A few months ago during my annual physical my doctor wasn’t happy with my PSA number. All middle-aged men watch that number like a hawk because it provides at least some information regarding the prostate gland. “Prostate-Specific Antigen” is what the letters stand for, meaning a male enzyme that gives an indication of prostate gland health. For my age group, when the number gets above four you have to take notice because it may point to problems. My doctor used the “C” word—cancer—and got my attention in a hurry. I’ve talked, counseled, consoled and prayed with many cancer patients. But I’ve never had the word used concerning my personal health. The long and short of it was because of my elevated PSA count and some other things, my doctor said I needed a biopsy.
“A biopsy doesn’t sound good, doc.” I said. “No problem,” he replied, “It’s the standard next step we need to take. The urologist will do it right there in his office. It’s not painful and you’ll be in and out with no problem.” I agreed and his office scheduled an appointment with a local urologist.
I liked him immediately. Young and engaging, he talked to Pam and me straightforwardly about prostate cancer—what it was, how it was diagnosed and what to expect from the procedure. “The biopsy isn’t a bad experience at all,” he said. I agreed to have it done a couple of weeks later.
My doctor is first-class, but he didn’t tell me all the truth. OK, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he didn’t represent things exactly as I found them to be. Without going into all the sordid details the biopsy was something I hope never to have to go through again. Any man who’s ever been through one will vouch for that. In fact, I’ve done some research since (don’t ask me why I didn’t do my research beforehand but it’s a good thing I didn’t because I might have decided against it), and my experience wasn’t unusual.
The cycle of blood tests, doctor’s visits and biopsies led straight to the most trying time of all—the waiting. Everyone who’s had any experience with cancer knows that this stage is as integral part of the process as the more formal medical procedures. The only difference is you don’t have to pay anything for it. You wait for the results of the biopsy. Sometimes it takes hours and other times days. In my case it took two weeks. Regardless of how long, though, it’s the waiting that gets to you.
Your normal life goes on. You get up every morning and do your job. Talk with people. Take care of issues. The pace of family goes on without let up. But underneath all the ordinary things a kind of internal monologue goes on. Do I have cancer? If not, how grateful I’ll be! If so, how far advanced is it? How do I talk with God about this? What is his will for me? What’s the next step—more tests or other kinds of treatment? Chemo, radiation, surgery? What about some of the alternative treatments—should I think about trying those? How will this affect my family? My work? My quality of life?
I didn’t find myself dwelling on those questions. In fact, both Pam and I had a sense of peace throughout the process. We’ve experienced far too much of God’s provisions in our life to grow anxious about almost anything. But in those moments when other things weren’t clamoring for attention, those kinds of questions bubbled up to my conscious mind.
We returned to the doctor earlier this week for the biopsy results. He came into the office and the first words out of his mouth were, “I have good news for you.” I felt a huge weight come off my shoulders. Some folks might ask, “Where was your faith?” And I wouldn’t argue with them; I could have had more faith. Still, when the pronouncement was made and the official ruling was in, I was overjoyed.
No problems with my prostate gland were found. I needed to come back periodically to be re-checked (note to self: make your next appointment far into the future because it will be a long, long time before I go through that again) but didn’t need to worry about the situation any longer.
Not everyone receives such good news. In my own church at any given time, many are wrestling with the long-term challenges that cancer brings to their health, family, finances and faith. Now I know—even if my brush with the disease was so brief—a little better what they go through.