Sunday, April 28, 2013

What the Bible says about growing old

A while back I got a cold – though humorous – slap in the face at being old.

Or at least older than today’s economically applied standard that says only the young have money and that youth alone is capable of understanding what’s vital in this world.

As a reporter and before I retired, I often provided stories that found their way onto our newspaper’s daily news podcast.

This Internet-only news broadcast provides near-real-time information available via home computers, electronic tablets and mobile devices for those readers on the go.

Selected reporters read the news, edited just prior to the daily podcast launch.

Yet I took note that every day one of the much-younger-than-me journalist was the selected news reader.

In half-jest I groused to one the editors how I was being overlooked in favor of one of my considerably younger colleagues.

To which the editor – also in half jest – replied “You’re not the right demographics.”

An age-discrimination lawsuit aside, the comment reflects not only this generation’s infatuation with all things young but also every generation’s similar take on growing old, of being old.

And yet this take, while a world view perhaps, is hardly scriptural.

Nowhere does the Bible say that growing old is a bad thing, whereby those who do age should be cast aside at the first sign of gray hairs untouched by Grecian Formula or Revlon ColorSilk.

If anything, scripture says much about the grace of becoming a senior along with the value that accumulated wisdom comes from an elder’s thoughts and experiences.

That being said, the Bible is equally clear as to the on-going duties required of those who do age, when means, most nearly all of us.

Let’s take a tour then of what the Bible says about growing old, its rights, its call for respect, and – just as importantly – the responsibilities that come with the aging process.


For the Christian the act of becoming old with its ultimate end in death is well known from our earliest days in Sunday school.

We can recount, and even often recite from memory, the fall of man found in the first three chapters of Genesis, ending with chapter five’s verse 5 where is says Adam lived 930 years “and he died.”

Between that biblical waypoint and into Revelation when death is finally subdued and believers throughout the ages will enjoy everlasting life with the Lord come an almost countless number of incidents regarding growing old.

Much of that Spirit-breathed history is kindly disposed to the aging process, too.

In Genesis chapter 48 we read how Jacob/Israel is overwhelmed at seeing not only his long-lost son Joseph but his grandchildren.

“Israel said to Joseph, ‘I never expected to see your face, and behold, God has let me see your children as well.’” So says verse 11.

Clearly the Bible notes what just about any grandmother or grandfather will tell you: Being a grandparent is the greatest job and privilege in the world.

You don’t have to take my word for it, either. No less an authority than Solomon comments on this truism and found within Proverbs 17:6 where he writes: “Grandchildren’s are the crown of old men, and the glory of sons is their fathers.”

Another aspect of the aging process oft thought about yet seldom discussed openly outside the covenant of marriage is the physical relationship an older couple both experiences and enjoys.

Nor does God discourages such intimacy, in spite of the belief by some that sexual activity is best left to younger couples for procreation only.

Perhaps that view is the result of popular culture where even advertisements for such pharmaceuticals as Viagra and Calais typically employ “younger/older” couples.

Having a fulfilling love life – if that is the appropriate term – is not the exclusive purview of newlyweds or couples with young children.

We see throughout the Scriptures of older couples engaged in physical intimacy as a God-given and blessed privilege.

Back in Genesis chapter 18 we learn of the Lord approaching Abraham and Sarah, promising them an heir whose descendants will become more numerous than the sand on the sea shore.

We then view two chapters later how Abraham becomes a father “in his old age;” and while it might be argued that procreation was the ultimate outcome it is no less difficult to accept the notion that Abraham and Sarah had continued to enjoy the physical comfort of each other.

As we will see later the same was true much later with the birth of Samuel to Hannah and her husband, Elkanah wherein I Samuel 1:19 notes the former “had relations” with his wife.

Again, it is doubtful either Elkanah or Hannah gave much thought at the time of doing so just in order to produce a son.

Another example: In Luke chapters 1 and 2 we read of the priest Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth, both of whom had gained Old Testament senior status. With a promise from God to Elizabeth to bear a boy who became John the Baptist, it is clear how the Lord blesses the aged couple.

Thus it is generally implied throughout Scripture how the Lord blesses older men and women in various naturally and wonderful ways those who remain close to Him.

Consequently, these elders are empowered with an understanding that transcends a solely worldly view. And that understanding remains not only a badge of honor for seniors but something that commands dutiful observation by their more youthful counterparts.


