I was recently with a man who survived testicular cancer. A young man, 28 years old, who did not deem it of import to reveal this before we got into bed. As my fingers traveled in the dark, under the covers, and I felt, or didn’t feel that something, testicular cancer was not the first thing that popped into my mind – I just thought he had really flat balls. Flat balls didn’t seem like an impossibility. After all, I haven’t been with a lot of men, I don’t know all the varietals of balls – some women are flat-chested, why not some men flat-balled.
Not that cancer didn’t occur to me. When I have any bodily discomfort I immediately leap to the conclusion that it’s cancer or a tumor or a rare blood disease. I am familiar with the possibility that a man may be missing a ball or two. A friend of a friend who had the cancer, and then an implant, enjoys taking out the sensory-less sack and setting it on the coffee table during cocktail parties. But I wasn’t going to go there with this guy. That would be crazy I said, testicular cancer, bah, I’m sure he just has flat balls.
Later, a full day or two later, as he talked about his life and I learned the truth, he also revealed that its his general policy just to let the woman figure it out on her own – should the opportunity arise. He wasn’t sure how far we were going to go, we didn’t go far (only far enough for the flat ball thing to be an inconclusive diagnosis). He didn’t want to disrupt any potential sex with the potentially unsexy heads-up about the missing ball. Ultimately, I didn’t find the lack-o-ball a turn off – I’m neutral about it – just the initial late night discovery was confusing.
Far more troubling, was the fact that here was a CANCER SURVIVOR. A man that from his accounts was really DYING, bedridden for a year and a half and who is now, as far as I can tell, healthy and strong, creative and happy. I’ve seen a picture of him riding a donkey – a testament to his full recovery. His cancer has made him valorous. And he is proud. And he should be. I tremble under his valor. He has experienced an incontrovertible trauma and survived. And he hasn’t come out of it feeling fragile and broken, but tough and, of course, lucky. Resilient! Wow.
I live in a world of fears both real and anticipated. Worry really is what it is. It is hard to imagine coming back from bedridden, it is hard to relate to the very non-fictional, not imaginary fear this man went through, the very nearness of death, and the very realness of recovery. Illness has always spoken of permanence to me. Injustice and permanence and inevitability. Who doesn’t have cancer? Everybody has cancer!
An actress I particularly admire – a woman who does one woman monologue shows – is a cancer survivor, and is now back on stage. I am humbled and intrigued by this…as with illnesses, the woman suffered immense losses of ego and dignity – an actress needs ego to stand alone in front of a crowd and demand attention. After the vulnerability of sickness, to be able to pull it together and step into the spotlight again – that is a survivor.
Cancer isn’t sexy. And while friend and comic writer Michael Feldman, says that death is more effective for weight loss than the South Beach Diet, it’s the mortis in the rigor that turns me off. It scares me that he’s been there and back and I don’t know why.
When he was maneuvering to spend the night, so that we could get to know each other better, I suggested that perhaps he just wanted to get laid (and I'm not against this) - he having picked me up with a one-liner in a coffee shop earlier that day. He was offended that I would make this assumption (and even more so when I said no to sex). And then, in a way that I thought was somewhat self-righteous (though these are not his exact words), he said ‘you don’t know who I am and what I’ve been through’ – and he’s right. I should have known that cancer survivors are much too deep and wizened to want cheap, casual sex. I insulted him, and his cancer-valiant-ness.
Bleh. I don’t know what I am, impressed, amazed, ashamed, humbled, we’ve all got our shit to get through, but yeah whatever, this guy had fucking cancer. My shit is so much less tangible. Certainly not as tangible as a missing ball.
When confronted with something as concrete as this man’s experience, I start to question – well first thing I’m not sick and that twitch in my eye was not a stroke – but half-assed hypochondriac fears aside – I question my worth, my own survivor myth, what have I been through, what has it made me, am I victorious too or just full of myself and whinny?
So, today’s question: does surviving cancer make you a more worthwhile human being? (we know from Chuck Klosterman that dying makes B-level rock stars more famous) Or better, what’s the most important test we take?
ALSO, this is weird and hilarious and has to do with testicles:
Woman jailed for testicle attack
A woman who ripped off her ex-boyfriend's testicle with her bare hands has been sent to prison.
Your Scaredy Cat