together, giving them ample excuses to grapple with each other in terror or relief, pulling the fabric of women's blouses more tightly against the body.
I'm thankful that author Denis Boyles introduced me to pulp fiction art forms because I took both delight and comfort in imagining how the world really changes very little over the decades. Our bad guys are just more scurrilous and stupid and there are new unseen monsters -- like whacked prostate cells -- attacking our manhood and our ability to love.
Then: Mushrooms & Tibetan Bowls
Early in 2002, prior to my surgery, although Dr. Bill Utz and my doctors at Mayo Clinic exuded worldclass medicine, still I felt something was missing. No one was talking about why I got the disease or how my body was -- or was not -- trying to keep it in check.
Dr. Bridget Duffy, a colleague Carla’s at Medtronic at the time, had the enviable role of trying to take a huge medical device company like Medtronic into the new world of integrated medicine looking at spirit, mind and then body. Bridget was happy to arrange for Carla and me to talk to well-known author and TV celebrity Dr. Dean Ornish in San Francisco and to visit Dr. Mitch Gaynor in New York.
A message about the star power of Dr. Dean. Celebrity has turned him into an officious jerk, at least in our interaction with him. With every reason to treat us respectfully because he was seeking Medtronic funding, Ornish wasn’t there for three scheduled calls. When we finally reached him, there were no apologies, and his attitude was that he didn’t want to do this, but he had to, and we were like a faceless call-in poor soul on a radio talk show he was doing just to sell books. I knew I hated the guy when, after telling him my condition, he quickly said: “Why have the surgery if it’s already broken outside the prostate. Surgery won’t help.”
Dr. Mitch Gaynor, a good friend of Bridget’s, was another matter.
Through Bridget Duffy, Carla and I had a chance to go to New York and spend nearly four hours with Dr. Mitch Gaynor, an oncologist then at the Cornell Medical School, and one of the leading proponents of nutritional supplements and guided imagery in a cancer-fighting regimen.
If interested, read sample pages and reviews of his books Dr. Gaynor's Cancer Prevention Program and Healing Essence at Amazon.com and look for his guided imagery meditation CDs. This chap is a gem, a late-30’s Texan who every week in Manhattan gathers cancer patients, medical students and others and leads them through practices such as listening to Tibetan bowls for healing power.
Mitch Gaynor treated us like his most special patient. Surprisingly, he started the session by asking about my family history, and the pain of a contentious split from my mother while in college and no reconciliation prior to her death really caught his attention. He is certain that cancer appears due to these psychic scars, and that nutrition, supplements, and guided imagery, along with the best of traditional medicine, are the only way to fight the battle.
The last hour of our time with Mitch, he prescribed an amazing and extensive regimen of nutritional supplements and guided imagery with his CDs. And he insisted that I come back to New York for some four-day sessions of healing with a group he supports. I just couldn’t see doing that, and finding healer Jon MacRae as the alternative gave me the comfort I was mostly following Mitch’s advice.
It’s still comforting to me that Mitch prescribed so many supplements to be taken so often, with juicing and with mixing awful green powdered seaweed, shark liver oil, and grass and mushroom extracts. This regimen became my time-filling ‘job’ leading up to surgery. I bought a rolling cart with drawers and cabinets to hold the juicer and pill dispensers and set up shop as Kim’s Apothecary in our mud room. Thanks to Mitch, I was – and am – able to buy these very expensive supplements from a wholesaler in California – Scientific Biologics – where Stephanie there always stays current on my progress and reminds me that they sell direct only to Mitch’s patients.
For those of you not familiar with guided imagery, it is simply guided meditation. With soothing, healing musical backdrops, or sounds like the drumming of Tibetan metal bowls and chanting, a speaker, like Mitch Gaynor on the CD title Sounds of Healing, tells listeners to concentrate on words or imagine healing beams moving within the body.
I’ll admit: I never was able to conjure up the mind pictures suggested by Doctor Gaynor when listening to Sounds of Healing, but that didn’t stop me from becoming hooked on it. I simply couldn’t get clear mind pictures of things Gaynor was suggesting to imagine, like energy moving up the body and out the top of my head. Besides, I had an alternative auto-visualization tool in my arsenal under the hands of healer Jon MacRae. But, I listened religiously to Sounds of Healing, taking great comfort in the process, at least four hours a day the 10 days before surgery, and pretty much constantly the day before and the morning of surgery.
And I’m amused by another audience for the title. Later that summer, my daughter Jessie borrowed the CD player to take to summer camp, and the first night she pulled out Sounds of Healing, still in the CD player, to play on the cabin’s boombox. Initially these 12 year old girls giggled at the bizarre sounds of whacking on metals bowls and a doctor’s voice imploring them to concentrate on the words RAAAA, and WAAAA, and LAAA and so one. But then they fell asleep to it and it became their bedtime anthem the rest of camp.
Then: Bee Stings
By my count, this is the second time in this book that I'm going back on promises I made to regular guy readers upfront. There I promised not to pile on you details about the devices paraded out to probe tender territories.
And once again, my excuse this time -- to talk about a biopsy of the prostate -- is to assure readers that in the end it's simply not as awful as the notion of it.
Your position on the table is pretty demeaning. On your side, knees drawn up fetal style, you stare at a tray of devices like Sir Laurence Oliver wielded in front of Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man
. The best way to describe the tools, and I was in shock so this may not be right, is that there is an ultrasound probe similar to that used on pregnant women but looking very ‘expansive’ when peering up at it sheepishly.
The there’s the ‘derrière derringer’.
Long slim and cylindrical, like a skinny mechanic’s grease gun, this nasty device had a particularly wicked looking bladed end. Tiny, less than one fourth inch in size, you could just tell the thing was ready to do damage. Now again, I still don’t know if this is what Dr. Utz did to me, because I didn’t ask and I haven’t brought myself to read an accurate description, but here goes. I think the well-lubricated ultrasound probe was the battering ram, giving the derringer on-screen blipping black and white targets to hit. Kind of like the views from the nose of the ‘bunker buster’ bombs used in Iraq as they silently screamed towards their targets.
Utz told me that I was definitely going to feel the shots from the device. He said they would feel like bee stings, and that I was going to get about a dozen of them.
Again, I don’t know, but in reflecting, I think Dr. Utz must have had the probe push against the colon wall to see the prostate and then was actually shooting the nasty little grabber through the colon to do its dirty work before retreating.
Again, this was probably an accurate description of what it felt like, but I was so dazed and amazed to be going through this that I don’t recall much pain.
But I do recall peering up at Utz when he finished and his grim face and words something like: “I don’t at all like what I saw in there. I need you to get a bone scan and other tests at the hospital tomorrow. And, just to prepare you. It likely could be bad news.” That was December 26th, following a Christmas Day and a few days prior where I had engaged in an uncomfortable charade to mask the unknown from the kids. But, I’m certain now they saw through the acting.