Here we see Scripture has even more to say on the subject, an item that perhaps fittingly might belong in the RIGHTS column just as easily as becoming a stand-alone section.

Solomon not only addresses the joys of being old, surrounded by the delights of grandchildren, he also reminds their parents of the value of their parents.

“Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” Solomon says in Proverbs 23:22.

That advice – as good, as solid and as Biblical as any given – was itself ignored by no less than Solomon’s own son, Rehoboam.

Following Solomon’s death a struggle came about between his son, Rehoboam and Jeroboam, the son of Nebat.

This narrative is found in the book of Second Chronicles with special emphasis on Chapter 10.

Jeroboam had fled to Egypt after what we’ll call “a falling out” (“rebellion” as noted in I Kings 11:26-40) with King Solomon.

When Jeroboam learned of Solomon’s death and the ascension of Rehoboam to the throne, the former asked the latter to ease the yoke of oppression handed down by Solomon.

Rehoboam requested some time to mull over the request.

He first asked the king’s court of elders what should be done. Their collective reply was to ease the toil imposed by Solomon. In exchange Jeroboam and all of his company would serve the new king, the elders confided.

However, this sound advice was soundly rejected.

Instead of heeding the wise counsel of the court’s elder statesmen, Rehoboam embraced the antagonistic recommendation put forth by his ne’re-do-well youthful cronies.

This batch of hot-headed, rational-deprived youths advised Rehoboam to increase the burden so that “whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’” (Second Chronicles 10:11 and I Kings 12:11).

What followed was the dividing of the kingdom established by King David but torn asunder just two generations later by his own grandchild, Rehoboam.

“So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day,” says the writer of Second Chronicles 10:19.

Yet look around and we still see this dependence on running after youthful advice.

Our modern forms of entertainment are resplendent with examples of where seniors are presented not only with the world view of being bumbling old fogies but even dangerous backward thinkers.

Makes one wonder how the nation survived the Great Depression, fought a world war and forged an economic powerhouse.

Be that as it may, the Bible has a long thread of verses noting the value of senior-inspired advice.

In Job 12:12 Job reminds his four adversarial friends that “Wisdom is with old men, With long life is understanding.”

Not that youth always listens, of course.

Just like Rehoboam, Elihu – the youngest of Job’s four critics (Job 32:9) - proclaims how “The abundant in years may not be wise, Nor may elders understand justice.”

Elihu then goes on for four more chapters before God finally speaks in Chapter 38 and concludes in Chapter 42 by blessing Job “two-fold,” even with the birth of seven more sons and two more daughters in spite of Job’s obvious old age.

Not that I’m suggesting those of us holding Golden Buckeye cards pray for any additional children, of course. Once around that carousel is enough, thank you.

And though age is not exactly stated in Proverbs 31:10-28, King Lemuel addresses how good it is for a man to find and hold close to his heart “An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.”

A reading of this portion of scripture clearly denotes how the marriage process grows through the years and is established by the kindly report of not only the woman’s husband, her neighbors and associates but her children as well.

Obviously finding, keeping and relying on a good spouse takes time in order to age properly.

Note as well the Lord – speaking through Moses in Leviticus 19:32 - admonishes the young of the exiled Israel nation how “You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.” a fitting reminder that cherishing one’s elders goes hand-in-glove with worshiping one’s God.

The theme of respecting the elderly (as well as those men and women embarking on that journey) is certainly carried forward into the New Testament.

In Peter’s first epistle the Apostle writes to the addressee: “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders…” and as recorded in First Peter 5:5a.

This is a point reinforced by the Apostle Paul when he writes in First Timothy 5:1 and 2: “Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men, as brothers,” and “the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.”

Of course, we have the Lord’s own admonition found in Exodus 20:12 as the sixth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother,” with the subsequent blessing “that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”

On this point even Christ bowed.

Take note of Luke 2:51 where following Jesus’ visit at age 12 to Jerusalem with his mother and step-father how He “continued in subjection to them.” This subjection came after Christ had reminded them of His duty in the temple.

Christ also would later be seen in Matthew 15:1-9 rebuking the Pharisees for their supposed dedication of their wealth to God when they should have considered the welfare of their aged and likely, infirmed, parents.

