Nine years ago, in June of 2009, I went to my doctor with food poisoning that I suspect came from eating an improperly handled hamburger. I casually mentioned to the doctor during my appointment that I was going to the bathroom frequently at night. Due to my age, he became suspicious and gave me an exam of the prostrate. When he said he didn’t like what he found he suggested I have a biopsy. This was despite the fact that my PSA (Prostrate Specific Androgen) was well within normal range. He suggested that I go to a local urologist who performed a biopsy at Medina Memorial Hospital
At my follow up visit with my urologist to get my results, the urologist had my wife and me come into his office and sit down. This generally isn’t good news when a doctor says this. Seven of the 12 samples came back positive for cancer. When the doctor told me this diagnosis I told him to get the fark out. He asked me if I wanted to think about it overnight and I told him I didn’t need to think about it. It was cancer and I didn’t want it, didn’t need it and wanted it gone.
They say there are five emotional states experienced by patients after a diagnosis of this type. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I failed to read this study because I zoomed right past all of these to all out warfare. There was no way I was going to surrender to a few cells with a mind of their own.
I had been a smoker since I was 16 and although my cancer wasn’t related to smoking, he told me I would heal quicker if I didn’t smoke. I was a heavy smoker at that time, smoking two packs a day, but it was at this point I became a non-smoker. I threw out my cigarettes and lighters as soon as I got home. I had been trying to quit unsuccessfully for years but there is nothing like getting hit in the head with a 2X4 to wake you up.
After the surgery the urologist told us that if I had waited two to four weeks longer, he wouldn’t have been able to save my life because it was a very aggressive cancer. He said my PSA was lower than his and if I had come to see him first he would not have even recommended a biopsy. Thankfully I had made a quick decision.
My recovery from surgery was not easy and I was off work for almost 7 months. I eventually managed to go back to work but in a different capacity and with reduced hours. I used to work 40+ hours a week between working at my employer as a maintenance mechanic, running my own business and helping my wife with her business. We ended up selling the business my wife owned because I couldn’t help her with it anymore, I folded my business and I was able to cut back my hours at work to just 20 hours a week.
This cancer has metastasized twice which means it reappeared in some other place. When a cancer comes back in a different location, it is considered stage four. There is no stage five. The first time it came back it appeared in the fatty tissue beneath my liver. Radiation therapy wiped it out. The cancer came back again in two places near my windpipe and in my lower abdomen, a total of three more tumors and once again I went full warrior. Between radiation therapy and my absolute mindset that I wasn’t going to go down that easy, the cancer vanished. I joke that when Death opens his appointment calendar and sees my name, he crosses it off and says that I have spit in his eye twice that he doesn’t want to deal with me again so soon.
Surviving has opened my eyes, made me see how many people truly cared for me from family and friends, to co-workers and neighbors.
My wife and I had always tried to attend as many of the grandkids sporting events, plays, concerts, and other events as we could. Surviving gave me the opportunity to see more of these. I also got to meet my grandsons who were born a few years after my surgery.
I feel blessed every day I wake up, enjoy my family more than ever, eat slower so I can savor the taste of food, appreciate nature, and have learned how to let go of other people’s drama. I also think I have become kinder and more compassionate. I think I am much happier now. I know this is going to sound bizarre but I think food poisoning was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It saved my life.
Norb is a writer from Lockport. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lead image: Norb’s 70th birthday party