Monthly Archives: November 2014

Nine Hundred Miles: Reactions and Understandings–Three for Three

Third Step of Everest

The “third step” of Mt. Everest


As I said in the last blog, “Nine Hundred Miles: The Second Step,” I didn’t react that much to my diagnosis. In fact, I was somewhat giddy and excited to learn that it was treatable and I should have many more years of life ahead. I told my family first, of course, and they were concerned and supportive and continued to be so the whole rest of the way.

Next I told friends individually and in person if possible. I wasn’t ready to put the news out there on Facebook or in the church newsletter. That would come later.

My news greatly upset the first friend I told. She burst into tears immediately. “I don’t see how you can be so calm about it,” she cried. “It’s cancer and you might die of it!”

“I could,” I said, “but I don’t think that will happen.”

“But it could!” I couldn’t change her reaction (a foolish idea to begin with) and as is so often the case, women are more more in touch with their feelings than men. As a card-carrying guy all my life, I am a poster boy for the slooooow emotional reactions. But one arrived soon enough like a diesel pulling into the station.

Another friend gave me the best advice I received the entire time. “Don’t let this cancer define you,” she told me. You’re not Dan Verner, cancer patient. You are first and foremost Dan Verner, husband, father, son, writer, singer and friend. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.” I remembered her words and they served me well.

The giddiness lasted about a day, and then I crashed. Thoughts arose unbidden to my mind: what if the diagnosis is wrong? What if the treatment doesn’t work? What if the cancer spreads? “What if’s” troubled me for a couple of days, and then I worked through them, remembering my first friend’s reaction grounded in an emotional maturity I have to work hard to find.  Any disease involves loss, and we as human beings grieve losses. But we can dwell on what we have lost, or we can move forward, focusing on what we have and all that we can gain. I struggled up through the dark clouds of my new reality for about a week, and then broke through into the sunlight. My friends helped me achieve that understanding, and so, in the words of my man Gordon Lightfoot, I chose to “press on.”

I remembered my second friend’s advice and focused on family, friends, writing, singing and appreciating the world around me. I took long walks and, as the treatments went on, frequent naps with my cat Nacho, a Certified Writer’s Cat.

And so I got by with a lot of help from my friends.

Next blog: Foursquare–Treatment Begins

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Nine Hundred Miles: The Second Step

The Second Step

The journey of 900 miles continues with the second step.(Ersatz Chinese proverb I just made up.)

Since I posted my first blog on the diagnosis and treatment of my prostate cancer, several people have asked about the title. The explanation is easy and features math even I can do without a calculator. The Cancer Center at Lake Manassas (a marvelous place with an incredibly competent and compassionate staff) is 20 miles round trip from my house, and I made 45 such trips, so higher math (20 x 45 = 900) tells us that I drove 900 miles total for my cure. Q.E.D. and other Latin stuff like that.

The next step involved a visit to Prince William Urology, a practice famous (or is it infamous) for another doctor in the practive, Dr. Sehn re-attaching John Bobbitt’s member after his unfortunate encounter with a kitchen knife wielded by Lorena. Can we say ouch? Ironically, as I studied the stories about the event hung around the walls of the office (no kidding). There I met Dr. Sejahdi and his staff. We were going to get to know each other uh, intimately in the next few days. I didn’t know what was involved in the diagnosis, but I did know I was going to say ouch more than once, and possibly quite loudly. than in a whisper.

I showed up for the test a couple of days later, and was greeted by a friendly nurse who assured me that she had presided over thousands of these test and that it wouldn’t hurt for long. I am a big chicken when it comes to pain, so I asked if they’d put me out for the procedure. She laughed. “It won’t take that long, and it will be over before you know it.”

I was skeptical, but it turns out she was right. I won’t go into the details of the tests except to say they involved instruments in places where the sun don’t shine. Since I was sedated and the beneficiary of a strategically placed local anesthetic, I felt discomfort and pressure rather than pain. Still, these diagnostic tests were by far the most unpleasant part of the experience until I experienced side effects late in the treatment and a month after treatment stopped. And the tests lasted about three minutes each. Still, lying in an awkward position, uncertain as to what would happen next, I felt every second of those three minutes.

I thought it would take a few days to get the results, but as soon as I was dressed, Dr. S. came in  with the results of the diagnosis. He handed me a piece of paper with a color scan of the area in question and said, “Your Gleeson numbers for the cells in this area are 7 and 8. If they were both 7’s, we’d do what we call ‘watchful waiting.’ But I would recommend radiation in your case. Your cancer is non-aggressive, which means that without treatment, you’ll live ten to fifteen years more. With treatment, 30 to 40. The choice is yours.”

As he delivered this news, I rubbed my eyes, which were itching from spring allergies. He reached over and put a hand on my shoulder. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” I said, and I was, right then. I felt a sense of calm, particularly with the prospect of living until 106, so I said, “Let’s do it. And you’re all invited to my 106th birthday party. I expect to see you there.” Talk about a no-brainer.

I really felt all right, but I think I was in a state of shock. My dad had just finished treatment for colon cancer, a much more serious condition than mine, and I would be going to the same place, the Cancer Treatment Center at Lake Manassas. He received radiation and chemo, while I would just have radiation. It looked like a cakewalk that April day, but that was more like the beginning of a marathon in the mountains for me, as it turned out.

Next time: Reactions and Understandings


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Nine Hundred Miles

Nine Hundred Miles

In the brightly lit examination room, Dr. Christopher Heaton, my family physician handed me the results of my most recent blood test. Outside I could see flowering branches of trees moved by a gentle warm breeze. He had circled the results of the PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) test and drawn a little arrow moving upward from left to right. Beside the arrow he had written “accelerating.”

I knew instantly what that meant. Quite possibly I had prostate cancer, and I needed to take action, and quickly. At that point I didn’t know whether I actually did have cancer, or, if I did,  if it were aggressive. If it proved to be aggressive, I had months to live. If not, with treatment, my prognosis was excellent.

I’m glad Dr. H. insisted on the test. Men, it doesn’t hurt beyond the prick of the needle, but knowing your numbers can literally mean the difference between life and death. If you haven’t had one in the past year, call your doctor now. Don’t hesitate. Just do it.

I walked outside in bright sunshine, knowing I was about to set out on a journey. What would happen and where I would end up, I did not know. I had a sense that the experience would change me, and that’s what I want to write about in this every-other-day Biscuit City blog series. I’ll hope you’ll come with me!

Next blog: the Second Step.

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Mata’s Story

Mata's Story.

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Mata’s Story: October, 1943

Mata’s Story: October, 1943.

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