Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A PSA for PSAs

Like millions of other people, I came out of November with considerable trepidation. In addition to the very real possibility for global annihilation, I’m one of the millions who faced a considerable degree of uncertainty over my own healthcare.

As a freelancer with a family history of hypertension, I spent several years without health coverage so when the Affordable Care Act made it once again accessible, I felt very fortunate. I admit that I used it sparingly- almost as if it was a fire extinguisher. It was peace of mind-  I knew I had it, in case something dire happened.

But when this crazy year rolled around, I thought it would be a good idea to get as many ducks in a row as possible, so I made an appointment for a checkup. My Doc is pretty awesome all in all, and when she noted that we hadn’t done blood work recently, she ordered up a full panel- including a PSA test which she noted wasn’t really even recommended any longer but she liked to request it on guys over 50.

PSA means Prostate Specific Antigen. It's an indicator test, so an elevated PSA number can have several causes but is a first line of defense in detecting prostate cancer. A higher PSA carries with it a correlation for a higher likelihood of cancer, but is not in itself conclusive.

It took about a week or results to come back and they were generally good- cholesterol in line, not diabetic, not pre-diabetic, and no surprises except for a slightly elevated PSA. Slightly, mind you. In my age group, I should have a 4.0 or under and mine came back at 5.2. Not in itself cause for worry, but my Doc likes to be careful and referred me to the urologist. He saw nothing unusual in the scope and recommended we repeat the blood test.

The second blood test was a identical to the first so the Urologist recommended a biopsy just to be sure. He took 12 cores for analysis (ouch!) and again observed that everything appeared perfectly normal and he said he expected everything to be fine, although “sometimes you get a surprise.”

And we did.

Prostate Cancer, with a Gleason score of 3+4, on a scale that effectively ranges from 6 to 10. (Read more about Gleason Scores here) It was startling news, and the c-word packs a wallop, but in all reality I’m in a very fortunate situation. It’s still in an early phase and there are a range of treatment options at this stage. I feel very fortunate to have it detected now- I literally had NO symptoms and am very fortunate to have decent coverage.

So my summer has been spent with second opinions and surgical preparations. I’ve read some very good books and talked at length with people who have had different procedures. I have a plan that I am comfortable with and an excellent prognosis.

So why am I coming forward? To advance a dialogue.

The specialist at Loma Linda (second opinions are good) said if we walked into a room of 80 year old guys, that they’d pretty much all have prostate cancer to a degree, but it’s pretty slow moving and won’t be what takes them out. In your 50s though, it well could be.

Okay here’s the thing. Many of my friends are in their 50s and above and this not only could happen to any of us, but probably WILL at some point from here on out. So if you’re a guy in your 50s - or 40s if you have a family history of prostate cancer- PLEASE ask for a PSA on your next blood test. It’s only an indicator, and it’s not conclusive- but it will help you catch it before the onset of symptoms, when the outcomes are still most favorable.

One last note- probably the hardest part for me was telling my Dad. It’s not our style to lay out a problem without a solution, so I waited until all the consultations were complete and we had a plan in place. So I called him and laid out the scenario, and his first words were “Well, there’s a lot of treatment options these days.” Because an 80 year old guy has a LOT of friends that have dealt with this. We both had a good chuckle over that.

I guess maybe I should have called him first.

Monday, December 26, 2016

happy meal

The rounds of Christmas holiday parties left me satiated with food, and by nightfall all I really needed was a coffee fix.  My usual hangouts were closed, so I threw on my comfortable sweatshirt and sauntered down to the local Mc Donald’s. The place was pretty empty, just a family with several adult children gathered around a large table and myself.

Through the door came a young boy of maybe seven years old with his parents. He had bright blue eyes and hair so blonde it was nearly white. He was wearing a navy blue dress suit- probably his first, with brown sneakers. He walked up to the counter and ordered a Happy Meal while his parents watched. While waiting for his order, his Mom disappeared into to the ladies’ room and his Dad took him aside and told him, “I just want you to know that you were really good today and I’m very proud of you.” The little boy broke into a wide smile, picked up his Happy Meal at the counter and the three of them scampered out the door. I’m betting he’ll remember this Christmas for a very long time.

I’m still sipping my coffee as the family at the big table start to head for the exit. The father, who is probably in his late 60s struggled with the zipper on his winter coat. One of his daughters, a pretty young woman with flowing black hair, knelt down in front of him and very lovingly zipped up his jacket. No doubt he did the same thing for her hundreds of times over the years, but tonight the roles were reversed.

I tossed out my coffee cup and walked out to the car, smiling.

My Christmas gifts came late in the day.

Monday, July 11, 2016

a thousand julys

Ten years today.

A decade. Both a moment and an eternity.

No tears this year, just memories. The shock has dissipated and we have, collectively, pretty much dealt with things. Life is resilient, whether we expect it to be or not.

When you lose someone, there is a terrible shock.

But at least you are spared the anticipation and dread which becomes part of the anniversary.

