Friday, May 2, 2014

Thoughts from a One-Year Cancer Survivor

It was one year ago today, May 2, that I underwent surgery to remove the scourge of prostate cancer. I owe my life to my long-time primary care physician for catching it early, and the excellent surgical team at San Diego’s Sharp Memorial Hospital for removing the cancer in its entirety.

Since then, my PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels have dropped to zero, and my health is great. And, while I am checking PSA levels on a regular basis—one can never be certain that the scourge won’t metastasize elsewhere in the body—I feel confident that the whole episode is behind me. And I now share the honor of being a prostate cancer survivor with such luminaries as actor Robert De Niro, “America’s Mayor” Rudy Giuliani, former Yankee manager Joe Torre, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and many others whose names we don’t know.

Over the past year, many of my family, friends and fans have asked how I’m doing since the scare and, while I’m truly grateful for their concern, I never considered it a “scare.” In fact, I was never once frightened or worried by it, nor did I ever lament “why me?”

Now maybe I’m just too dopey to know any better, but I approached the whole thing with my best Alfred E. Neuman impersonation: “What, me worry?” You see, I watched as my mom and dad worried over everything, resulting only in anger, stress, nail biting and hair pulling. I can’t imagine how many years this must have taken off their lives.

Of course I, too, went through this agony when I was younger—after all, it had been programmed into me—but where did it get me? Right back with the same problem, only now angry, stressed, with bloodied nails and a balding head.

No, I’ve learned long ago that worry and fear are counterproductive. If one has no control over the situation, then worry and fear will do no good. And if one does have control, then take control damn it!

It’s not a coincidence that one of my favorite quotations comes from the dramatic true-story motion picture “Apollo 13.” No, it’s not the quotation most think of… but this, too, comes from NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz who, in a remarkably tense scene, scolds his engineering team for all the cockamamie ideas and WAGs (wild-ass guesses) they were desperately throwing out in an attempt to rescue three astronauts stranded on their way to the moon.

It is simply this: “Don’t make things worse by guessing! Work the problem people!”

And that’s just the way I’ve learned to approach life, and issues like this one. Work the problem. And by keeping one’s focus on a solution, one has no time for guessing or worry or fear, and life continues to be hopeful, happy and productive.

After my surgery I barely skipped a beat. I continued presenting astronomical programs, writing and photography from under the beautiful heavens of California’s only International Dark Sky Community and around the world. I did, however, give myself the luxury of six months to recover physically, and then returned to the gym with a vengeance. And I’m still regularly enjoying cardio and pumping iron as much as ever… and feeling great. No slowing down for this Paisano. I figure if the Grim Reaper wants me he’ll have to catch me from behind!

My point here is simply this: we all face problems in our lives; some greater than others. Mine are no more or less special than any one else’s. What matters, however, is one’s attitude and approach to them. Life is just a temporary condition, after all, so don’t sweat it.

And most importantly… work the problem!

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