I stood at the finish line, waiting for my daughter to come flying through, covered in sweat and a dusty rainbow of colors. She was running a 5K in support of pediatric cancer, joyously pelted by volunteers with washable pastel paint.

As I watched the various runners stumble home with victorious chants cascading through the crowds, I stood back in awe. These were cancer survivors as well as friends and families perspiring and proud. Organized by a now cancer-free teenage girl and her mom, who saw something bigger than the disease, I reflected on the moment, and myself.

Why was I standing on the sideline instead of running for my life? Did it keep me safe and free from further harm? In my non-descript shorts and tennis shirt, did blending in with the other suburbanites help me blot out the past year?

Only one year earlier, a random blood test ordered by my internist set off the silent alarm that had begun to ring deep inside me. Elevated… and so off to the urologist for more tests and a biopsy. Off to this specialist who would put this false alarm out. All before the year was out.

“I want to go with you. Let me take the day off work. I don’t want you to go alone.”

“There’s no need. There’s only a 25 percent chance of anything. I’m fine. Totally fine. 2014 is going to be our best year yet. I guarantee it!”

And so off I went, alone. Two would be a crowd in my already crowded mind. Off I went. No fuss, no muss. No bad news for the new year.

“You have cancer.”

I looked behind me as if the doctor was talking to someone else. As if I really thought he was talking to someone else. Barely hearing his words on watchful watching… and cutting… and radiating, I made my next appointment and walked to my car. I set off the alarm.

And so the new year began not with a whimpering hangover, but the bang, bang, banging of an MRI machine. To rule additional things out. To get things straight. No muss, no fuss.

Just my luck. Not just prostate cancer but a tumor deep in my kidney. Both malignant. Two for the price of my one high-deductible medical plan. Luck of my drawers.

Two diagnoses when I expected none, asked for none. Two robotic surgeries by the man with the golden hands. Two recoveries bolstered by edible arrangements and a too-accommodating wife. Two early detections that meant no chemotherapy, no radiation. No outward signs. No one knowing more than I wanted them to know.

But how do you recover when you’re used to keeping things undercover? Though I believe myself to be an enlightened man, in touch with my feelings who may cry publicly and privately, I realized when it came to my cancer, I was scared and scarred. I kept it in even as the cancers came out.

Ask me to support a friend battling cancer or hard times, and I am there. Ask me to set up a charitable lemonade stand for my kids, and I am there. Ask me to be a bone marrow match, organ donor, fundraising chair, and I am there. Ask me about me… not going there.

I will hide my now-needed Depend® guards under a pile of other Wal*Mart goods. I will change the subject from my cancer to anything else, subjecting myself to mind games only I can master. I will bob and weave like a prizefighter, avoiding blow-by-blow accounts of my latest blood work and doctor appointments down in The Bronx.

Pink ribbons and runs for a cure encircle my town, but they are the signs of the times I avoid. I am not ready to shout from the rooftops all the fears that I can only whisper to my wife about at night. No longer an open book, I have devolved with a stereotypical caveman attitude about my cancer.

Do I want people to know I watch Cialis® commercials as if I am reading Ulysses? That every laugh, every guffaw makes me clench and tense up in an effort to control the flow? That I no longer feel whole, and feel like a total ass for thinking that way?

Women seem so capable, so intrinsically able to wear their scars and years proudly. Pink ribbons and red hats. Power walks and empowered advocates. Ya-Ya sisterhoods of fortitude and faith.

Female friends who have survived mastectomies and reconstructive surgeries construct new lives for themselves. One friend is a mah jongg queen. Another runs marathons. They work day and night, and make it work for themselves and their loved ones.

While I can juggle work, life and health like a seasoned circus performer, nary missing a beat or responsibility, I cannot belly up the bar and discuss this honestly and openly with friends, especially the guys. Joking and joviality are fine but talking about anything south of my waist is off limits. And it’s not them… it’s me.

Logical, it’s not. Inspirational, it’s not. But maybe this is a first step on the path to recovery. Not with a ribbon, parade or multicolored run, but with five simple words that now describe me. That now define me more than those XY chromosomes.

“I am a cancer survivor.”


32 thoughts on “Pink Ribbons and Blue Balls

  1. mimicutelips says:

    I can’t say I can relate, but I can understand. My mother is a proud breast cancer survivor and had a single mastectomy. Yet I must admit I don’t see much rallying around men with cancer. There are obvious stereotypes for the macho man and such but I’m sure your guy friends would rally around you just like we do our women friends. Kudos for taking the first step to sharing, you are already an inspiration to me. Congrats on being a CANCER SURVIVOR!

    1. bprcomm0612 says:

      Thank you for your thoughts. I am so happy your mom has survived breast cancer. Hopefully, we can get men to talk about the impact cancer has had on them then, now and in the future. Thanks again for the “kudos.”

