Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 10 Apr 2005 10:31:07 -0400

Following George

RUNNING COMMENTARY 566

Old people, sometimes to the irritation of the young, talk often and long about their physical ailments. Runners don't wait until they age to do that, though the years give us more to discuss.

Three men whose ages averaged 65-plus sat at dinner recently, detailing their prostate health. The eldest, a world record-holder for his age, told of his successful surgery. The next was healthy himself but said, "I know 15 runners who are dealing with prostate cancer."

To me, the third man in this conversation circle, the topic was disturbing. I asked questions of the others but didn't tell them about my overdue biopsy. I hadn't told anyone except my wife Barbara, who spent most of 2004 dealing with breast-cancer treatments.

If you think this is a men-only story, substitute the word "breast" for "prostate," and "mammogram" for "PSA." Prostate cancer is for men what breast cancer is for women -- a scourge from which our fitness seems to give little protection.

I'd delayed the biopsy for the trip that brought me together with the two tablemates. A routine physical exam that week had turned up a high enough reading on the prostate-cancer screening test, the PSA, to warrant a call from the doctor.

"We need to biopsy you right away," he had said. "With this reading, the chances of it being cancer are one in three. Can you come in tomorrow?"

I couldn't, but promised to be checked right after the weekend trip. I'll spare you the details of this testing (except to say get it done if the routine screening shows anything suspicious). I will tell you, if you haven't had the experience, that the wait for results was more painful than the doctor's needles.

When my own words are inadequate, I often turn to George Sheehan's. A column about him ("Tears for a Winner") appeared here during my week of suspense.

Eighteen years ago this spring, George's week-long wait ended with the worst of verdicts. He had prostate cancer. It had spread into his bones, beyond the reach of surgery and other treatments.

The day in March 1986 when George Sheehan broke the news to me, I asked him if it was too personal and painful for him to make public. "No," he said, then repeated one of his favorite lines.

"For a writer there are no bad experiences. There are just good stories."

He would find the good in his experiences to come, and would keep no secrets. Nothing was too personal for a writer like him to make public. He would have expected no less from me.

George was Irish. It's fitting, then, that the verdict on whether or not I harbored "George's disease" would come on St. Patrick's Day.

A nurse called, which I took as a good sign. Wouldn't the doctor himself be reporting a bad result?

The nurse said without any preliminary chit-chat, "You have good news. All 10 of your samples were benign." That last word has to be one of the most beautiful in our language.

I'm pleased to follow in some of George Sheehan's big footsteps, to carry on some of his work, sometimes even to be compared with him. But I'm even more pleased not to follow George in the way that was his last. Not yet, anyway.

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