So, yes, the aged, the elderly, the senior citizen, the whatever-you-want-to-call-them, are entitled to rank, privilege and respect.

Yet it must be instructed that when Samuel anointed David as Israel’s king it would still take decades of experience, of collecting wisdom, patience and knowledge before David actually sat on the throne.

Similarly, Paul had to gain further teaching before becoming the great evangelist to the Gentiles. (Galatians 1:14-18).

Thus the road to rights and respect must also be paved with a duty that extends into the so-called Golden Years.


Simply because one has achieved enough longevity to use the senior menu at Cracker Barrel doesn’t mean a person also retires from the Lord’s service.

Just the opposite is demonstrated with more than a few biblical and real-time instances.

We learn in Exodus 7:7, for instance, that Moses was 80 years old and his brother Aaron was 83 when they first approached Pharaoh to plead their case for the nation of Israel leave Egypt.

Think of it: The two men were octogenarians, and if Moses were alive today in the United States he would have been legally compelled to dip into his 401(k) account nine years earlier.

Even so, rounding the bend on 80 and serving the Lord is not something unique only to biblical antiquity.

It is happening today with any number of examples.

I’ll provide a couple of illustrations.

First up is Pastor Wilson Wahl, whom many Bible Community Church attendees recall as the minister who stepped into the preaching breach left vacant for a spell. This, following the departure of our former pastor Steve Spence and before the arrival of our current shepherd Josh Scheiderer.

When asked to contribute to this piece, Pastor Wahl kindly responded with an appropriate minister-length commentary.

In it, Pastor Wahl notes: “In the recent past I remembered having had lunch with six other pastors at which time I had asked them what they would like to do after their retirement.

“Each one responded he wanted to continue preaching. It seems that once God calls a man to serve that burden remains. Besides, there aren’t many comfortable rocking chairs.”

Pastor Wahl continued in his service by accepting the Lord’s call to minister to churches as an interim pastor, helping the congregation locate a full-time replacement and at the same time shepherding the church for the short term.

“Even now, that joy continues, for just this week I assisted a church via phone calls and Emails in locating and calling their new pastor,” Pastor Wahl said in his email.

My 85-year-old father-in-law, Bud Shope similarly notes how growing old does not erase the debt owed to Christ for our salvation.

Citing Philippians 3:14 where an aged Paul writes “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” my father-in-law states “We never retire, our serving the Lord just takes on a different form.”

To that end my father-in-law has kept himself occupied. He’s done a tour of duty as a deacon in his Florida-based Baptist church, worked on vacation bible school projects, and engaged in visitation.

My father-in-law’s most precious on-going servitude, though, is his involvement as a cook for with his church’s weekly “Men in Motion” program, a noon-time feature that includes an inexpensive hot lunch and a “sermonette” by a visiting preacher.

“I didn’t know how to cook for 60 or 70 men before, but the Lord has me doing it,” my father-in-law said.

Lest one thinks such service is the exclusive domain of men, listen to Pastor Wahl’s wife, Jackie.

“There are many layers in one’s retirement and as each one is pealed back, new adventures emerge with their own joys, which always over-shadow the difficulties,” Jackie Wahl writes.

In the same email Jackie notes: “Successful retirement evolves from a successful partnership of years, being aware of each other’s needs and the molding of the desires of each into one goal. We started our life together with my husband’s first pastorate in an area totally foreign to our individual former growing-up years. The adventure of enjoying new people in new places with new challenges never left us.”

Nor should it, says the Bible.

We read in Titus 2:1-6 how Paul instructs both older men and older women on how best to instruct younger Christians, establishing that scriptural teaching has no retirement plan.

Likewise, oldsters are prodded to be “temperate, dignified, sensible,” (for men), and “reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips” (for women).

Whether “dignified” includes ensuring that the man doesn’t leave the house wearing knee-length shorts, black socks and open-toed sandals is an item best left for one’s long-suffering wife to decide, however.

Of course, being responsible is not something one undertakes about the same time one thinks of buying a Buick instead of a sports car.

In all ways both the Old and New testaments demonstrate how with age a believer embraces sober thinking accompanied with rational, practical action.

As Christian parents we all know the verses on applying the proper punishment to our kids, not exploiting our children’s vulnerabilities, and the like

Verses such as Proverbs 22:6 ring as clear and true today as they did back in King Solomon’s day.