Everyone says the first year is the hardest- it's a year full of firsts without him. Birthdays, holidays, important days to be gotten through somehow. We all got together on the first anniversary, I wrote about at the time as one year later. We knew we would all be thinking of him, so we had a bowling party in his memory. It was very theraputic all in all.

I must admit the burden eased that day, the fact that we all survived a year together without him made it easier somehow. And I was very fortunate- I unknowingly got the chance to say goodbye. You can read about it here.

But he's never very far away from me. As his childhood friend Betty reflected, our summer will always have a thousand Julys.

For Betty, and for John, whom we miss today and always

Thursday, June 9, 2016

time to go

For Brian- on the 40th Anniversary of his loss:

Aunt Joanne and Uncle David had it all- a successful business, three beautiful children, and a garage full of old Buicks that I loved riding in. They were among my favorite relatives to visit, and we did so often.

Their perfect world was shattered in the summer of 1976 when three year old Brian, whom each thought the other was watching, fell head first into their swimming pool and drowned. They pulled him out quickly, and David tried desperately to perform CPR, but it was too late. Their happy-go-lucky little boy was gone.

Their grief was both overwhelming and debilitating. My own parents were in Montreal when the call came. They dropped everything and raced home to Flint in the big Buick Electra. Dad, who was not a speeder, learned new talents as he desperately tried to get home to his anguished brother. Mom said it felt like the Electra's tires never touched the highway that trip- they were all but airborne. Once home, Dad helped Uncle David with the heartbreaking task of arrangements, and Mother glued herself to Joanne's side.

Joanne kept her composure through the visitation and funeral with Mother never out of her sight. Mom was afraid that she would simply pass out from the grief, but somehow she made it through. Finally the graveside service was over and people began returning to their cars. Except Joanne. She was unable to leave her little boy's side, and just sat there in silence. Every time Mother tried to lead her away, Joanne refused. Finally Mother took her hand and said "Joanne, it's time to go". Joanne resisted but Mother was firm. "You have two children at home that need you. It's time to go". She led her to the waiting car.

The birth of another son the following year put Joanne on the road back to life, but the collective anguish and guilt of the tragedy soon spelled the end of David and Joanne's marriage. I saw her infrequently after that, and usually only at a major family event, but we retained the warm bond we always had. Years went by.

When Mother passed away in 2007, Joanne was working out of town and wasn't able to make it to the funeral. It was a lovely and touching service, and after the mourners had filed out, it was just my brother, Dad, and I. Then it was Dad and I, and finally just myself. Looking at her, touching the lapel of her pink suit, recounting stories of how crazy and full of life and how utterly irreplaceable she was. And I stood there, unable to leave her. It was the last time I would ever see her, and I simply could not bring myself to part with her.

Then the door opened, and in walked Joanne. She had sped up from Detroit and missed the service, but wanted to pay her respects. She gave me an gigantic hug and we talked about her. We looked at the display boards of photos and she talked about what enormous strength Mother had given her when Brian died. She had come up to thank her for that time. We stood silently for a few minutes, and then Joanne took my hand and softly said, "It's time to go". I knew exactly what she was doing. Hand in hand, we walked outside into the setting sun.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

patriot act

I can't watch "I Love Lucy" anymore. It reminds me too much of her. The same strong will, the sheer determination. Nothing stood between Lucy and her crazy scheme. They were so much alike.

Like the time with the cookies. It was Christmastime 1990 and thanks to a Bush in the White House, we were building up to a war- Desert Shield, it was called at that time. Mom was seeing TV reports of all the troops away from home for the holiday and she wanted to do something nice for them. Somewhere she stumbled across a cookie recipe that was approved by the Marine Corps. It contained no processed sugar, instead it used fruit juice for sweetener. She baked a trial batch and declared it "not bad". She decided that instead of holiday cookies for the family, she would forego that this year and bake cookies for the troops instead.

I admit I encouraged her, I thought it was a cute little project that would give her something fun to do. I guessed she would make ten dozen, maybe twenty at the outset. It would give her something to talk about to the card club.

It seemed like The cookies were taking a long time to bake. Every time we talked she was mixing dough, or had a batch in the oven. And I knew that Patsy always thought big, I began to wonder exactly how many cookies she planned to bake. But it was her gig, and I didn't interfere.

Finally the cookies were ready to ship. At that point I asked her point blank how many she had made. "Eleven Hundred" she said somewhat sheepishly. ""Eleven Hundred Cookies?" I asked. ""No," she replied tentatively- "Eleven Hundred Dozen."

Eleven Hundred Dozen. Eleven Hundred DOZEN. She baked Thirteen Thousand Two Hundred cookies to send to the desert to feed to young men and women that she would never meet. She spent more than a month on the project. The Marines had to send four trucks to pick them all up. She received a Commendation from the Marine Corps Commander.

I told this story at the time to a client who chuckled and said, "Your Mother is quite a patriot". Yes, she was. And she was quite a Mom.

Originally published in Feb. 2008. Happy Birthday, Patsy.

