The Ensure collection.

The Ensure collection.

by Hugh Gilmore

Sunday morning: I’ve just chugalugged my second plastic bottle of Ensure Clear – this one labeled “Blueberry Pomegranate” flavor. It didn’t taste bad and I’d recommend it as a vodka go-with, but alcohol is forbidden today, it being pre-surgery Sunday. I am on a clear fluids-only diet today. Six more bottles of Ensure await me on the dining room table.

Late afternoon: I sit in my stricken-writers chair typing this column, my every roll, pitch and yawl producing gurgles. A slight unease keeps rising out of my my swollen tummy into that place at the back of the throat, just under the nasal chambers, where one’s body threatens to turn inside out if offered another fruit-flavored nutritional drink.

“Toast!” it cries, “For goodness sake, man, let’s have a Saltine cracker, please, slathered with cream cheese!” Notice the punctuation: demand, rather than request. I know I should switch over to Jell-O or Gatorade for variety’s sake, but I became so saturated with them before my last colonoscopy that I vowed never to ingest either of them again. They have the effect on me that Antabuse purportedly has on alcohol drinkers: immediate revulsion.

I’m almost tempted to say “serves me right” for getting prostate cancer, but no one knows yet what causes prostate cancer, so I can’t think of some previous sin or self-indulgence that has brought about my current medical state. I am a hyper-normal, normal man who has led a normal life and has enjoyed normally good health. I had my health checked yearly and was assured that I was, yes, indeed, quite a normal man. And then, five weeks ago I received an abnormal PSA report, followed by an abnormal biopsy result: cancer of the prostate. Cancer of the high-risk kind. Cancer of the “you better do something about this soon” kind.

I basically had two choices: radiation intended to kill the cancer cells in the gland, or surgery to remove the gland itself before the cancer spread to other parts of my body.

Blithe as I may sound about this turn of events in my life, I am anything but. At first I only worried about my “love life.” Then I worried about my life. People told me that the survival rates were high if the cancer stayed in the prostate. That’s a reassuring piece of info, but anything based on the word “if” makes me worry. And then there’s the surgery itself. I had always thought of “an operation” as something common and simple, but then many people starting staying things to me like, “And, of course, there’s always the danger of the surgery.” What? “Yes,” they said, “Nicked blood vessels, nicked organs, transfusions – not to forget the dangers of anesthesia.” What? I had always thought of anesthesia as my friend. “Well, it is,” I’m told, “but not in the hands of Wild Bill Hickok”. To make myself worry more, I went on the Prostate Cancer Support website and there read some fellow rail against anesthesia, saying that no one ever wakes up the same person he was before. I don’t believe that, but it’s one of the many kinds of statements one has to shrug off in order to go on and get it over with.

Many people have come forward with offers of advice to me based on their own experiences. I’ve been referred to doctors for second opinions (which I’ve done) and referred to types of practices, such as holistic medicine (which I’ve not done). Talking to a few people who have had the same operation, especially those who had it recently, provided the most calming advice I’ve received. Overall, the kindness and concern of many generous and empathetic people who have written or spoken to me has been quite heartwarming. And courage-giving.

Three weeks ago I’d notice something like a crack in the paint over the bathroom window and think, Who’s going to fix that if I go now? Who will take care of my home? My loved ones? I can’t go now. I’d also catch myself sitting in my favorite chair, looking around at my home and thinking how much I love it, and then start thinking about how hard it will be to say goodbye to all this. I quickly ditched thoughts like that in favor of optimism. But a week ago, on Monday night, I thought for a second, Gee, it’s 7 p.m. Monday. This time next Monday I might be dead. Shock ran through me. I changed that channel real quick.

And now it’s Sunday. Operation Eve, if you will. Three bottles of Ensure to go, but I’m not complaining. Tomorrow, I think with relief and confidence, the surgery part of the ordeal will be over. I look forward to that and  I thank my good luck to live in a world where medical advances might cure my problem. And in the Recovery Room I hope to look up out of the haze and see my wife, Janet’s, worried face and smile to assure her I’m okay.

In the meantime I want to thank you all for your good wishes and kind support.