I saw Peter O'Toole, already aged but gorgeous in a bespoke suit, on Charlie Rose once. The actor had recently recovered from a serious medical episode, but when asked about it he dismissed it in a tone that clearly said, it's distasteful to talk about one's health issues in public. I admired his display of impeccable manners as much as I admired his clothes, and swore I'd be like him when my time inevitably came -- bad health, not a turn with Charlie Rose.
I'm about to break my vow. Done it already, really, for I have written a book-length manuscript that's waiting to be published about my experience with prostate cancer. I justified this breach of taste by telling myself that a) it would do a world of good to prostate cancer patients and their loved ones to read an honest (balls out, in fact) account of the experience, and b) it's really a big sexual romp so it can be read as porn, a genre that needs no justification. But I don't think I have anything instructive left to say, and if you're looking for salacious writing here, click on something else.
First, a recap, truly boring so I'll rush through it. I've had surgery, radiation, hormone therapy (a misnomer, for that sounds like you get more, while, in fact, you get it taken away), acupuncture and Chinese medication, three newfangled treatments with sci-fi names, more radiation to shrink metastasis, a shift toward constant rather than intermittent ball-busting and penis-shrinking hormone treatment, and chemotherapy.
How am I doing? Pretty damn good. Except for impotence, chemical castration, fatigue and nausea. I don't count hair loss because though there's no baldness in my family I really like my shaved head, but I'm a sucker for badassery. I'm old now and these vicissitudes and more were likely to start visiting me anyway. Besides, prostate cancer, second cancer killer of American men -- first is lung cancer -- is, paradoxically, cancer lite. Which doesn't mean it won't kill me.
It boils down to very slow growth, which gives one a chance to take action: all I listed above. It does, however, require constant monitoring, and that I do. Given to the obsessive self-awareness of a Javier Marías narrator, I was born to monitor myself. And so I do. I have come to realize that, like the nuns in Pedro Almodóvar's Dark Habits, I've devoted my life to "cultivating my personality." And in this late, though I'm still hoping not last, phase, I don't cultivate. I curate myself. And not just my personality, but all of me, mostly my body.
Right now, to start in medias res, I am undergoing the side effects of chemotherapy from two days ago. That means fatigue to the point of inertia, accompanied by loss of willpower -- not that I had much to begin with. And nausea. Sartrean? No. Just yucky. Appetite is gone and with it the desire or even the ability to cook, my big joy. So it's instant noodle soup for dinner, or even breakfast cereal.
It only lasts a few days at a time, this malaise. Thanks to it I've gone down in weight to what I consider my personal best, though it's a hell of a way to achieve it. Fatigue discourages exercise -- I was about to write "prevents" but I do have to take some responsibility. Since what results from all of this is a slim flabbiness, I'm not happy about it. I take steps to remedy it, but that willpower issue . . .
Do I enjoy curating myself? God (and any love partner I've had in this long life) knows I am self-absorbed under any circumstances. Now just more so. Could I take a lesson from my late idol Peter O'Toole and not dwell on my infirmities? I don't know. I concur with what I took to be his views on the matter when he dismissed Charlie Rose's question about his health. A gentleman doesn't talk about such things. I suppose I am no gentleman, for here, dear patient reader, I have inflicted my rumination about myself on your self. My most heartfelt, no, abject, apologies.