On my predawn runs I enjoy saying good morning to people I pass on Northeast area streets and waving to motorists with whom I’ve developed a nodding acquaintance.
It’s normal, and weekdays wouldn’t seem right without the smiles and greetings. But this year for me has been anything but normal.
Ongoing medical tests found that the prostate cancer I thought I’d beaten in 2011 with surgery had returned. That was a gut punch.
The body I’ve tried religiously to keep in good health had turned on me again. To beat the disease this time required a nine-week bath of radiation.
Surgery two years ago had kept me out of work and from exercising for six weeks. With radiation each weekday this summer, I could go to work and was encouraged to continue my 1½-hour exercise routine.
Doctors said they found that patients who exercised regularly through treatment were less troubled by radiation side effects. Harder advice: no coffee and alcoholic beverages.
And I added a lengthy morning commute for treatments, driving from my Northeast home to 107thStreet and Nall Avenue. With morning rush hour, the normal half-hour drive stretched beyond 45 minutes to make my 8:30 a.m. radiation appointment.
That pushed my wake-up alarm to 4:45 a.m. to exercise. I’ve worked out regularly since 1972. I just never thought I’d need the stamina to endure my own body turning against me.
Exercise helped relieve the stress of fighting the traffic and the cancer. Other guys with prostate cancer offered relief, too. As one man said: we’re all members of an exclusive men’s club because both the disease and treatment are for men only.
One guy said no one other than his spouse knew he was in treatment. I suggested that he be more open so that more men might follow his example and get tested. Early detection ensures more men live to be prostate cancer survivors.
The oncologists and radiation therapists made the 10-minute sessions painless, even pleasant. Like preschoolers, each of us had a special bin for our hospital gowns.
Despite our numbers and frequent arrivals and departures, therapists at the urology center kept up with all of our names and details about our lives. They also entertained us with country music or oldies in the waiting area and the room where the radiation was administered.
The therapists seemed to have a fondness for music older than they were.
Humor always helped lighten the load of having cancer, going through the treatments and the side effects that followed. Tattoos — something I never thought I’d have — enabled the therapists to position our bodies so the machine could administer a directed dose of radiation in the right place to minimize damage to other tissue.
Treatment meant lying on a sheet-topped slab, proper alignment, and then our bodies were elevated and moved into the machine. The therapists left the room, closing a thick door behind them.
Staying still, I clasped a blue ring across my chest. The machine, about the size of an upside-down VW, bug, orbited my body.
Then the slab moved away from the machine, treatment complete. With 39 treatments done, I received a certificate of completion, a new kind of document to share with friends who supported me through the process.
It’s stored now in a file drawer at home, where I keep the birth certificate my mother gave me. I earned the radiation certificate one day after my 58th birthday.
I await more tests in October to learn whether I’m cancer free — again. Meanwhile, I keep exercising and working to maintain this new sense of normal.