My Inheritance

My gay DNA …not really

When I was younger I really loved to dance. I would get lost in the rhythms, moving with the highs and lows of the music. It allowed me to express myself; it still does. Though, I can no longer move at the level of a professional dancer, I can clear the dance floor when I’m really feeling the groove. Dancing through its various forms, helped establish my physical foundation and I’m still hitting the gym 4-5 days a week to maintain my condition. It’s important for me that I remain committed to a healthy lifestyle. I’ve even been told by other gym members that my dedication inspires them. It’s not easy waking up at “o’dark-thirty” and dragging my groggy and tired ass to the gym, but I do it. 

In 2013, just short of my 50th birthday, I started getting these strange and painful headaches. These weren’t the regular tension headaches or migraines I would occasionally experience from life. These headaches seemed to linger longer and even continued on during my sleeping hours. At times, they were bad enough that they would wake me from a sound sleep. Ibuprofen brought only temporary relief and when the morning came, I felt drained of my energy, and extremely on edge. I thought perhaps that it was the stress of my job, the lack of world peace, or climate change; I really didn’t know. 

It was a Wednesday evening and my partner (Eric) and I were invited over to the neighbors for libations. As the evening went one, my face started to tingle. I didn’t really think much of it until we returned home. While looking in the mirror as we were preparing for bed, it looked like the muscles on one side of my face weren’t working. The timing of this anomaly couldn’t have been worse. The following day Eric and I were fIying to San Jose, California to see his cousin and her family. Luckily, I was able to get a doctor’s appointment first thing in the morning to hopefully shine light on this mystery. Since my regular doctor was out of the office, I was assigned to another physician. Blood tests revealed nothing and due to the amount of time I’d been experiencing headaches, I was sent to have a CAT scan to ensure there wasn’t any nerve damage or even a stroke. It was about two hours before our flight when I received a call from the doctor’s office; I had Bell’s Palsy.

This day was not going well for me. Later in the evening after our flight landed in San Jose,  I received an email from the doctor with results that caused me to literally do a double-take. Here is a portion of that email. 

“Nothing huge to report although I did note that you have kidney failure. It’s stage 3 which is in the middle of the road. You need to make sure you follow up with your doctor.”

WTF!!!  First of all, this information is far too casual to share as an email to someone who’s not a regular patient, and second, I’d never heard anything about having kidney failure!  Apparently, I had been walking around with an undiagnosed case of prehypertension. But why wasn’t this information disclosed during other visits? The reason why my assigned doctor didn’t tell me about my potential organ failure was because on previous visits, I was being seen for something else. Really? If there was any indication of organ failure most people would want to know regardless of the time? (As you might imagine, I have found another doctor!)

But the story doesn’t end there. Right before Thanksgiving, I was given the news that no man ever wants to hear from a doctor; you have (prostate) cancer. Fortunately, it was discovered early (Stage 1), but getting a cancer diagnosis can be a life changing experience.

So, why am I writing about this? Most men aren’t ever motivated to go to the doctor, but complacency, avoidance, and denial can sometimes be a death sentence. The American Cancer Society recommends prostate checks at age 50. But in reality, men starting at 40 years of age should get their Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels checked twice a year just to make certain their levels are consistently low (4 and under). 

As a gay man, the diagnosis of prostate cancer sent a wave of emotions over me. The one thought that echoed in my head was MY SEX LIFE IS OVER! When the urologist discussed the results and treatment options, he mentioned a procedure called a Prostatectomy , the removal of the prostate. I just wanted the cancer out of my body and decided that the Prostatectomy  was the best course of action. This was a knee jerk reaction. Eric asked about the number of these procedures (300+) the doctor had performed. This was a valid question. We were given a couple of brochures and a DVD detailing the robotic procedure. I was strongly encouraged to take the weekend to think things over; a weekend that was filled with a trip out of town for a family birthday celebration. Celebrating, was the farthest thought from my mind.

I didn’t know how to tell my friends what was happening to me, but it had to be done.  It was difficult enough to say the word, CANCER, aloud so I did something I never thought I’d do,  I shared my news on Facebook. The outpouring of support by friends and the community was beyond anything I could have imagined. Even the local LGBTQI newspaper (PQ Monthly) ran a story on my disclosure. Soon other men disclosed to me that they have either had prostate cancer themselves or knew someone that was currently seeking treatment, which made me feel less alone in my diagnosis. After speaking with others and researching treatment, I was able to think further about my options. Feeling more informed, I decided to forgo an irreversible surgery for external radiation. This treatment option was better suited to my cancer’s progression, my age, and lifestyle to ensure my quality of life.

Man up guys! Prostate cancer is nothing to be ashamed of or be embarrassed about. Having a conversation within one’s circle of friends can also be a great way to gain peace of mind during a very personal illness. Unfortunately, none of us are immune from health issues that are embedded in our DNA no matter how fit we may appear on the outside. But when we share our stories, we can empower and engage the community in ways no one can imagine. It can be a very humbling experience if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable!

It Comes in Threes

This text is dedicated to my mother and all mothers, natural and otherwise, with a special shout out to the daughters: Lisa and Sandy, Deirdre, Danielle and Kimberly. Ladies, thank you for sharing a piece of your hearts.

It’s only a myth that bad things come in threes right? Events of this year have really started to make a believer out of me. Over the last few months, three of my female friends have been confronted by the heartbreaking death of their mothers. These deaths strangely all happened within three weeks of one another too. Due to the regularity and the numbers, my partner reminded me that we are now men of a certain age when loss will again play its hand in our lives. The last time was in the 80s and 90s when we said goodbye to many of our male friends and lovers from a then mysterious and deadly virus.

I was fortunate to have met these mothers at various times during the friendship with their daughters. The first mother I met only briefly at her daughter’s wedding now almost 13 years ago. The second rewarded my partner and me with a gift of cookies from a secret recipe, as thanks for helping her embarrassingly distraught daughter with her exterior home paint colors. The third relationship goes back to a time when I was a young, clumsy, and awkward teen being introduced for the first time by the eldest of two daughters. The oldest was also classmate and childhood sweetheart. The younger sibling still remains a dear friend today who I love as a sister. The above mentioned matriarchs have produced amazingly wonderful and loving offspring; each one compassionate, talented, and philanthropic in their own way.

I feel very blessed that my mother still remains a part in my life. Though we don’t see each other as frequently as she would like, as a good son (at least I think so) I call her weekly to check in. Time thunderously marches on in our lives and she won’t always be there to tell me everything will be alright. This is something, my sisters and I, often forget about. Growing up, our mother was definitely no Wonder Woman with her golden lasso of truth. In contrast, our mother had the “switch of discipline” or the “belt of defiance.” Believe it or not, I was usually on the receiving end! Before anyone passes judgment on my mother, keep in mind this chapter occurred a very long time ago and was a regular part of the environment in which my mother grew up. Nowadays, anytime we adult kids appear to “get too big for our britches”, my mother threatens to throw us over her knee. That image alone makes me laugh! Her spirituality, love, and wisdom have been a source of comfort for me and my sisters; thank you Ma!

Regardless of the timing or the cause, death is never an easy experience to process.

We all are the product of a mother’s love. Happy Mother’s Day!

A Mother’s Love

A breath of life and the bond created;

This is a mother’s love.

Soft caresses and tears wiped;

This is a mother’s love.

A void of hunger and an appetite suppressed;

This is a mother’s love.

A voice of hope and confidence learned;

This is a mother’s love.

Memories shared and experience gained;

For this is a mother’s gift.

This is a previously published piece from 2017.