Editor’s Note: My recent surgery caused me to take a months-long vacation from writing this column. I believe I’ve recovered and am ready to resume writing “Work of Art.” I hope to add a series of new columns and even include occasional (revised and updated) columns from the past.
Just a few months ago I was feeling fine, ready to resume classes at Highlands and/or continue as a columnist for the Optic, or to travel across America on a bicycle! Was I ever dealt a surprise!
In a matter of a few months, I discovered blood in my urine which led to visits to the ER, to my regular doctor, scans of my abdomen, interminable waits for pathologists’ reports, news I had cancer that had lodged in the bladder; chemo — no pleasure there, it required more visits to surgeons.
The most frightening report was the need to have my bladder removed. A piece of my small intestine was removed and connected to my kidney as a new conduit for liquid waste. The timeline was July to May; the discovery of blood in my urine came in July 2021, and the operation to remove my cancerous bladder was May 2022.
That continued for several weeks; it entailed numerous visits to doctors and hospitals in the region, including the main facility in Denver, where doctors taught me how to deal with the new reality: a urostomy — a term I had never heard before; it is a surgical procedure that creates a stoma for the urinary system. That enables the safe flow of urine through a piece of the small intestine.
Having a urostomy is a real pain. For the rest of my life I will have a plastic barrier attached to my side. I will never again have the urge to empty my bladder the way I once could. I will need to remind myself to empty the device stuck to my stomach. I need to change my entire way of life — and this after 83 years.
Today has been one of those “up” days. I would certainly welcome a few more of them. What has bothered me is being reassured by some who expect to see me pedaling my bike in a few days,” or some may say, “That’s nothing! Let me tell YOU what happened to ME a while back.” Selfish as it may seem, when faced with an illness such as this, I’d rather not engage in a game of “which one of us is sicker,” as a way of winning bragging rights.
My weight dropped some 25 pounds; I could barely hold down my food. I simply was not hungry. I was told that the restructuring of my kidney and the urine running through a piece of what once carried solid waste would change the taste of food.
As one who had seldom ever been ill, I wondered how and why I’d been bestowed such an honor. I’d felt all right before learning about the cancer and treatment, and I wondered what I’d done to become an heir to such a condition. It took a while for the new information to register. Does this mean I can never become a father again? Yes!
I usually felt ready to grab my laptop and become proficient again; but other days my main thought was to remain in bed to endure the condition until it went away or simply dissipated.
On the subject of sexual prowess, I must say that my wife has clung to the conviction that I am the greatest lover, the best-looking man and the most attractive person who ever lived, so in that regard, I am not worried about my body missing a prostate. In Bonnie’s view, George Clooney by comparison appears like an enfeebled version of a gigolo.
A number of readers have sent notes, calls and cards wishing me God-speed. I cherish the good wishes and hope someday to be back among the recovered and somehow coping with this dreaded condition that I know will always be with me!