Much to Be Thankful For

This Thanksgiving the Rahe family is hunkered down at home. The temperature outside is 61 degrees, and winter is about to begin in earnest — with snow predicted for tomorrow. We are blessed with the presence of my wife’s parents, and our children are having a grand time. There is much for which to be thankful.

It could have been otherwise. Shortly after Christmas, eleven months ago, our eldest, then eleven years old, was suddenly wracked with pain. Fearing appendicitis, we rushed her to the hospital (which is four blocks away). There, after an ultrasound, she was diagnosed as having an ovarian cyst the size of a baseball. Surgery was imperative. So, that very day, my wife drove her to the University of Michigan children’s hospital — where, a day later, she went under the knife. Her parents were terrified; she was nonchalant. And, within six weeks, she was running track.

I, too, am lucky to be alive. As long-time readers of Ricochet may remember, my elder brother had prostate cancer when he was in his early sixties and had the prostate removed. I was myself alert to the danger; and, late in 2010, when my PSA jumped dramatically from a very low score, I contacted an old friend who recommended me for a diagnostic study at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda. There I had an experimental transrectal MRI and both an ordinary scattershot and a targeted biopsy in March, 2011. On that occasion, Dr. Peter Pinto, the surgeon conducting the study, found a smidgen of cancer. Last March, when the procedure was repeated, that smidgen had grown dramatically, and I was strongly encouraged to opt for intervention. On 25 June, at NIH, I went under the knife — and, though the operation was a great success and I was neither incontinent nor impotent, there were complications. A lymphocele developed. I returned to NIH on 27 July and remained there until 21 August, as repeated attempts were made to drain the lymphocele and reduce the flow of lymphatic fluids. When it became clear that the last of these attempts had failed, I flew back to NIH. On 27 August, Dr. Pinto opened me up once more and cut a window in the cavity where the fluids gathered so that they could drain into the peritaneum. There was, I should add, one other complication. While in the hospital at the end of July, I came down with pneumonia.

The whole business was an ordeal. If you or one of your loved ones has or might contract prostate cancer and you want to know more, or if you are merely curious about the gory details, just Google Ricochet Rahe prostate and read the pertinent posts. I should warn you that I pulled no punches in describing what I went through at each stage. My purpose was to leave those who want to know a bit better informed.

I emerged from this ordeal intact. There is next to nothing left of my wounds. The evidence strongly suggests that Dr. Pinto succeeded in cutting out the cancer before it had spread. My PSA, which is now 0.13, confirms that surmise, and the lymphocele is gone. If I do not always feel like a million dollars, it is solely because my age is approaching 64. To Dr. Pinto and his colleagues and to medical researchers both present and past, I, my elder daughter, and my family more generally owe a great deal.

Needless to say, all of this was hard on my wife and difficult in some measure for my children as well. She held up like a trooper, and her parents did yeomen duty, driving from Maine to Michigan to take care of our children while I did my first stint in the hospital, and taking care of them in Maine for much of the time in late July and August when I returned to NIH for a more extended stay. To my wife and her parents, I owe more than I can say.

And now? Well, it is simply good to be here — and a joy to flirt and banter with my wife and to watch our children grow. If I were not gravely worried about the trajectory of the country in which we live, I would be perfectly content. Today, at least, I will soon drown my sorrows in turkey and stuffing.