Archive for November, 2006

MORE GROSS STUFF

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

I got my Pre-Op Exam a week ago today. Aside from the usual listening to heartbeats, etc. it involved shoving a tube up (down?) my penis to take a look-see at the inside of my bladder to discern whether or not I also have bladder cancer (I don’t).

My urologist gave me a numbing shot in the tip of my penis. Unfortunately, there’s no numbing agent for the numbing shot. Then he injected a numbing gel inside. Even numbed, inserting the viewing tube was still no fun, as you can imagine. The viewing time, however, was mercifully brief.

It burned to pee for a few days and for the first three days or so there was blood in my urine. I’m fine now, though.

Surgery is in just a little over a week now. Quite frankly, despite my excellent prognosis, I’m scared. As surgery approaches it is becoming much more difficult (if not impossible) to get a solid night’s sleep without the use of drugs (the fairly benign melatonin being my drug of choice).

I turned the corner psychologically, however, the other night. I woke up from a dream in which I received the news that the spouse or child (I can’t remember which) of one of my closest friends had prostate cancer. My fear turned to anger. When it was just affecting me I could allow myself the indulgence of a little self pity. But for it to strike an innocent friend, even if it was just in a dream —- well, that just royally pissed me off.

The anger from the dream took me out of myself in a positive way, I think. I’m furious with this stupid disease. I’m still burying myself in work (the typically male way to deal with — or avoid confronting — emotional problems), and probably will right up until the time of surgery. I hope to display the creative benefits of this flurry of work (murals during the day; portraits of about 20 old blues musicians and a sci-fi comic book cover in the evenings) to you shortly. I’m taking this next weekend off for one last “wet” (it’s the prostate that produces semen; I know — TMI) romantic getaway and for a get together with some close friends before my surgery.

I probably won’t have another Journal entry until after my surgery. I hope to be back after that with good news and more tales of deeply personal humiliation for your reading pleasure. Wish me luck!

WHY I SHARED ALL OF THIS

Saturday, November 18th, 2006

The previous two Journal entries shared a lot of my personal stuff. I did this knowing that it could end a lot of my work in the film business (sadly, a lot of film people get really spooked and often sever relationships over this kind of news). Knowing this risk, why would I do this?

1) I’m hoping that my male fans and friends will use this as a reminder to get their PSA checked on a regular basis and — this is really important — to have their current PSA score compared to their previous one. As I stated, just because you have a PSA score in the normal range doesn’t mean you don’t have something wrong with your prostate.

2) It will hopefully work as a reminder that early detection increases the possibity for a cure. My father-in-law died from prostate cancer. It was an awful, agonizing, painful death. But he waited until he had blood in his urine for a year or two before he told anyone.

3) I’m hoping that by sharing the details of what I went through, as horrible as some of it was for me, that it will demystify this experience for a lot of guys; and that even as awful as a lot of it was, I was still able to laugh at it later.

4) I want my friends, fans and family to be well informed. Without a PSA check, here are some of the warning signs that something might be wrong with your prostate: not being able to hold your urine; getting up at night to pee; stop-and-start urination; weak urine flow; blood in your urine; hesitancy in starting urination; difficulty in stopping urination; dribbling after urination; and difficulty in urination.

5) This all should be a reminder that there is a lot in life to be thankful for and to look forward to — even when sideswiped along life’s path by some terrible illness or disease or accident. There is life — and a good life — even after something as awful as cancer.

6) Remember that nothing is constant — everything changes. Appreciate the good things — such as family, friends, love, life, art, music, beauty — while they are here. Do not fear change; it is inevitable and it makes what we hold dear in life that much more precious.

So, really, my choice in whether or not to go public with my condition was 1) Don’t do it, keep it secret and protect my hireability or 2) Go public and perhaps save a few lives and lose a few gigs. I opted for the latter.

Go get checked!

TUESDAY’S RESULTS

Friday, November 17th, 2006

(Part Two of my Prostate Experience also contains frank language, graphic medical descriptions, sexual material & information and, quite frankly, some pretty scary stuff. If youre offended by such stuff now is the time to go back to looking at my dinosaur pictures.)

On the morning of Tuesday, October 16 I got a phone call from my urologist.

“The results are back,” he said. “You have prostate cancer.”

