BEHIND THE INTERVIEWS: Prostate Cancer is a Shared MemoryNovember 14th, 2014
(Second in a series about the writing of BLEEDING ORANGE. Okay, this one is mostly about prostate cancer.)
On a July day in 2001, I called up Jim Boeheim to inform him that I was about to play Bel-Air Country Club, ignoring the fact that rare monsoon-like conditions in southern California would eventually make the course unplayable, not that—with my game—it wasn’t largely unplayable to begin with.
“I’ve played Bel-Air,” said Boeheim, never a slouch in the been-there-done-that department.
“Figured,” I said. “So what else is new?”
“Not much,” he said. “Oh, I have prostate cancer.”
Like that. Prostate cancer.
To that point, my only experience with the disease was the knowledge that a good friend of mine, George Yasso, had it. Not a more vibrant soul than George walked the earth, and he was struggling mightily with it; indeed, the disease finally killed him 18 months later at age 52.
“I’m going to be fine,” said Boeheim. “Getting surgery. I got the best guy in the country.”
Boeheim, like many coaches, have “guys” for everything. Car guys, restaurant guys, ticket guys. Jim has a pillow and mattress guy. So of course he has a surgeon guy.
“Well, hell, good luck,” I said, all the while wondering, “Is this going to end badly?”
A few months later, at the beginning of the 2001-02 season, Jim had surgery, stayed in the hospital for a few days, came home with a catheter, drove wife Juli nuts when he watched games on TV, called his video coordinator during the games to talk about strategy, returned to the bench with a catheter, never said much about it, won 23 games and life went on. (Though it got much better the following year when Syracuse won the national championship.)
I saw Boeheim here and there after that and I always asked him about it. “I’m fine,” he said. It was the same for Russ Granik, the NBA’s long-time assistant commissioner who had also had surgical intervention from prostate cancer. “I’m fine,” Russ always said.
George died, Jim and Russ went on, and I never thought much about prostate cancer until I was diagnosed with it in October of 2011. I called Boeheim.
“You have to get it out,” he said. “Call my guy.”
“I think I’m going to try active surveillance, watch the cancer, get PSA tests, see if I can get by without surgery,” I told him.
“You’re nuts,” he said. “Get it out. See my guy.”
That was the total of Jim’s medical assessment.
I bring this up now not to go into the specifics of prostate cancer. They are too complicated. If you want some help, here is a link to THE PROSTATE MONOLOGUES, a book I wrote about my own experiences. Buy it [http://tinyurl.com/luq6lxz] in conjunction with BLEEDING ORANGE [bit.ly/1uWz2vy] (Hey, you need more than one gift.)
I raise the subject (a.) in recognition of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, which is November, and (b.) to highlight the multiplicity of decisions/issues/philosophies/remedies/outcomes that make prostate cancer such a complex disease.
George Yasso had not been tested for prostate cancer but he didn’t do anything “wrong.” He was 50, which was the age when some experts tell you to start getting a PSA test. Others say 40. Others say don’t get tested at all. Some would say George had such a virulent form of cancer that, even if he had been tested, he would’ve died. Others say that an early PSA test might’ve led to intervention, either surgical or radiological, and might’ve saved his life. No one knows for sure. It’s one of the thousands of tragic stories associated with prostate cancer.
On the other hand, Jim had a family history of prostate cancer as well as severe urinary issues from a prostate that was not only cancerous but also enlarged. He wanted it out ASAP and had surgery via the traditional retropubic method by his “guy,” his guy being Dr. William Catalona, a doctor known worldwide in prostate cancer circles. (That’s Boeheim and his guy in the photo.)
As for my story, I didn’t have symptoms, only a number that showed I had a perhaps manageable amount of cancer. I eventually backed off my decision to “watch” the cancer and had surgery, via the robotic method, an option that was just beginning to become available when Boeheim was diagnosed. I now have My Own Guy, he being Dr. David Lee at Penn Presbyterian in Philadelphia. I have directed several men to him.
Jim and I came out of this unscathed. Our cancer is gone, catheter memories are dwindling and issues of incontinence and ED are minor. We are both advocates for being PSA-tested, and we do what we can to talk about prostate cancer when asked about it.
But we don’t care to scream about our own stories. We are survivors in the literal sense but there was not much heroic about our “struggles.” We had good luck and good doctors. When we wrote BLEEDING ORANGE we agreed to keep prostate cancer discussion to a minimum and brought it up in the context of one Nichols Trivelpiece, a Syracuse 10-year-old who has been part of the Syracuse basketball program since 2009. Nicholas has optic glioma, a type of cancer that affects the optic nerve. He is much more a compelling cancer story than Boeheim or I. (As a side note, Boeheim put Nicholas into ‘Cuse’s preseason scrimmage in the waning seconds and he made one of two shots.)
Jim and I both know men who have died from prostate cancer. His father for one, my friend George for another. It’s a perplexing disease but one with many, many survivors. In this month of awareness, find out all you can about the disease. Read all sides of the issue. And if you need to find Your Own Guy, there are lots of good ones out there.