  2. Peppe says:

    So glad you are a survivor! It doesn’t define you. It is just another part of the wonderful, caring man you are. Love ya!

    1. bprcomm0612 says:

      Thank you. I am glad this inspired you. Couldn’t have done it without good friends.

  3. jaws4242 says:

    I love your honesty. with all the pink ribbons, I think I sometimes forget that men are going through it as well. Wishing you good health and peace in dealing with all the crap that comes along with cancer.

    1. bprcomm0612 says:

      Thank you. Sometimes I wish men would be more comfortable not just with wearing a ribbon but saying it’s okay to feel vulnerable. Thanks for your well wishes.

  4. lrconsiderer says:

    You’re also a bit of a hero for speaking up. I’m sorry that surviving this has been such a lonely struggle for you. I’m glad you have your wife and your family to support you.

    1. bprcomm0612 says:

      Thank you for your kind words. It hasn’t been lonely because of other people but rather because I kept things in my head. Getting it out feels so much better!

      1. lrconsiderer says:

        I understand that. I’m glad it feels better to get it out. But not an easy subject to broach, by any means, and I’m rather shocked and appalled by the disparity you mention between how freely women share their survival stories, and how you felt yours wasn’t something you felt you could be open about (til now).

  5. bprcomm0612 says:

    I think woman are better equipped than men at expressing their feelings. I admire that so much. We are evolving but it can take men more time to express their feelings. It is surprising to me since I was always someone who opened up easily but this year made me more tentative about expressing how I felt. This article hopefully is a starting point for me.

  6. karen wagner says:

    Awesome Brian, you may never know all who you have touched with this; but be sure you have. Love, Karen   

    1. bprcomm0612 says:

      Thank you. You are a great friend.

  7. rdunton2014 says:

    I am always here…. always.

    1. bprcomm0612 says:

      That I know at my core.

  8. Wow. Your words, your story are so powerful. You have such a way and such a gift with WHO you are- and this story? I am both inspired and amazed at your perspective and your courage. You have a gift, ya know. Yes you do. Not only the gift of life, but the gift of writing about your story- your insight, your place in the journey between cancer and life. I for one, am BLESSED by what you shared here. And I am sure that many more will be too…

    1. bprcomm0612 says:

      Thank you for these kind words. It was very cathartic to put my feelings down on paper. I hope this helps other men to express themselves. Wishing you all the best.

  9. Really great, powerful piece, Brian. I’m so glad that you were able to avoid the horrors of radiation and chemo … and that you are recovering and starting to feel whole again. It’s a shame that men are forced to feel so closeted about their experiences with male cancers … that they don’t have that solidarity that women seem to have found. This piece is such an inspiration. You are brave on so many levels. And I’m so glad that you are man enough and human enough to break the silence and stigmas and try to foster a culture of awareness and acceptance … of questioning and protesting the secrecy and shame that seem to abound when men get taboo-to-talk-about cancers. You are an amazing man. And I admire your courage. And most of all, I am so glad that you made it through so that we can rediscover our friendship in our fifties.

  10. bprcomm0612 says:

    Thank you Parri for this insightful and meaningful comments. I am so happy social media has brought back our friendship. You are an amazing, creative and compassionate person who deserves only the best life has to offer. Her Royal Thighness will soon rule the seven seas, from blog to blog, media outlet to media outlet. You continue to be inspirational!

  11. Roz Kule says:

    Hugs to you Brian……

  12. Jessie says:

    Thank you for sharing. I see where you are coming from — men are always expected to be stoic and brush everything off. Kudos for you for being brave enough to talk!

  13. Cecilia says:

    What you feel comfortable sharing is totally up to you. But you already took a big step – you shared your feelings in this post. No one can ask for more than that. Wish you all the best.

    1. bprcomm0612 says:

      Thank you for your comments. I definitely feel I made the right decision about writing this blog post.

  14. This is beautifully touching, you survivor, you. Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. bprcomm0612 says:

      Thank you so much. Please share with others, if you can.

  15. chicagolou says:

    Beautiful story, Brian. Well done. Thanks for your incredible honesty. xo Lou

    1. bprcomm0612 says:

      Thanks Lou. Means a lot coming from you who knew me when…

  16. chicagolou says:

    PS, I am not reading this at 3:54 am! It is actually 10:55pm, a sensible time.

  17. Hi Dad, I really liked this post, especially since I went through something kind of similar when I had my surgery in high school. Plus, I read all of the comments on this post, and you have an awesome support system! Love you.

  18. bprcomm0612 says:

    Samantha, so glad you liked it. With my wife and kids, I have the most amazing support system! And that’s all I need.

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