Sunday, April 28, 2013

His Father's War

The Complete and Total Loser's father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the early 1980s. He died from unrelated ailments at age 91 in 2011. 
In between, he bored many about prostate cancer, which had come to define him in some ways. He became an expert in it. It may have been the only thing he knew more about than most others, and he became an expert at steering conversations to the topic.
He could not understand why when notable deaths were reported the cause wasn't given and wrote letters to newspapers and magazines questioning this lack. When a cause was cited and it was prostate cancer, his reaction was a twisted sort of glee, an I-told-you-so that wore on his three sons and others. 
He'd say the reason for his joy was that it gave the disease a higher profile and generate more money for research, but the Loser often wondered whether it weren't because it linked him to the famous and rich. 
Now, a year-and-a-half dead, all is forgiven. 
Cancer makes everyone see life in a new way and in his case, it broadened his cultural horizons. The Loser's father had never read anything by Phillip Roth before, but bought Everyman in hardback because he'd heard it was about a character with prostate cancer. Frank Zappa, Bill Bixby, Charlton Heston, Dennis Hopper, Timothy Leary. Good company and people the Loser's father may have only dimly been aware of had they not died from the same disease afflicting him.
Look at the boxes in this photo. The white ones are full of prostate cancer information. Newspaper and magazine clippings, hospital handouts, reports from his doctors and, in later years, printouts from websites. 

Nearly all of it is obsolete now and was before his father died, but he kept it anyway. 
It hit the Loser why in a flash. Imagine you live in a house and it's being invaded by a growth of some kind that threatens to destroy it. It will retreat at times but never leave. You call in experts, of course, and they do what they can but end up telling you they've done everything they can but to call them if you think there's more they can do. Meanwhile, it destroys thousands of houses, some near you, more far away. Sometimes it is stopped, but often it succeeds. 
You like your house and you want to continue living there. Wouldn't you want to do everything you could to know everything about this invader you could? 
That's what the Loser's father was doing.
The Loser has always disliked the battle metaphor people use when talking about cancer. It makes it sound as if there are armies in conflict and that right will ultimately prevail. That's not fair to those who die from it; it paints them as people conquered by a superior sentient force. It's not that, it's just a simple (or complex) growth of mutant cells acting mindlessly. But if the battle metaphor helps you stay focused and remember to keep your doctors' appointments, stay with it. 
The Loser's father soaked up all the information he could and shared it with others in support groups designed for the cause. It helped him and, as noted at the start, he died pretty much of old age, not prostate cancer.

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