I went silent and numb. The word “CANCER” continued to reverberate around in my skull as if it was a careering ball in a three dimensional game of Pong.

The doctor got me to temporarily focus elsewhere by giving me an activity.

“Do you have a pen and paper?” he asked. “I need you to write down some information.”

He gave me a series of medical details and the medical code numbers of my condition as well as the estimated progress of my cancer. He told me to purchase and read “(Guide to) Surviving Prostate Cancer” by Dr. Patrick Walsh.

I hung up the phone and fell apart. After about half an hour I called my wife and attempted to tell her the news. I wasn’t very successful in getting the words out but she understood what I was trying to say right away. She then confided in me that both she and my urologist had thought my biopsy results and ultrasound looked bad. Although I understood why they did it (why worry Bill needlessly?), later that day I became angry that they had not told me the truth.

I drove over to Vroman’s Books and purchased the prostate cancer book. I began to read it when I got home. I realized very quickly that my only real option was complete removal of my prostate. That would mean I would no longer be able to produce semen. Reading further, I discovered that post-surgery there was also a chance of permanent impotence and incontinence. I became deeply depressed and somewhat suicidal and stopped reading the book.

The next morning I was on a plane to Ottawa for the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (I’ve been a member since the 70s) which I attend each year to stay updated on my dinosaur and paleontological Antarctica information. I tried reading another chapter on the plane and sank into an even deeper depression. I silently and fervently began praying for the plane to crash (I am very ashamed of being so selfish; there were plenty of my fellow SVP members — as well as other innocents — on board. I want this to be an honest document, however, so I promised myself I wouldn’t leave anything out. If other people in my situation have these thoughts they will know they’re not alone). I read parts of The Art of Happiness, a book by the Dalai Lama that my wife had given to me for the trip; the sensitive spiritual logic of that book helped a little.

Each morning (the meeting is for five days) I would try to read a chapter or two of the prostate cancer book. I read about the fairly recent discovery (by Dr. Walsh) of nerve-sparing surgery during a prostatectomy that gave the patient a greater chance of achieving erections post-surgery. I decided to instruct my surgeon that if the neurovascular bundles responsible for erections were inadvertently cut during surgery (they are each the size of a human hair) or if they had to be removed to just cut me and let me bleed out on the operating table without awakening me.

This deep dark place I had gone to had to do with my emotions enlarging my self identity as a sexual being all out of proportion to the rest of who I am. Make no mistake; a big chunk of my identity is indeed that of a sexually potent and virile human male, someone who has always loved sex and lots of it. To face the potential of having all of that ripped out of me with a scalpel was terrifying and humiliating.

I told a couple of my closest SVP friends about my condition. They were extremely supportive and sympathetic. Because they were scientists or science-based artists their words, thoughts and expressions of comfort seemed more honest and real than the religious hoodoo I have since received from a lot of well-meaning people. From my experience, atheists seem to have a much better and more practical handle on reality and how to deal with it than a lot of churchfolk do. Strangely, they seem more in touch with their spiritual side as well. But I digress.

As my days in Ottawa passed I limited my reading of the prostate cancer book and began to become a little more philosophical. I enjoyed the National Gallery of Art, in particular a huge painting of a nude pregnant woman by Gustav Klimt, one of his real masterpieces. Lurking behind this very pregnant young woman is Death, the decay of Old Age and Disease. The young redhead pays them no heed; her investment in the future rests in her belly. It holds Life, Hope and a firm Optimism — the enemies of all that lurk behind her.

I went to a CD shop and picked up a bunch of great Canadian music (lots of Canadian music does not make it south of the border), guided by a hip young HMV clerk who set me up to let me listen to all of the music she’d picked out for me.

Back home I threw myself back into completing my eighth mural (out of twelve I am painting that depict the prehistoric life of San Diego) for the San Diego Natural History Museum. It portrays a family of sabertooth cats holding off a pack of dire wolves. It is the most dramatic of the twelve murals. The color is very rich, using color schemes I’ve never explored. The painting is eight feet high by ten feet long and was a joy to work on every single day. It got better and better as I continued to paint and refine it; I now think it is one of the best paintings I have ever done.

In the evenings I have been drawing old blues guys in the style of the Robert Crumb “Heroes of the Blues” cards. I am drawing all of the musicians I personally am passionate about except for the ones that Robert has already drawn. My Robert Johnson turned out to be one of the best portraits I have ever done.

