And not only was my mind blown, it was by a book that’s not even all that compelling. But I am a reading addict, and no matter what I think of a work of fiction, I have to finish it. I can’t stay away from a story.
I’ve been reading When is a Man by Aaron Shepherd. It is about Paul Rasmussen, a 33 year old ethnography graduate student who is recovering from treatment for prostate cancer. His friend finds him a job in the remote Immitoin Valley counting trout in a reservoir created by the flooding of a massive tract of land by a power company 40 years earlier.
The whole first half of the book is really about him getting there and counting trout. Even with an undergraduate degree in Geography I was only mildly interested. Interwoven in his wilderness adventure Paul is dealing with the realities of recovering from prostate cancer treatment, mainly incontinence and erectile dysfunction.
Then, while driving the other day, I was listening to this Moth podcast by Amy Cohen. Amy tells the story of coming to the decision and going through a double mastectomy and reconstruction because she carries the breast cancer gene. Her mother and sister both had breast cancer, and she chooses this surgery as a preventative measure.
Now, I know, have known for a long time now, that prostate cancer is woefully underfunded and gains too little attention. When I worked in fundraising, I consulted with a cancer organization trying to find a male celebrity to be a spokesman for getting PSA tests. He didn’t have to talk about the details, just encourage men to get tested. They tried for a year and gave up. We watch our male friends grow strange facial hair in November and we know that it is ridiculous that they have to go to that length to raise money for men’s cancer compared to how easy it is to raise money for women’s cancer. What was the last pink thing you bought?
As I listened to Amy’s story, so much of it was familiar-the fear, the body image questions, the sisterhood of survivors. And that’s when I realized it. There was nothing familiar to me about Paul’s story.
I had no idea.
And that’s strange to me, because I have visited with men post-surgery, I’ve prayed with men and families post diagnosis. I know many men who have had surgery and treatment. I can’t wait until my husband is old enough to be getting his PSA checked because I wonder if this could be happening to him and we don’t even know it. But while I have had men bare all to show me surgery scars, they do not talk about the after effects. And I don’t ask. I don’t need to know the particulars of your “waterworks” (as my uncle Claude called it when I visited him pre-surgery) to sit with you, be aware of God’s presence in your fear and pray with you.
And when I did a quick search to find stories of living with prostate cancer, well, there wasn’t much. There are websites for patients and I won’t enter those because I don’t belong there. But now I know something, and I can’t unknow it.
To all the men I know who have been treated, had surgery, or wait for PSA test results every year, I love you. Even though you will likely choose to recover and wait in silence, I now know in a new way that it takes great courage. You are heroes. Bless you.