Thursday, September 23, 2010

That Thing They Never Talk About

As "Worthy Causes Week" continues at the Legion…


The youngest of the four men is 82 years old. But they giggle like schoolboys because the cute blonde at the McDonald's register had warned them not to get rowdy like last time or she'd have to toss them out.

She was kidding of course. But she'd used the same tone to chastise the skateboarders in front of them in the line, so it made them feel like outlaws on the loose once again.

There had been a flicker of that outlaw spirit as they greeted each other in the parking lot. Hugs and high fives like guys sixty years younger hooking up outside a strip joint. Men never change. The only thing that alters is the reason for their gatherings.

Boys being boys and pleased in the breaking dawn that all of them were still on the right side of the grass.

They carry their early morning dollar coffees to their regular table next to the ball pit. There are no noisy kids to annoy them at this hour as they each slide into their places in stages to accommodate joints and muscles that don't work the way they used to.

A couple of canes are leaned against the next table. One oxygen bottle is slid out of place under the owner's chair.

For the most part, they're new to their infirmities. All four were once young and straight and strong. One flew a Spitfire at the Battle of Britain. Another was shot down over Korea and fought his way home through enemy lines.

One played football for the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup game that made the league famous. The other was poised to pitch for the White Sox, but too many of their players got back from WW2 before he did so he fought fires instead; once saving five children by making three trips into a burning house, returning from the last with a kid under each arm as the roof collapsed in flames behind them.

They all once cut handsome figures and still have pictures somewhere with kids perched on their shoulders at the beach or a Santa Claus parade. That was before the thing they never talk about came into all their lives.

Two of them had never even heard of the body part the doctor told them was the problem.

None of them knew how to break the news to their wives.

Not one told a single friend.

That thing they never talk about was never talked about for a reason. It made them feel like they weren't really men anymore.

But they'd all survived the radiation or the chemo or the surgery. They'd all dealt with the pain and the incontinence and the embarrassment the first time they had to buy "Gentlemen's pads" as one of them had dubbed the diapers.

Every 17 minutes a man dies of Prostate Cancer. And men are a third more likely to contract it than women will contract Breast Cancer. It is an epidemic rarely discussed by men because… well, it's just that thing we never talk about.

We'll happily walk or bike to raise money for Breast Cancer research. We'll cheer our favorite NHL team for sewing its almost holy logo on a bright pink jersey and play with pink sticks to increase Breast Cancer awareness.

We'll joke about valuing breasts as much as any woman.

But Prostate Cancer remains that thing we never talk about it.

And the silence is killing us.

The four men in that McDonald's are all Prostate Cancer survivors. All were diagnosed early enough to go on to live long and happy lives. Their diagnosis was quick and painless. Well -- mostly painless…

blink 182

And the aches and indignities time inflicts on them now would be gratefully traded for by the millions of men who didn't seek treatment out of fear, or embarrassment or some false belief in what made them male and now reside on the other side of the grass.

Those four old guys by the ball pit sharing jokes that were old when vaudeville was young don't mention the "P" word in their weekly get-togethers. But when they'd survived the worst they made sure they said it to their sons and brothers and closest friend.

Nobody needs to die because of silence.

This is Prostate Cancer Awareness Week in Canada. This weekend in malls and public places across the country you'll find local health care professionals eager to provide all the information you need to know about the disease. In some places, you can even get a free PSA test to determine if you're at risk.

If you're a guy, go.

If you have a guy in your life you care about, take him, or pick up the literature for him.

It's still that thing we don't talk about.

But facing it means we've got a better chance of living well into our 80's and talking about everything else under the sun with our friends.

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