This work therapy of mine and the amazing (and, quite frankly, unexpected) outpouring of support I have received from the friends and family I’ve told has helped me to turn the corner on my depression. The San Diego Natural History Museum staff has been extraordinarily supportive and understanding. I have refocused on my life’s priorities, re-examining who I am and what is important to me in my life.

I still love sex, consider it vital, and will do whatever I can to maintain that area of my life. But I love a lot of other things, too — like family, friends, art, music and nature. While photographing sycamores in nearby Eaton Canyon Nature Park the other day as reference for my sabertooth mural I came upon a huge bobcat, only the second one Ive ever seen in the wild (the first was when I was ten years old) and the first I’ve ever seen close up. Because I had my camera I was able to photograph it as well. Amazing! Few things get me higher.

My Pre-Op physical (and further pain & humiliation, I imagine) is November 20; surgery is scheduled for December 5. Because I am relatively young for this disease and it was caught fairly early, my prognosis for cure is excellent. I am realistic, however. Not everything in life turns out just the way I would like no matter how optimistic I might be; this may not go the way I hope. I know and accept that. At a certain point it is out of my control. But that’s OK; I have gotten pretty philosophical about this state I’m in. Despite all of our hopes and plans the Wheel of Life continues to turn; nothing remains unchanged.

I’ll keep you informed as to how the Pre-Op and Surgery both go…

How The Heck Are Ya?

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

(If you have an aversion to frank honesty, this is not the blog to read. The subject of this entry took place during the second week of October)

It was awful. It was traumatic. It was sad.

Here is what happened.

Being in the medical profession, my wife gets on me to have regular blood tests (I really hate being stuck by needles). She looked at the PSA score of my most recent blood test (PSA is an indicator of prostate cancer). I was well within the normal range; nothing to worry about. But she has received new and recent training that taught her to compare the latest PSA score with my previous PSA score, something a lot of doctors don’t do (it’s a hassle to retrieve the previous scores). There was a spike between the two scores — another potential indicator for prostate cancer.

She demanded I go to the urologist to get a prostate check. Because of its affiliation with the hospital for which my wife works, our HMO requires I get anything medical done down in Orange County, a minimum 45 minute drive (rush hour much more) from our home.

“Hon,” I said. “You’ve got gloves — and, more importantly, slender fingers. You do this all the time at work. Why not check me here and now?”

She saw the logic of my proposal (and knew what it would take to get me down to Orange County) and complied. I dropped trou. Ouch! I know; some guys pay hookers good money for this very same procedure — albiet under very different circumstances!

Well, she found an anomaly — a flat spot on one of my prostate’s two lobes (the prostate gland is a somewhat heart-shaped organ). We immediately booked a visit with a urologist for the next morning. His much larger finger confirmed that the two sides didn’t match and booked me for a biopsy. Note the word “biopsy”…to me, that word sounds singular.

I got up early and had a delightful administration of an enema (to clear the area of this morning’s concern). It’s always great to begin the day with humiliation. Then, I took an antibiotic (to prevent infection). My wife drove me down to Yorba Linda, a faceless part of the mostly faceless county named Orange. I really dislike the O. C. or Orangutan County or the Orange Curtain as it is also known. I used to live there in Anaheim when I was working at Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. That day (with morning traffic) it was about an hour and a half drive. Not so happy.

The urology office was closed but opened by my urologist about ten minutes after we had arrived. The doc was seeing me for the procedure fifteen minutes before he normally opened as a professional courtesy to my wife who refers a lot of her patients to him. A nice perk, considering that the next open appointment that I could make was about a month away.

I brought reading material that I never had a chance to look at (Rolling Stone felt compelled to confide in me who’s Hot! in their Hot! issue). The doctor immediately asked me to drop my jeans in one of the patient rooms and then gave me a quick shot in the butt. This was a drug cocktail consisting of another antibiotic and atropine, something to make me not pass out (I have a pretty big aversion to needles and occasionally hit the ground hard in their presence. What a wuss! I’d make a terrible junkie).

