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So I was staring down the barrel of a urologist consultation, waiting to find out if I have cancer, and thinking to myself that this is the very definition of irony.

A couple of years ago Ed Anderson, chairman of the Noble County Relay for Life, asked me to do some public information work. The Relay is an American Cancer Society fund raiser.

I said no, of course. I was way too busy: two jobs, the Albion Town Council, volunteer
firefighting, a new relationship, two kids and two grandkids, trying to get a fiction writing career off the ground … I wouldn’t even be able to attend most of the meetings. I’d be crazy to say yes.

Oh, who am I kidding? My track record makes it obvious that I stink at saying no. I have two philosophies. One is “never invade Russia during winter”. The other is “get involved”. But not in Russia.

So I wrote some stories and tracked down news outlets, then showed up at last year’s Relay to circle the West Noble School track with everyone else. I guess I did okay, because they gave me a certificate that now hangs proudly in my office.

See, lots of people just kind of float through life, without any particular aim beyond catching the ball game or having enough leftover cash for Netflix. They’re not bad people – sometimes there’s not much energy left when you’re keeping the bills paid and raising a family.

But I suspect many of them go around with this strange feeling of discontent; the idea that there must be something else, something more. Some people try to fill that hole with drugs, or alcohol, or extreme sports. Some people turn to religion, but being spiritual means not only worship, but service: helping their fellow man

Sometimes I think that’s the root of our problems these days: Too many people sit around waiting for someone else to take care of the world’s problems.

So yeah, I took up that job with the Relay, because those of us who aren’t working for our communities don’t earn the right to complain when things aren’t done to our liking. Besides, the Relay itself is kinda fun.

Then, one day – was it only a few months ago? – I took advantage of my work’s health care clinic to have a routine blood screening.

I was afraid my cholesterol would be high.

It was, but eating a bowl of ice cream now and then really hasn’t been high on my list of concerns since the PSA reading came back.

An elevated prostate-specific antigen test is an indication of a prostate problem, but not necessarily cancer. It could be an infection, or it could be a false reading. Another PSA test was called for, with similar results. The urologist wanted a biopsy done.

Biopsy. It’s one of those words that invokes terror, like serial killer or IRS … or cancer. In truth I wasn’t all that worried about cancer at that point, even though prostate cancer rates are higher in firefighters than in the general population. I was more concerned about the test itself, especially after reading up on it.

Maybe I had a particularly skillful technician, but I was pleasantly surprised – if you can call any part of that procedure “pleasant”. It was uncomfortable, yes, but not painful, and over much sooner than I expected.

The results: No cancer detected, but “abnormal cells”. Sometimes that means pre-cancer, but sometimes not. Another PSA test was called for. That would be three. As I write this the results are in, and I just returned from the urologist’s office.

I suppose it would be an inappropriate pun to say I was sitting on pins and needles. So far the biggest shock has been the bill, which made me think of so many other problems cancer sufferers go through. It’s a disease that’s hard on the patient and their family in so many ways, including financially. Even those with good insurance face lost work time, the need for transportation to various medical appointments, and other expenses ranging from long term home health care to such simple items as wigs to cover hair loss.

Which brings me back to the Relay for Life.

Frankly, if anyone wants to donate money because I’m sick, I’d rather they scrape together funds to repair my roof before it caves in on me. (I’m talking about my home’s roof, not my skull.) Just the same, when I started writing for the Relay for Life I never thought there might come a time when I could have a personal need for American Cancer Society support. Maybe I won’t; but it’s nice to know they’re there.

That’s why I’m writing this. As I told Ed, I’m not above using my own personal problems as a way to guilt people into donating. Besides, I’ve again promised, along with him, to shave my head if the Relay raises $100,000 this year, and who doesn’t want to see that?

Although the extra work does keep me from worrying so much about future problems, maybe this is a sign that I’ve done my part, and can do a little more for myself. After all, those novels won’t write themselves – let alone sell themselves. It’s not like I’ve been some paragon of public service – others can take up the slack here and there.