And just as we need to heed the Lord’s instruction found in Proverbs 13:22a which says “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…” we must therefore reject that it’s all about us when we mature.

Gone then should be the popular RV bumper sticker declaration that opines “We’re spending our children’s inheritance.”

Truth is, seniors do have a biblically inspired legacy to leave behind.

Failure to abide by the Lord’s commands about living an honorable, biblical life as one matures is recorded in the grief borne by those who fail to follow the Lord’s teachings.

We see in the First Book of Samuel how the-then priest/prophet Eli had two sons whom God said “were worthless men; they did not know the Lord.” (2:12).

Later in the chapter Eli had to sternly rebuke his sons and later, how the Lord even more severely rebuked Eli.

This was not the first nor was it the last similar scriptural instance whereby a parent failed in his or her responsibilities and which bore bitter fruit later on.

We’ve already spoken about Israel’s civil war that was the direct offshoot created by the backslidden Solomon.

Long before Rehoboam there was the equally defiant Cain who killed his younger sibling Abel, a situation that especially grieved their mother Eve (Genesis 4:25).

David, too, saw what being a poor parent can do, a situation that spawned considerable anguish in his later years when he should have enjoyed bouncing grandchildren on his knees.

Obviously our sin nature is always in rebellion to godly authority regardless of how often we’ve celebrated our birthdays.

Of course we all desire how our final days would mirror those of Moses, who, as we read in Deuteronomy 34:7: “Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dimmed, nor his vigor abated.”

Just the same when we enter our senior years we can still rejoice for as the Lord says in Isaiah 46:4:

“Even to your old age I will be the same,

“And even to your graying years I will bear you!

“I have done it, and I will carry you;

“And I will bear you and I will deliver you.”

(All scriptural verses cited employ the New American Standard edition text.)
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn


Saturday, January 19, 2013

"That didn't hurt a bit" Well, not exactly

The surgery to replace my left knee with a chrome/cobalt device on Wednesday went very well, even though the surgeon said the original  knee joint had been reduced to bone-on-bone and was in dire need of replacement.

In fact, I was up and moving about with the aid of a walker the following morning, including time spent in the hospital’s rehab torture room. That's the one where the rack and the whip are exchanged for colored strips of a synthetic rubber or some other seemingly at first innocent room decoration.

Part of the reason for the jump-up from the always-uncomfortable hospital bed ( a good deal, actually) was the use of something called a nerve block, a radically new approach to operative pain management.

By strategically placing a thin tube nearest the major nerve that runs down the leg the system tricks that nerve into thinking everything is a-okay. With the aid of some form of fluid that drips from a bottle hanging like some Christmas tree ornament from a stainless steel hook-em-up "coat rack."

Fully 80 percent of the leg’s pain is transmitted by that nerve, too.

Only problem: With the nerve’s transmitting ability effectively shut down, signals to do things like “move leg,” “bend leg,” and “cross your other leg, leg” also don’t get through.

It’s a weird sensation for one’s mind to order a limb to do something only to find it’s become a petulant child who refuses to obey.

This nerve block was left in place for about 48 hours, the most critical time for most post-op pain.

In any event, once the nerve block was removed Friday morning the leg largely  reawakened.

Even better news, the physical therapists, the doctors and the nurses are all thoroughly thrilled with how I’ve been able to get around. With the aid of the walker, of course.

Yeah, the walker makes me look like some old codger. It's that or find myself flopping around on the floor like some beached whale.

So good is the progress being made and the prognosis so upbeat that I do not need to go to a resident out-patient care facility for 10 to 12 days of rehab.

Instead, I’m slated to go home Saturday, have a visiting PT/nurse specialist come to the house, be smothered with affection from our two Labrador retrievers and then provide a couple of therapy sessions.

This work will be augmented by a series of visits to Lake Health Systems’ satellite rehab unit next to FitWorks and PetSmart, located off Mentor Ave. in Mentor.

As for post-op pain, the nerve block took care of that up until its removal, though now I do need supplemental assist from Percocet for a little while.

I can live with that for sure.

And the faster I heal and the more I do my exercises the quicker I can jettison that so-and-so walker.

Reason enough to be motivated.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

Friday, December 21, 2012

Yikes more surgery; Maybe retirement is now an option

I don’t know if the well-worn and often misused word irony is appropriate but something has to be in a dictionary to explain what happened today.