While waiting for the drugs to kick in we moved to The Room and made medical chat (I was going to be a doctor and was a science/math major in high school, so I find medical stuff fascinating) that occasionally touched on prostate info. I learned all about free percentage predictability of prostate cancer, something based upon a series of happy medical study coincidences in Maryland. The Room had a table/chair that could accommodate a normal prone position as well as an ass-sky-high-in-the-air position. There were several objects on the counter that would not look out of place in any West Hollywood sex shop — or a David Cronenberg movie. I never looked at them again; once was plenty.

I was ordered to take off my pants and was given a paper sheet for modesty’s sake. Ha! For what was to come that was like giving me a band-aid for a slashed carotid artery. I was told to climb onto the table and to lie on my side facing the wall. As the anal probe began I made a jest about hardly knowing my violator. “Let’s keep it that way,” he grimly joked.

It was extremely uncomfortable, with occasional pain. I gritted my teeth and clenched my fists as the doctor searched with his ultrasound video for anomalies in my prostate. He told me he found none. This all took what seemed like a long, long time. I had anticipated that the entire procedure would have been over by then but we were just getting started. He warned me he was going to inject a local anesthetic into my prostate and that I might feel a sting. Ouch! Boy, did I ever. And then he gave me three more.

He told me to tell him if my tongue went numb. Somehow this happens a lot. I’ll ask my gay friends later about the ass/tongue connection. After the anesthetic kicked in, he began taking the biopsy. Well, biopsies plural — a lot of them! Ten! It felt like someone was using a staple gun up inside my ass. The tool actually works like a high tech spud gun. With an audible POP! it darts a hollow needle-like tube into the targeted area and removes a slender wormlike section of the prostate.

In the past, I was informed, there was no anesthesia and the the needle taking the sample was of a huge gauge. 30% of the patients back then never returned for future biopsies, despite the specter of potentially having cancer and detecting it in time to save their lives. I’m with them — and I had the anesthetic and smaller needle.

Along with the grueling (and literal) pain in the ass, soon I felt overwhelming sadness and began to weep in lamentation for the pieces of me that were being forever taken from my body. I felt violated and traumatized. I don’t think I’m cut out for gay sex. All of this was done, after all, with consent.

Finally, it was over. Or at least that part was over. The doctor and my wife said everything looked great. The doctor left and I turned and scooted up on the table, lying on my back. I was still extremely sad and laid there for awhile. I wasn’t dizzy, though, and asked for my underwear and jeans and got myself dressed. But upon standing up I broke down and wept for the loss of the parts of myself. What was in that injection?!

We proceeded to the nurse desk to make an appointment for Tuesday (to gauge their patients’ psychological reaction to the news, doctors understandably like to deliver it in person). I began to feel faint and went out to the waiting room where there were chairs. I sat and put my head way down while my wife negotiated the Tuesday appointment. She got the doctor to agree to call me if it was good news rather than having me schlep all the way back down to friggin’ Yorba Linda. So, of course, if I’m told I have to adhere to my Tuesday appointment I’ll know it’s bad news.

I walked to the car, got in and we took off, headed for home. I just wanted to lie down in my bed — but my body wasn’t finished with it’s reaction to the trauma just visited upon it. As we drove I started getting extremely lightheaded. I rolled down the window to let in some fresh air and reclined my seat. That helped for only a very short while; I suddenly felt nauseous. I asked my wife to pull over and find me a bag into which I could throw up. She got one out of the trunk. We resumed our trip back home. I began to experience what felt like extreme motion sickness. I asked to pull over again. I did about six forceful dry heaves that left my esophagus raw. Nothing came out because I had already evacuated everything from my system earlier that morning. I laid down on the seat and we continued our drive home. Not long after I began feeling better, although I became somewhat irrationally angry with my urologist and referred to his tools as “evil”. Those drugs again.

I got home. The anesthetics in my ass hadn’t worn off, so I was able to sit down and type all of this. I understood from my fellow survivors of this terrible procedure that that wouldn’t be true in a little while. Actually, there was no recurrence of pain in my case. Or my ass.

I partook of a medicinal fatty (thank you California voters!) a fan had given me and took the day off, though, if anyone reading this knows me, my day off didn’t last longer than half an hour. So much to do! Oh, and no sex for three days. I must say that right then my mood and overall mental state was such that sex was one of the last things on my mind or agenda. It dropped even further on my To Do list in the hours that followed.

NEXT: Tuesday’s Results