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Larry's Story, in his words


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Lawrence Brown, Cape Cod Times Columnist

For 2024, I’m welcomed to Cancerland

 

It began in late September when an elevated PSA test called for an MRI. After a flurry of doctor visits, getting scoped, scanned, biopsied and otherwise sampled, I have been diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer.

       

“Growing old isn't for the faint of heart,” my mother used to tell me. And it isn’t.  Retirement itself can be like a dress rehearsal for dying. You get to see the world going on without you, even while you're still here. So I've made a point of staying busy. Then there's all the funerals you find yourself attending. By the time you’re my age, it's obvious you're going to die of something. A diagnosis of cancer suddenly makes all that seem terrifyingly specific. For my wife and me, it felt like the bottom had fallen out of our lives.

 

I've lived here on the Cape for almost 40 years now. When we first moved here, the conventional wisdom seemed to be that Cape Cod Hospital was OK for broken bones and minor conditions, but if things got serious, we were supposed to head for Boston. No question, in an academic and medical sense, Boston is kind of the Athens of America. But Boston isn't very far away. So far, I'm happy to report that the specialists and doctors I’ve encountered have so impressed me that I'm staying right here for treatment. They've been friendly, thorough, and extraordinarily empathetic. And the oncology department has open lines of consultation with Dana Farber.

 

I'm told that prostate cancer is relatively slow moving… certainly preferable to cancers of the liver, lung, and pancreas.  All the same, being told you have cancer is a little like being informed the mafia has put out a contract on your head. It's only a modest comfort to know that the assassins looking for you are a little slower and dumber than some of the other gangs out looking for other people.  It's a lot to think about - and a major blow to my wife and my secret plan to live forever together and never die.    

 

Welcome to Cancerland.  I’ve just begun the chemotherapy part of my treatment. My wife picked up a bottle of pills to treat the nausea and vomiting this treatment might entail. This first phase is supposed to reduce the size of my prostate and suppress cancer growth anywhere in my body it might have appeared. After that, I'll begin getting radiated five times a week for another two months. A surprising number of men I know have dealt with prostate cancer and survived it. With luck, God's grace, and the expertise of my medical team, I’ll have an extended lease on life.


Prostate cancer cells are spherical and look a lot like the nubbly kibble I used to feed my dog – so I have a mind-body strategy to use.  When I find myself thinking of cancer, I imagine my white blood cells like Siberian Huskies.  I whistle to them periodically and send them down to feast on the kibble. 


In my darker moments, I’ve developed a fear that I might be doing things for the last time without knowing it.  I’m dreading taking down the Christmas tree, for example.  Mostly, I’m going to keep busy.  It’s not just that a moving target is harder to hit.  I have been profoundly blessed to love what I do and the people I get to do it with.  There is something deeply healing and sustaining about being able to live this way.  Possibly curative.


Years ago, in the movie City of Joy, a Hindu woman assists in a childbirth.  When it’s done, she turns to the doctor who asked her help.  “Thank you for allowing me to be of use,” she says.  That could easily serve as a lifetime prayer.

Thank you for allowing me to be of use.  There may be days I don’t feel too good.  Why spend them in bed with nothing else to think about when I can be with friends, teaching or writing?  We’re doing another Young Photographers’ Contest at the Hyannis Public Library.  In short, there’s a lot of living still to do.

 

I have been writing columns for this paper since Ronald Reagan was President.  It feels like a relationship, my dear reader, and I know that most of us are struggling with something.  If I can find an occasional teachable moment in all this, I’ll share it.  Otherwise, it will be business as usual.  We have a frighteningly significant year in front of us – a lot to talk about.  Please stay tuned.

 

Lawrence Brown is a columnist for the Cape Cod Times.  Email him at columnresponse@gmail.com.

         

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