Look at this way: At 7:30 a.m. I finished up with the physical therapy that was linked to my Oct. 10 neck surgery.

Some 90 minutes later I was visiting with Dr. Steven Combs, a kindly orthopedic surgeon who knows a thing or two about knees, shoulders, that kind of stuff.

We each know that this visit was coming when first chatted a few months back.

Sooner or later I’d tackle him and make him say “uncle” by including me on his surgical to-do list.

I will say this, however, it was very refreshing to see Dr. Combs peel out of his pocket a well-worn pocket paper calendar instead of harnessing a cold-blooded electronic thingamajig.

Consulting his calendar Combs searched the openings in January.

"January 16,” he said as I followed his lead and explored the calendar found on my cell phone.

So January 16 it is, with the “it” being a total replacement of my left knee. That way I’ll have a matched set, the right one becoming artificial several years back by a former partner of Combs.

That step was easy enough. Actually, maybe not so easy.

The debate I had with myself and with several other doctors was either to replace the left knee or else have a neurosurgeon open up my lower back, chip away at the bony material clamping a no-longer-helpful titanium rod and reinstalling another one. For the third time, I hasten to add.

And as challenging and major a surgery a total knee replacement is, all of the doctors I had a pow-wow with said the lumbar rod replacement would/will be a heck of a lot more complicated, difficult and chock-full or greater risks.

So, I asked Combs, just what’s going to go on when I’m splayed atop a gurney at Lake Health’s Willoughby branch.

Don’t mind me but if you are of the squeamish sort you might want to skip this part and scroll to the story’s end.

I’ll have what Dr. Combs called a “mobile bearing” implant.

He’ll slice open a several-inch chunk of my left leg, slightly above and slightly below, the knee, and on the left side too.

Oh, yes, one other thing. I won’t feel a thing. Dr. Combs said I’ll probably be given something called a femoral artery something-or-another.

There are fewer post-op complications with that kind of knock-out procedure, Combs said.

Who am I to argue, so I said it was fine by me as long as I wasn’t awake.

After the soft tissue is rolled over and the femur, knee and tibia are exposed Combs will go to work installing the artificial construct.

This 1 1/2 to 2-hour process will require him and his team to drill a small hole into the stump of both the tibia and the femur bones.

He - and they, his team - will take the hinged artificial construct which is made from chrome-cobalt, insert the femoral half into its designated bone and the tibial tray into its respective stump.

Sandwiched between them will go a spacer made from ultra-high-density plastic.

Ditto for the patella button, a fancy name for what will become the knee cap.

Combs will then suture the wound and I’m set to go; going meaning that I’ll be wheeled to a surgical unit room for the next two to three days.

After that I’ll be wheeled to a rehabilitation room for the next seven to 10 days, Combs said.

Oh, almost forgot. With this sort of procedure they will have me up and walking (if walking is really the correct word) that evening with the aid of a personally detested walker.

Rehab won’t be much better. I swear after the first knee surgery I gathered that the only people Lake

Health hires for that sort of work are unemployed iron workers who enjoy nothing more than wrestling heavy objects and acting surprised when you cry out “that hurts!” to which they only diabolically laugh.

Once I’m home and for the next several days my wife will have to give me antibiotic injections, each to my stomach area.

She has experience so I’m not worried a bit. In fact, with the first knee replacement Bev did a better and less painful job than had the official needle-dealers.

Combs said I’ll be at home for four to six weeks, recovering under the ever vigilant eye of Bev and an occasional visiting nurse.

That will take me up to early March, I calculated.

“Perfect,” I thought. “I won’t miss all of the late-winter steelheading fishing season.”

I didn’t mention that part to Dr. Combs, of course, though I suspected he knew I was up to something when he said “no ice fishing.”

Yeah, yeah, so long as I can hobble alongside a creek before the steelhead vacate the rivers and before the male turkeys start gobbling I’ll be fine.

If it weren’t for that darn nasty lower back, of course.

And on a somewhat related topic. After I returned to work this morning I spoke with our human resources person who handed me some required long-term medical disability forms to complete.

I also requested details on what is needed to file retirement papers.

Now don’t get too excited. As I told Tricia Ambrose, our paper’s top editorial section gun, the way I figure it I’m only at Defcon Two, maybe Defcon Three. Tops.

