It was a job, a daily, deadly serious grind. My payment was my life. That might sound dramatic, but it’s true.
I arrived every day for my prescribed “table time.” Three trained specialists greeted me with minimal small talk and appropriate encouragement. After 15 minutes, I would leave and cope with side effects.
For 39 days over eight weeks, I underwent prostate cancer radiation, a veritable canvas for a green laser beam. I laid perfectly still, eyes closed, tightly holding a rubber donut, trying to immunize myself from boredom and loneliness with random thoughts. My last treatment was Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, celebrated with a ceremonial bell-ringing. No academic graduation could have matched my euphoria.
This job, consisting of no creativity or control, required incredible patience, not my forte, as family and friends would attest.
I recommend radiation, particularly after prior surgery that does not eliminate all cancer cells. That was my case. In June 2015, I underwent a robotic prostatectomy at age 69 at Johns Hopkins Hospital. It is common for surgery to succeed for a period, but not indefinitely. News of the recurrence the past September—based upon a slightly elevated PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen), an indicator of cancer and its recurrence—was bad, but not shattering news.
Cancer is persistent, relentless in most cases.
Were I 87 instead of 77, I likely would have foregone a major disruption to my life, manifested by multiple daily naps and diarrhea. And cancelled social engagements. The painless green beam inflicts expected consequences. At my “young” age, I chose to eschew stubbornness in favor of survival. It was a sensible course of action.
When I described my interminable treatments as a job, my affable oncologist opted for the word “grind.” He was right. So was I.
Midway through the dreadful drudgery, I could conjure no ray of joy, no adrenaline rush. I felt low. Then an epiphany struck me. I decided that my 20-minute trips to Luminis Health’s radiation oncology facility in Annapolis, followed by 20 minutes lying perfectly still while a $1.5 million linear accelerator hovered over me, was an unavoidable, unpleasant necessity. I realized that my pre-retirement, obsessive work ethic required being ignited and sustained.
My emotional health called for a dosage of diligence and optimism. Elation would emerge on Jan.4.
While I understand that survival is a strong motivation, a daily medical drudgery summoned my habitual allegiance to a job. It worked for me. So did weekly 30-minute meetings with my Johns Hopkins Medical School-trained oncologist, as he requested.
Early on, he said that the treatment process was a team effort captained by me. His pep talk seemed a stretch. Lying on my back on a hard table while the radiation therapists (that’s their preferred job designation) operated the command center, I really questioned my leadership capability. Maybe it was subtle, too opaque for me. I felt more like an infantry “grunt” being ordered to be happy in my misery. His spin was clever and well-practiced.
My communicative oncologist had the best, most authentic bedside manner that I have ever encountered during a mostly healthy life filled with periodic hospitalizations. He answered questions without even a hint of condescension. His honesty and humor were refreshing. Though anointed by him as the captain, I adhered obediently to specific expectations that discretion compels me to keep to myself.
Suffice it to say that I entered the therapy room in a physical state that produced an unimpeded radiation treatment. The radiation therapists followed strict rules that were not always comfortable.
Any job is bearable, if not enjoyable when your boss communicates clearly and knowledgeably. When entangled as I was in a medical regime tied to my continued existence on Planet Earth, I found my willingness to follow directions far easier in deference to my oncologist and the therapists.
Bedside manner is a medical necessity. Not always practiced as well as it should be. I commend the Luminis team for being serious and sensitive.
As a retiree for 11-1/2 years, I sought no job. I followed my own whims. I set my own deadlines. Medical difficulties have materialized, however, including my prostate cancer surgery in June 2015, that have altered my retirement plan. The aftermath of that operation spawned a commitment of time, energy and concentration that formerly characterized my job approach.
Life as a senior citizen is a job, as I have painfully discovered. Bosses wearing white coats and smocks are in charge. Obedience is imperative.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.