Dear God, I hope it’s an epilog.
I’m now about two months past the end of radiation treatments. At this point, they’ve cut out the tumor, starved it of testosterone, starved it of fat, and blasted the area with radiation 36 times. And I’m alive and feeling pretty great.
I also bear scars. 5 on my belly where the robot was rummaging around my innards. I still have hot flashes. I still wear Man Pads. I’m a little PTSD.
A couple weeks ago, I was in a doc’s office at the Men’s clinic. They were nice to me. The resident, when he asked me why I did radiation even though my PSA was undetectable, listened to my story, and when I told him about the studies and the statistics, he sat back and said, “Wow. That's exactly right. You have a physician's level understanding of the science. Man, you've been through it, huh?” When he left the room, I was alone with the story still hanging in the air, standing in a clinic to deal with the aftermath of this, and I just broke down. Some combination of him listening, and me recounting the story, and thinking about all I and Jody and the kids have been through. The other night, Jody was talking about how the kids dealt with me when I was in the worst of the hormone treatments: how they took a deep breath and said to themselves, “It’s the hormones. That’s why he’s grumpy.” And it was the first time I’d sort of let myself feel it. The first time I didn’t need to be in battle mode. It was good to cry.
The hot flashes haven’t gone away, but they have gotten less severe. It’s been a good few days since I’ve had an all-out-sweat-pouring-off-me-I-have-to-get-outside-right-now hot flash. I still feel them gathering in my chest (they always start there, a ball of heat like I’ve swallowed something radioactive) but they don’t tend to spread all over like they used to. Hallelujah for that but damn: I'm sure ready to be done with them.
I wear shields still. I can’t tell if there’s a trend yet: it seems like things are just at a point of stasis in that regard. I rarely have to change it out, but I do notice that there are times I’m glad it’s there. If this persists for months, the Men’s Clinic guy said there’s a surgery that seems to work. Meanwhile, I’m doing Kegels pretty much all the time I’m driving the car. Mostly to music. I’ve become fond of C89.5 for this. EDM. If you see me driving by with the top down and the bass thumping, you’ll pretty much know what I’m doing. But I digress.
I feel subtle changes suggestive of a return of my favorite hormone. It’s funny: I never stopped noticing women. It’s just that I never felt inclined to do anything as a result. “Wow, Jody looks nice today. Wonder what’s for dinner?” Funny how the self makes sense of such a change. And glad the change is coming undone.
There are parts of the experience that I can feel myself trying to forget. I went in a few weeks ago for a follow-up with the radiologist. I didn’t want to. And they wanted to schedule me for one in December. “I’ll call you,” I said. I saw Dr. Schweizer last week, and had my PSA checked beforehand (still undetectable: yay!) but man: I really didn’t want to. It’s almost like I would trade 5 years of ignorant horror-free life in favor of 30 years of anxiety. Almost.
It’s also a fair question to ask what I’m taking away from this experience. That’s easy. I am never again going to forgo giving, or receiving, a hug. I’m never going to not say “I love you.” I’m always going to savor the moments that arrive when I see Gabe, or Maddie, or Jody, or anyone I love. A few nights ago, Gabe and I were watching a show, and I found myself just looking at him and smiling openly. I’m always going to do that.
I also find myself not stressing out as much. I still do stress out, but there comes a point when I say, “Wait. Is this worth spending some of my finite time on?” The answer is usually no.
I’m also taking away how to care for someone who is facing something like this by virtue of how you cared for me. I used to think there was something you could say, something you should say. You taught me that there isn't. Presence, and sincere messages of love, are what help. Clean presence that asks nothing, that neither burdens with its own reaction nor attempts to hide it; that is able to ask questions. I’ll remember all the cards, and the notes on this site, and the flowers and goofy gifts, some of which still make me tear up; the emails, the visits. The cooked lemon chicken that Jim brought over. The soulful, beautiful cards from Anne. The Texas care package from Susan with the home-made wrapping paper made out of a map of Texas. The photos from PJ that would arrive unannounced, just his favorites, each with a hand-written note. I’ll remember the two weeks that Lisa lived with us, making dinners and making everything, everything just better. Each of these things and many others touched me--astounded me, really. How much I am loved.
I hope it’s an epilog. It may not be. It sounds like it only takes a cell or two that can live on its own, that sloughed off at some point and lodged somewhere and grows again. The statistics are good, but it turns out the mind isn’t well-equipped to deal with statistics. It will either come back, or it won’t. If it does, you’ll hear from me.
Either way, I want to thank you, deeply, for being with me through this.
Love to you, and peace.