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I Have Cancer

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Let’s start here: I have just been diagnoses with cancer. I have breast cancer. The thing that makes this slightly unique is that I’m a man. When they gave me the biopsy they still gave me a pink ice pack to help reduce the swelling.

I am soon to be 73, and without saying much to anyone, I was almost a bit smug because I had not been hit with anything major for years, while many, probably most of my friends, already have a diagnosis. Friend A has a debilitating neuropathy and now rides a scooter to get around. Friend B just had a quadruple bi-pass. after his stents became clogged. I heard this is happening a lot. Friend C just had his first heart attack, and he is a guy who has always been active and fit. He’s back up and around, but on lots of medication. Friend D was diagnosed with M.S a couple of years ago. He only has a few symptoms, such as a numbness in his fingers, but he’s on a lot of expensive medicines. Friend E has had heart problems for years and has to go into the hospital about once a year to get his meds adjusted. Friend F has a condition that is almost ALS, but his treatments are working. Those are all men. Four other men I know have had cancers. One died.

We know at least a half dozen women who have had breast cancer, and we can count a dozen more who we know, but not that well. Women get other things too, such as one woman suddenly developed Type-1 diabetes at age 66. Another one slipped and hit her head and now has seizures. Another has had M.S. for a while. One, in her sixties, still has an eating disorder. There is also leukemia, and other blood disorders.

This list was just from the top of my head, I’m sure it goes on and on as I think of more people. The seventies seems to be the time when most bodies show signs of wear and tear that go beyond having everything sag and a lot of joints and muscles squeak, ache and grind. The Bible give most people four score and ten, anything after that is a bonus. Most of the bonus now is due to science. One place in which scientific study has shown that it really works has been in medicine. I am pretty certain that I am not going to die of this cancer, at least for another ten to fifteen years. But, by contrast, I am now very certain that I am going to die. I don’t need messages from that new app to remind me.

Before I babble on further on any philosophical or spiritual reflections about life and death I want to put in a real plug for the American Healthcare system, especially how it runs since Obamacare. I am on Medicare. I am in a Senior Advantage Plan, which is very inexpensive. It is an HMO, so my choice of doctors is limited. But I live near Boston so it’s almost difficult around here to find a doctor who didn’t go to a top medical school, complete an excellent residency, and is involved doing research so their minds are full of up-to-date stuff.

Being in a Senior Advantage Plan under Obamacare means that I get looked at by lots of different people before anything major happens. I have had several doctors tell me to go get a test, or see a specialist just because there was a chance something could be developing, or because, statistically, I fall into a category of people who are vulnerable. This had happened about a dozen times before, and the worst anyone found was a few basil cell skin cancer spots. In fact it was during a follow-up visit to my dermatologist that she saw something on my breast that looked different from six months ago. She made the referral, and she was right.

So, if anyone out there runs into Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, or any of the Republicans who have been trashing Obamacare for years, give them a friendly hello, and them kick them in the balls and step on their face. These selfish, greedy clowns are letting their fellow Americans die by depriving them of access to good health care. It’s mean. It’s bad and it’s wrong for a society as rich and prosperous as ours to have the resources and knowledge, and still let people die in their homes if Obamacare is taken away. Everyone should be on Medicare. Yes, we’d all have to pay more in taxes, but it would be much cheaper, more effective and more efficient if everyone was included. When people realize that when everyone benefits, everyone benefits, things go well. It’s when people grab what they can, run and hoard it, that every system falls apart.

I am a clear example of this. That visit with my dermatologist was exactly two weeks ago. She made the referral and in less than a week I saw a breast surgeon. She poked around and asked me if I could stay. I was given a mammography and then an ultrasound. I was surrounded by all kinds of pink ribbons and affirmative slogans, but I saw a cancer surgeon and a radiologist, as well as three technicians who ran the machines who were all experienced, friendly, knowledgable and accustomed to dealing with men. The ratio of women to men who get breast cancer is about 100 to 1. Part of that is the problem is that men don’t get tested for breast cancer the way women do, so when they do find it in men it’s often too late. As I said, Obamacare made a difference.

Those images showed a spot, so three days later I got a needle biopsy. The result came back in four days. It would have been three except that there was Christmas. Once the diagnosis was clear I was given the result of what kind of cancer it is, where it is and how extensive it is. I will get a CAT scan tomorrow to better locate the spot. I see the surgeon early next week and an oncologist the day after that. Everyone has been reassuring me that they can handle this with very little difficulty, and I will have a little pain, and a bit of a disruption in my life, but not for too long.

Yes? No? I have to wait and see.

I am usually a pretty reserved person, but it is much easier to write all this out and put it up for the world to see, knowing that on Medium I have about six regular readers. Still, I hope to keep this going as a fairly regular journal. It will be good for my own mental health, and maybe it will alert men that they too should have someone check them out once they get into their mid-sixties. Just saying.

Looking back over the last two weeks since I was told to “check it out”, so far, the worst thing has been the anxiety while waiting. I went to the first “check out” thinking I might be given some skin cream. When I left I wasn’t sure of anything. The doctor had said, I don’t know what it is, so let’s just assume it’s cancer. From that moment until today’s confirmation call, were difficult days of waiting.

Now I know what I’m dealing with, and there is a clear plan. I will have surgery, and probably some medication for a few months or years. That’s the plan. Everything could go smoothly and all this will keep me alive. Things were probably done very differently even fifteen years ago. I’ve been lucky about that a few times in my life.

Will everything go that smoothly?

Unlikely, but …attitude, attitude…

I expect to keep posting, so I’ll let you know.


I Have Cancer was originally published in Choosing Our Future on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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