It’s worth considering, this retirement thing, I figured.

As Tricia said - and she has been by far the best boss I’ve had - maybe Bev and I ought to enjoy a few years of at least moderately good health.

Makes sense. I’ll keep you posted.

Just don’t break out the champagne and party hats just yet.

The left knee may be a done deal but not my retirement.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twiter: @Fieldkorn

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I'll tell you what important event happened Tuesday, and it wasn't an election

So we are all waking up this morning with the same president, the same House and the same Senate.
 I get that.
 I also understand that our nation is deeply divided, perhaps not seen in a way since the Civil War 125 years ago. 
Check, got that one, too. 
In effect - for both sides who so keenly hated the other side - what happened Tuesday was nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory, for each party, which is why I never bothered to watch even one minute of the returns.
I had medicine to take, stuff that knocked me out so I could avoid the pain that was knocking me silly.
But we all woke up this morning, didn't we?
The sun still rose, didn't it?
My wife still kissed me good-bye and say - as Bev always does - "have a wonderful day," and mean it with all of her heart.
When I opened the door to my house in the very heavily developed city of Mentor-on-the-Lake wasn't there a doe not 20 feet away looking at me, and wasn't that a dandy and absolutely stunning thing to see?
And while many folk were voting yesterday afternoon I was visiting with my urologist to go over tests to see if the radioactive pellets inserted into my prostate were where they should be in order to kill off the cancer residing there. 
We then talked about things like incontinence, impotence, radiation-induced fatigue, the super-charged price for "male-enhancement" drugs, that it will be at least two more months before we know if the cancer is dead.
Oh, and in the waiting room were several other men - some older and some younger than me - with the same hang-dog look of fear and pain on their faces. Each knowing that their very lives were now in someone else's hands.
So I walked out of the urologist's office keenly disappointed, hoping for more but getting less than expected, let alone, hoped for.
We had an election and some of my candidates won but most of them did not
 I get that as well.
Stopping to think about it, after tens - hundreds - of millions of dollars being spent on a tragically negative and divisive campaign by ALL parties we have not budged politically from where we were 24 hours ago.
To think, all that just to maintain the status quo.
So please, don't try to tell me what truly happened yesterday at the polls was the day's most important event.
It wasn't.
Not by a very long shot.
 - Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Boy, that went well. Maybe even too well.

I suppose that I should feel guilty somehow, but I don't, thank you.

On Monday I paid my dues and respect at Lake Hospital Systems' Lake West Hospital (us old timers still call it "West End Hospital").

For the entire summer I knew this trip was necessary if I ever was to lick the two cancerous tumors that were growing inside my prostate.

During that time I had lows and highs in emotions, the level depending upon how much anxiety was bubbling just beneath the surface. A few times it even began to boil over and spill onto my wife, Bev.

Pity because I never meant to hurt anyone, especially my wife of 40-plus years.

So I sucked it up and did my best to live a normal summer life. Even if that life was overflowing with other pressing health issues.

None, though, took on the significance  of dealing with cancer.

Yes, I know all about the huge survival rate if prostate cancer is caught early on, and mine was unearthed before the tumors could be felt as bumps during a doctor's physical examination.

Visiting first with an urologist, than with a radiological oncologist and finally with both at the time of Monday's procedure, the best cure option was to have what is called a "brachytherapy."

This is where specialized physicians inject hollowed-out, rice grain-sized titanium pellets called seeds into a man's cancerous prostate gland.

I would also like to note here that the pellets contain radioactive isotopes. While the radiation don't actually kill the cancer cells it does shake, rattle and roll their DNA in such a way that the bad little guys cannot reproduce.

When the urologist and the oncologist got done with me they had installed 70 strategically placed radioactive pellets.

The whole thing from when I entered the hospital at 8:15 a.m. until I left took just five hours.

Five hours out of my schedule isn't much when you consider that the procedure will give me a lifetime of enjoying my family, friends and the outdoors.

As far as the procedure itself, well, even the anesthesiologist called it boring.

Boring is fine by me, I told the assembled hospital staff as they readied me for the trip to the O.R.

Don't ask me what was going through my mind during my short journey aboard a hospital gurney.

Anesthesiologist and fellow Bible Community Church member John Hagopian  made sure of that by squirting some happy juice into the I.V. tube connected to my left wrist.

