The Call

Being diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease is one of the cornerstones of the American psyche. We are raised on movies about it. It's the plot point of many television series. We fantasize about what it would be like to tell the world "I'm dying". Those of us who grew up during the Cold War fantasized about being consumed in a nuclear war. We'd have maybe 30 minutes to do whatever and then poof! It's kind of the same thing. It's something that happens to you that you can't prevent, so you have this opportunity to make your last living statement in a fixed time frame, after which it's out of your hands. What would you do? Would you be the same person you always were, only more so? Would you just keep going the same as always? Would you try to make amends for your failures? Would you go all Mr Hyde, living it up, doing and saying all the things you wanted to in life, but didn't out of some moral obligation that's been rendered null and void by a terminal disease? Let's face it: it's fun to try on all the alternatives and visualize how you would look.

Up to Thursday afternoon around 4pm, I had been having a grand time trying on the idea that I had cancer. I practiced what I'd say when the doctor told me in sonorous tones: "You have cancer". I'd settled on either "Oh Heck!" delivered in a British accent or David Sedaris' priceless observation after he sneezed a cough drop into the crotch of the woman sleeping next to him on a plane - "OH FUUCCKK! NOW WHAT?" I did all of this, of course, secure in the knowledge that I didn't have cancer. I'm too young for prostate cancer. I have no symptoms. I'm in the best shape of my life! I'm way too busy killing myself with alcohol to have something else go wrong. I would say I'm preparing myself for whatever results come back, but deep inside, I knew I wasn't sick.

And then there's the call. Two of the tissue samples had malignant cells. I had Prostate Cancer. I had joined 16% of American men who have this disease. To make matters worse, the doctor didn't pause after telling me. He just kept right on going, talking over my lines. Totally ruined the moment. Every doctor should take an acting course and put some effort on their timing.

He had called me on my cell and I was scrambling to get out of the office to get some privacy. My staff knew about the biopsy but I wanted to tell them the outcome, not have them deduce it from my side of a phone conversation. I got to the hallway but couldn't hold the phone and swipe my id card to get out so I ended up sitting on the floor talking to him. He didn't want to go into details on the biopsy until he could see me in person. He told me his office was going to schedule me for a bone density scan to see if the cancer had spread outside the prostate. He also encouraged me not to do much research on the web about treatment options or outcomes. An odd request considering my profession. He sounded sorry to give me the news. I think he was. It must be hard to make that call to patients over and over again.

I took a walk around outside for a few minutes. I took a call from the doctor's office telling me I'd been scheduled for the bone scan tomorrow. I went back to the office and told Miko and Sean the news. Then I called Carolyn and left her a message. Then I went back to work.


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