Friday, June 26, 2015

marrying karl rove

From National Write To Marry Day in October, 2008, and totally appropriate for today's sweeping victory: 

Even though I had been in several relationships, I never really thought about marriage as a concept until he appeared. It was the spring of 2004. I was about to turn a major digit on my odometer and had always assumed I would die a single man in the eyes of the law.

And then Karl came onto the scene- with a round bald head, pasty white complexion, a belly reminiscent of an off season Santa Claus and a heart full to the brim of black bile and unrestrained opportunism. A man who truly earned his nickname of "Turd Blossom". Yes, I fell in love with same sex marriage because of Karl Rove.

Karl all but invented same sex marriage. It didn't come from us. It was he who introduced the need to ban it as an agenda item in the 2004 State of the Union Address. He created a panic in order to motivate the "Christian Evangelical" base and energize the election campaign in favor of an inept and corrupt President.

Because the inept and corrupt president had absolutely no compelling argument of his own why he should be elected (not technically re-elected, darlings, because the first election was stolen), they had to think of something. Turd Blossom along with an opportunistic self loathing homo named Ken Mehlman engineered the gay marriage threat and energized the wingnut base to call for a pre-emptive ban on the severe threat to civilization posed by... adults professing their love for one another. Egads, the horror of it all!

Then Gavin Newsom threw some Chanel No. 5 onto the fire by actually issuing 4,000 same sex marriage licenses in San Francisco. Thank goodness the State shut him down before the social fabric was irreparably torn. But all this publicity made me think. At that time, I was seeing someone that I was very attached to. And for the first time, I thought about the statement that marriage makes to ones beloved and realized that I wanted to make that promise. I wanted to be able to love, honor, and cherish in sickness and in health.

And I further noticed that a domestic partnership is as woefully inadequate as a colored drinking fountain in a Birmingham Bus Depot. And that's when I decided that I won't settle for a distant second best, I want my civil rights.

"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

I won't settle for anything less than the real thing.

And I owe it all to Karl Rove.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Whitewall Tires

My Dad is pretty much the personification of kindness, but he hold his cards very close. I call him the Secret Agent Man- he’s well known for helping out all kinds of people, but always in a very low key manner. He’s just not in it for the attention. Most of the people I know back home have a story about Dad coming to their rescue, but he never talks about it- it’s just not how he rolls. Recently my cousin shared a quintessential Dad story with me that, at the risk of blowing his cover, was too good not to share.

It was 1986, and my cousin Teresa was having a hard time. She was not quite twenty years old, a bright and hardworking student at U of M-Flint who was struggling to keep afloat financially. She was interning as a clerk and receptionist at my Dad’s CPA firm downtown and making a grand total of about $400 per month, from which $165 went to rent.

Her transportation was a sad little 1980 Buick Skylark that had seen better days. It wore an aging blue landau top and a fading gray Maaco paint job, and on the day in question, sat inside the University parking ramp with a flat tire.

Teresa knew there was a Uniroyal tire store diagonally across the street from Dad’s office. She gently coaxed the limping Skylark the few blocks and explained her situation. Behind the counter was a nice lady named Louise who looked at the flat and told her not only was the tire not worth fixing, but the rest of the tires were bald and worn out. She told Teresa that the car was unsafe. Teresa explained to her that she could barely afford the $12 patch and couldn’t possibly spring for new tires. Louise put her hands on her hips and frowned- she agreed to patch the tire- but warned her that the car was not safe to drive.

A couple of days later, Teresa and the wounded Buick were at work and my Dad told her he needed her car for an errand. She recalls being mortified- “Your Dad has fifteen cars, what does he need my jalopy for?” was the question she posed to me. She tried unsuccessfully to reach her boyfriend Dan and borrow his car instead, but she was stuck on the phones and Dad pressed the issue, so she handed him the keys.

An hour later he came back from lunch and put her keys on the reception desk. “Your car will be ready after work,” he said to her. She panicked, hoping that it hadn’t broken down on him. The rest of the afternoon passed slowly.

Finally she clocked out and walked across the street to the tire store, where a smiling Louise handed her the keys to her car, which looked resplendent sitting on four brand new Uniroyal radials. Whitewalls, of course- my Father is not a cheapskate. With a wink, Louise said “I told you that you needed new tires.”On the seat was a paid receipt for $164- exactly one dollar less than her rent. She was completely shocked.

She had no idea that Louise was the sister of my soon-to-be-stepmother, Wanda, or that she grew up knowing our clan, recognized the last name and immediately called my Father, who hatched a secret scheme to rescue a damsel in distress. Teresa said she literally cried when she saw the tires. She says she would not have made it through college without my Dad.  She sent him a giant thank-you card through the interoffice mail but he never mentioned it. And to this day he claims no memory of the incident. It’s just how he rolls.

Happy Father’s Day to my amazing Secret Agent Man. You’re the best. And try as you do to disguise it, we all kinda know it, too.

(Originally published in June, 2014)