I was asleep before we rounded the first corner of the pre-op room.

Yet this is the part where I'm sort of feeling guilty for not feeling guilty.

Back in the recovery room an hour or so later and about the only thing I didn't request was something for the pain. That is because there was no pain.

Yeah, you read correctly: No pain. None. Zip. Naught. And anything else you kind find in a thesaurus, for that matter.

Even after Bev piloted me back home, helped me up the few steps and into the house, I felt comfortable, you know, down there.

Frequently exchanging a warmed-up ice packs for a freezer-chilled one I would press the intended pain- relief package up against where the seed-shooting needles had clipped skin and tissue.

This effort was strictly precautionary. The reason being: There was no pain down there. Nor anywhere else.

And though I was given a script for some pretty potent pain-killing synthetic-morphine substitute only one of the paperwork's capsules was swallowed. Just one, for crying out loud.

It was all truly amazing stuff, actually. Everything I read, every man who has had this procedure, everything just oozed to expect some level of discomfort.

But it never came, for which I am grateful beyond words.

Yes, my body is still in over-drive, trying to adapt to what's happened. There's some burning when I do have to urinate, and the urge to do so has increased markedly.

And there are times when that tap on the bladder comes a little to late.

Each of those things will eventually ease up, likely to nothingness, the doctors have said from Day One.

I can live with all that, I figure, especially considering the alternative.

Even so, not having something pain-wise to complain about leaves me stalled for comment.

I guess then all I can say is "thank you, Lord" and enjoy a day free of pain down there, all the while knowing that the odds are heavily stacked in favor of me verses the dreaded C-word.

The last thing I want now is to also take a guilt trip.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

Friday, September 21, 2012

Time to ride, cancer posse

Well, the horse is all saddled up and we're burning daylight.

 After four very long months of seeing specialists, undergoing tests, having a biopsy taken from my prostate while still awake and then having several lymph nodes removed from my bladder, and a full scan of my entire skeleton, at 8:15 Monday morning I'll walk into Lake Hospital System's Lake West Hospital (sorry, but us Lake County old timers still say "West End").

There I'll  have what's left of my prostate poked with about 70 rice-grain-size hollowed-out titanium pellets (or "sees") that are filled with radioactive material (I believe Iodine-125, and imported no less).

The brachytheraphy - as it's called - will take roughly 60 to 90 minutes. In five years the process has a 96- to 98-percent survival rate.

Of course it's a life-altering procedure with a host of potential nasty side-effects.

But those are the unknowns.

What IS known is that without the treatment - and had I not been so paranoid about getting screened for prostate cancer every year since I turned 50 some 12 years ago the chances from eventually dying of these disease would have been almost certain. Or so says the doctors, and I'm not one to disagree.

 So for a few seconds during each old-man check-up I  allowed for the physical exam as well as the drawing of blood for the PSA test.

No regrets, only what might-have-been had I not insisted on the exam/test.

Come Monday afternoon I'll find myself on a strange new trail but I feel a sense of confidence, too.

I'll let you know how things go.

For now, I'm going home to enjoy a fancy meal of boiled lobster and a sweet potato topped off with brown sugar, maple syrup and a small dollop of butter.

I figure I deserve it, especially since on Sunday all I'll be allowed to have are liquids with no sugar or creamer to sweeten my coffee. Now that's punishment enough.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sex and the not-so-single prostate cancer patient

At a meeting no one wanted to attend about a subject no one wanted to comfortably listen to, psychiatrist Stephen Levine spoke frankly anyway.

And that was a good thing. At least for roughly 20 men, most of whom were accompanied by their wives.

A psychiatrist who has long specialized in sexual issues, Levine candidly laid out to the assembled group the long and short of sexuality following treatment for prostate cancer.

He made his remarks during a recent Thursday evening prostate support group meeting held at Lake Health/University Hospital’s Seidman Cancer Center in Mentor.

Not only was the meeting free but so were the sweet treats and coffee. Reason enough, I figured, to sit in on the topic and even chip in my two cents worth since I’m due for treatment for prostate cancer Sept. 24.

Frank to the point of being blunt, Lavine’s also manage to treat a rather grim subject as humanely as possible.

Which makes sense. That is because to men the matter of prostate cancer, its treatment and subsequent impact on their sexuality weighs heavily on the mind.

