Saturday, January 24, 2009

Making it real

Click on my cancer to make it a bigger cancer

It’s funny where profundities come from, those things that people say or do that suddenly, in a bit of synchronicity, attach themselves to us with personal meaning. In my case it was an episode of a TV show I watched. A psychiatrist character is talking to the heroine about changes. He says to her, “Sometimes when we make major changes, it takes time for us to make them real.”

Time is both a luxury and an enemy, twins joined at the hip. We breathe easier when we have time to make a decision. We go into a panic during an emergency. We have time only to react, no time to think.

Last week I had a biopsy of a suspicious node on my prostate gland and the test results came back as cancerous. Unlike a stroke or heart attack where I wouldn’t have any time to think about it, with prostate cancer I have time to think. I was referred to a urologist by my family doctor. During my annual visit just before Christmas she felt the node and said time was of the essence. She immediately referred me. Because of the holidays the time needed to deal with the problem was elongated. It took a week to get in to see the urologist, and when he confirmed the node, it took another two weeks before a biopsy. It gave me time for a lot of thinking. Too much time, and much of my thinking was negative. Last Wednesday morning I got the urologist’s call: “You have cancer on one side of your prostate, but I believe we’ve caught it early enough, and it’s curable.”

Later in the day my wife, Sally, and I sat across from him and discussed my options. Even before left his office I knew what I’d do, have surgery to remove the prostate. But he wanted me to “think it over,” then let him know. He gave me the time to really fret about it and have a couple of good old anxiety attacks. Sally and I talked and on Friday arranged for the surgery, which will be on February 12.

Now that the surgery is scheduled I have more comfort, the luxury of some time: “The surgery is three weeks from now. I have time to get used to the idea.”

I had more than enough time to get used to the idea of retirement, because I put in my paperwork in October, 2008, and as of January 1, 2009, I’ve been officially retired from my school district job. I’ve had occasion to visit the District Office since then—to discuss my post-retirement medical benefits—but I still have a feeling that the vacation I went on December 15, 2008, from which I didn’t return, is just that, a vacation. I still feel that one morning I’ll have to get up and put on my clothes and go to work.

When I see old friends they ask, “How does it feel to be retired?” and all I can say is, “I’ll tell you when I feel I am retired.” It’s why the line in the TV show, “…it takes time for us to make [changes] real,” had so much meaning for me.

In my deepest thoughts I still think I have all the time in the world. If I pick out something I’d like to do there’s no need to hurry it up. Like the Rolling Stones song, time is on my side. In reality time is not on my side. Inside me, just like all of us, there is a ticking clock. Sometimes we stop and listen to the tick-tick-tick. We’re reminded that clocks, at some point, do stop. The question is when.

I’d like to live long enough to have the feeling that I’m retired, that the labor I did for over 40 years is finally being rewarded with the freedom to do what I want to do. My retirement, my cancer, are both things that are taking time for me to make real. In three weeks the surgeon will cut into me. That will be real. The retirement, the feeling I have every morning that I should get up and get dressed because I need to go to work, may take a little longer to become real.

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