Monday, October 31, 2005

So, it's Halloween. Let's talk about something really scary.

In this post-nuclear age, is anyone still frightened by ghosts, goblins and witches, relics of a superstitious past? No, let's talk instead about what's truly frightening, things like cancer, and needle biopsies, and suffering, old age and death.

Earlier this month, I got back the results of a routine physical I had taken last September. Everything was great - my cholesterol was down where it should be, my red and white blood cells were where they should be, and all the other indicators were in their preferential range. My weight was in line for my height. Blood pressure was way down in the Zen master range. In other words, I was as healthy as I could be.

Except for one thing. PSA exceeded the range limit.

PSA is Prostate Specific Antigen, an indicator protein; raised test results may be a symptom of prostate cancer. The preferred value is less than 4.0. My test results came back 14.2.

My doctor said to go see a urologist. Today, Halloween, was the earliest appointment I could get. So basically, I got to go through the whole month of October wondering whether or not I had cancer. All the other annoyances of this month, the stolen checks, the broken television and the unresponsive repair shop, all faded into background noise.

Cancer. There's a scary Halloween thought. Not that surviving prostate cancer is any less frightening. Side effects of prostate surgery include incontinence and impotence. Try as I might to ignore it, the reality is I am aging. I am dying.

This wasn't the first time this year I went through a scare like this. Last spring, the dentist felt a swollen gland on my throat, which might have indicated Hodgkin's Disease. It seems everybody's thinking I have cancer. Several weeks passed before an oral surgeon told me that the "lump" was just a part of the natural anatomy of the larynx, and what was I even doing in here, anyway? (Hey, it wasn't my idea. Go talk to the dentist.) But since the first event was a "false alarm," I figured this second prognosis would turn out not to be. You don't dodge two bullets in a row.

So, I went to the urologist today and submitted to the digital rectal exam. Some people might find the examination to be humiliating, but just as evil's in the eye of the beholder, humiliation's in the hole of the behinder. Or something like that.

After the exam, the doctor said that there was no evidence of anything abnormal. I appear to be fine. He is puzzled why the PSA was so elevated, and speculated the lab test might be a false positive. In any event, he gave me a week's supply of antibiotics (Cipro - big horse tablets if ever I saw some) and told me to come back in two weeks for another PSA blood test. If the results are not better, then we will consider ultrasound and needle biopsies.

So I'm not quite out of the woods yet, but I feel like Lance Armstrong, having "beaten" "cancer" not once, but twice, this year.

Sort of improves your outlook on things.

Happy Halloween, y'all.

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