Sometimes even to the point of obsession. And frequently enough that  some men don’t seek either medical treatment early on, let alone mental health assistance once treatment has arrested the cancer.

“Until about 1992, the issue was referred to as ‘impotence,’ but that’s not a very nice term and is demeaning to men,’” Lavine said at the program’s jump start. “Now it’s called ‘erectile dysfunction, or ED,’ though you have the same term problem.”

Instead, suggests Lavine, the medical profession ought to use the term “penile unreliability.”

“It’s a big deal to lose your potency,” Lavine said.

Oh, yeah it is, as the heads of most every attendee nodded in agreement.

Not in so much a literal way, of course, but in such a manner where the wife can feel she’s being denied her own sexuality by either the fear, the anger, the frustration, the disappointment on the part of a non- or low-performing husband.

A big part of the bigger mental health picture, says Lavine, is that men are much less inclined to seek professional help following prostate cancer treatment and its sexual aftermath than are women following breast cancer reconstruction.

Fully 90 percent of the women who’ve undergone breast cancer treatment seek mental health support within one year. For men, it’s much, much less, Lavine says.

“Prostate cancer is a physiological problem,” Lavine says. “‘Cancer has come and found me.’”

Lavine then laid out the various alternatives that men can employ to assist them in having at least a modest level of sexual pleasure via a maintained erection following some form of prostate cancer treatment.

That’s true, says Lavine, regardless of whether the chosen course of treatment means surgery to remove the cancer-stricken gland, external radiation treatment, insertion of radioactive pellets called “seeds” into the prostate organ, hormone therapy, watch-and-wait therapy, or some other treatment form.

After all, we men have an image to protect, and Lavine was doing his darnedest to break down that irrational barrier.

Thing is, however, says Lavine, a man can no longer “depend on his sexual organs.”

“It’s the cure itself that causes the problem,” Lavine said.

Overcoming the problem can take one of several current forms. There is the so-called “Osborne Pump;” a device that pretty explains itself though Lavine had no qualms about addressing the ins and outs of this tool; pun intended.

And no one attending the meeting was even close to putting their hands over their ears and shouting “Enough, enough!”

Nope, we all listened attentively, maybe squirming inside some but not overtly showing any display of discomfort.

Neither did we openly blush when Lavine spoke about using a vacuum pump, let alone employing a syringe to inject medicinal fluid directly into the penis to cause an erection.

There is also a prosthesis which requires an operation to implant, and for the men who have gone all ready experienced some form of prostate surgery they are inclined to say that they don’t want to “ever do that again,” Lavine said.

Of course, there is the magical little blue pill or its counterpart, Lavine says.

Such drugs as Viagra, Levitra, Cialis and their siblings can do wonders.

That being said, as often as not, many men who swallow such pill are probably downing as much advertising bling as they are a potent product, Lavine insisted.

“In medicine we have a lot of treatments that aren’t very effective,” Lavine who added later that “advertising is an acceptable way of lying.”

Yet perhaps most importantly of all, stresses Lavine, is that the matter of prostate cancer treatment/sexual activity is a two-lane highway and not just a single track for a horse-drawn carriage ride for a man only.

“Psychiatrists understand that when a man gets prostate cancer so does his sexual partner,” Lavine said.
“That’s why the real patient is the couple and not just the individual.”

To which, a husband and a wife “can still have romance,” Lavine says.

So while a prostate cancer-surviving man may not have the wherewithal to enjoy the same sexual pleasure he once did, that need/urge can be mitigated at least in part by working to satisfy one’s spouse, says Lavine.

“If she knows that you want to please her, you can help overcome the blow that Nature gave you,” Lavine said.

It was at this juncture in Lavine’s hour-long presentation that drew the most attention; from the women as much as from the men.

To hike this path of mutual satisfaction, Lavine says, a couple can engage their hands as well as their tongues.

And while such talk rarely - if ever - surfaces within the confines of the Baby Boom Generation, let alone that of the Greatest Generation, the up-and-coming ones representing our children and even grandchildren have no such qualms, says Lavine.

“There are many different ways of having sex,” Lavine says. “But it is seldom an issue until a couple confronts something like prostate cancer.”

And that remains a hill whereby the best journey to the top is not undertaken alone.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn