TUESDAY’S RESULTS

(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…

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