Tuesday, June 03, 2003
Yesterday morning I was awoken by a call from my mother. I'd been expecting to hear from my parents because they'd just returned from a trip on Sunday, and my housemate D. had called me at work that night to let me know that my dad had called. I was eager to hear how his biopsy had gone, whether it had been as painful as advertised.

A few months ago my dad's PSA numbers had turned up a little high. We all figured it was a false result or a fluke, but the doctor needed to test his levels again. Just to be verify that everything's ok, we all thought (actually my sister was worried, but she's a notorious worrier).

The second reading was significantly lower, but still high enough that the doctor wanted to do a biopsy. Just to verify that everything's ok, we all thought.

But the call from my mom was to tell me that they'd be in town because dad needed to see a doctor to discuss his options. The biopsy had found a small tumor on one side of his prostate and some pre-cancerous cells on the other. So I was to figure out a good restaurant, possibly around Georgetown, where we could all get dinner while they waited out the rush hour traffic.

The news sent my mind spinning. I could hardly settle on one thought long enough to shave and get on some pants, let alone find a restaurant. Somewhere over the course of the day my political anger boiled over and I signed up as a volunteer on both the Howard Dean website and the Green Party USA site. And I kept thinking about the prostate, little ticking timebomb clinging to the underside of my bladder, one that every man is literally sitting on at any time they happen to be sitting down. Everything else ages, the prostate -- its cells without the usual off-switch and constantly dividing -- instead simmers.

My friend Fruitbat, when asked about aging, will explain that aging is DNA's way of preventing cancers, that individual people get old and die because otherwise our genetic material itself would be threatened. Cancer is the enemy of continuing life-- improperly duplicated cells. Imagine a picture after several iterations of photocopying, when the slight imperfections of each copy become magnified by the subsequent copying. Soon the original information is lost, the picture only so many unrecognizable blobs. Cells that stop replicating after a while don't reach that stage, which is why all cells shut down, which is why we age and eventually die. We could find a way to shut it off, this limit, and be effectively immortal, but then every organ in our body would be like the prostate-- we'd soon be farms for tumors.

Death, like love, is a dirty trick our genes play on us in their battle against cancer.

D., when asked for recommendations in Georgetown, passed on Mary's raves about the 1789. I managed to make reservations and get directions off the Mapquest by the time my parents showed up.

The food was excellent, but much more importantly I got to see how well my parents were taking everything. "Good Spirits" is the standard, hackneyed term for people who have received bad news, especially about health, but aren't gloomy about it, and I have a difficult time not falling back on it when describing the mood at dinner. The doctor recommended prompt surgery, and so the only decision now is the location and the timing-- will he want to postpone the neck surgery planned in two weeks ("They're gettin' me from both ends!" he joked before the biopsy)? It sounds like he's decided on the DC location, probably sooner than later, although mom thinks he should wait until they're back in Florida so she doesn't have to give him a ride on the beltway. Dad scoffed at this idea.

He sometimes wakes up, she then told me, at 3 in the morning and stares at the ceiling and imagines -- says he can feel -- the little cells dividing. The doctor told him there's a 20% chance that the cells have (which is to say, "the cancer has") already spread, but we're all being optimistic for the other 80%, that this is a preventive measure, that the surgery will get it all and that everything will turn out ok.
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