But there’s no way I’m giving up the Relay for Life.

In fact, I’ve joined “Team Spencer”, which is being lead by an Albion Town employee who headed up Albion’s team last year. Go over to the website at www.relayforlife.org/noblecountyin, and get involved. Or, fix my roof.

Look at these puppy dog eyes, giving that sad story. You can’t say to that, can you? Didn’t think so.

Oh, and my consultation? Inconclusive. The PSA levels went up, but the doc thinks it might have been too soon after the biopsy, which can skew results. Now I’m on horse pill antibiotics for a month in case a low grade infection is involved, and in three months …

Another PSA test.

Lots of help is still needed. If you’re interested in forming your own team, joining one in the area, or otherwise volunteering to assist, contact team recruitment chairperson Stacey Lang at (260) 894-1418, or by e-mail at esclang@hotmail.com. In addition, anyone with questions can contact NCRL committee chairman Ed Anderson at speed95@ligtel.com or eanderson@nobleco.org.

Outside of Noble County, the Relay for Life home page is at http://www.relayforlife.org/relay/ or call 1-800-ACS 2345.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 20th, 2010 09:11 am (UTC)
I hope this helps to raise money, and also fix his roof.
Mar. 21st, 2010 12:08 am (UTC)
They claim my efforts have made a difference in how much the Relay raised last year, so we'll see ... I don't think anyone's going to be stepping forward on the roof, though!
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 21st, 2010 12:08 am (UTC)
I hope so too, thanks!
Mar. 20th, 2010 01:34 pm (UTC)
i hope this raises a lot of money. Good luck with everything involved in this post. I still wish I were in good enough shape to do the 3 day walk for breast cancer
Mar. 21st, 2010 12:09 am (UTC)
I know what you mean; after this awful winter, I'm not sure how many laps I'll be able to make during the Relay. Thanks!
Mar. 21st, 2010 01:41 am (UTC)
good luck to you. i wish they had the polar bear plunges around here. I was good at raising money that way
Mar. 21st, 2010 04:33 am (UTC)
Ooh. :-0 Yeah, I'll pass on those polar bear plunges; I can barely function in the cold as it is!
Mar. 21st, 2010 03:39 pm (UTC)
they were always my favorite
Mar. 20th, 2010 02:11 pm (UTC)
Great column. I hope it brings in lots of donations and more people participating.

And I'm keeping you in my prayers.
Mar. 21st, 2010 12:10 am (UTC)
I hope so too -- and thanks!
Mar. 20th, 2010 02:23 pm (UTC)
Good article - I hope it helps raise money for the Relay. And maybe your roof! (What's the deal with firefighters and prostate cancer? Do they know why?)
Mar. 21st, 2010 12:14 am (UTC)
I don't know if this'll help the roof, but I'll keep my hopes up!

There are many hundreds of toxins in the gasses and smoke that fire gives off, and some of them target specific organs or areas of the body. In addition, some can be absorbed through the skin even if they're not taken into the lungs, which is one reason why we're trying to be a lot more careful with our protective clothing. I haven't done a lot of research into it, but apparently at least one of the toxins produced by a typical fire gets into the bloodstream and attacks the prostate, over time.
Mar. 21st, 2010 12:34 am (UTC)
It's always so ironic to me how people who help the public the most always acquire odd diseases from that very helping.

Good article Mark. And I shall keep my fingers and toes crossed for the results of your next test...

Mar. 21st, 2010 03:57 am (UTC)
Thanks! I suppose people who go into harm's way are, from time to time, expected to be ... harmed. :-)
Mar. 21st, 2010 02:35 am (UTC)
I'm sorry you had this scare. It's a very curable, slow-growing cancer, but that doesn't always help with the anxiety...or the bills.
Mar. 21st, 2010 04:00 am (UTC)
No, but it could be a lot worse. Like many people going through something like this, I've become something very close to an expert on the subject! And as you say, there are lots of cancers that are worse in various ways.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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