Norman Cousins wrote a book three decades ago entitled Anatomy of an Illness. It was his thoughts about coping ankylosing spondylitis, a severe connective tissue disease that threatened his life. My article will not be as lengthy as his book nor will it deal in details with an illness. However, it will be a chronology of my reaction to a potential life threatening illness.

In the Past Articles section of this home page, you can read two essays about people who faced prostate cancer. The first article, "A Matter of Life and Death," is about a friend of mine and his view of life while facing death. The other article, "Androcles and the Coach", is about another friend and how he discovered his cancer. Both these friends have told me to get a PSA test done annually along with my routine physical. I assured them that I always do.

This year was no different. I fasted and then had my blood drawn for numerous tests including the PSA. A week later I returned for this year's physical. I must have been living right. My cholesterol level was 98, my triglycerides were 58, and my PSA was 1.5--what a relief.

For being fifty-four, I was in excellent shape. I told my doctor that I don't smoke, rarely do I drink or eat red meat, and I exercise daily. He just shook his head and told me to continue to do what I have been doing. The exam was winding down. After a couple of taps on my elbows and knees with that little rubber tipped hammer, a couple of coughs, and a digital exam of my prostate, I was done. As I started to get dressed, the doctor said calmly, "There is a hardness on a section of your prostate gland. It is only two or three millimeters in size--like a small pea. However, we need to get it checked out; it wasn't there last year."

They say that doctors and nurses make lousy patients because they know so much that their knowledge gets in the way. Well, psychotherapists probably don't make good clients for counseling, for they also know too much for their own good. While I was attempting to get all that the doctor was saying, I was also monitoring my reactions to this potentially devastating news. I was confused about why I was taking this so well. I could have prostate cancer, and I didn't fall apart. We calmly talked another ten minutes about getting a biopsy and who and where it should be done. All the while, I was conscious of my reactions. I wasn't panicked or even breathing heavily. Still trying to pay attention to the doctor, I asked myself whether I was in denial--the first stage in dealing with grief.

I left the office and got into my car to drive home. On the way, I called Joe to get the phone number of the surgeon who did his surgery at the University of Chicago Hospital. I still had no overt reaction to what might be a life-threatening problem for me.

When I got home, I did some writing and then went outside to plant several flats of flowers. I was still monitoring my reactions and feeling that I shouldn't be taking this news so well. I could have prostate cancer, the number one cancer-killer of men. I might die a not very pleasant death due to this possible malignancy. While planting yellow marigolds in my flowerbeds, I continued to observe my reactions to the worrisome news--now several hours old. I noticed as I was planting that the aroma of the marigolds was more pronounced. The air seemed fresher and cooler. The evening of planting was very pleasant. I was beginning to enjoy and appreciate life while facing an uncertain future.

I wrote this article before even getting an appointment for the biopsy because I wanted my thoughts to be unmarred by the biopsy results. I'll let you know how I react to the biopsy. However, in the meantime, learn from my experience.

· Get your annual check-ups. What was to be a routine physical wasn't routine for me.

· Focus upon the important things of your life, even if you pass your physical with flying colors. There will come a time when there will be terminal news for all of us.

· Take time to smell the marigolds. None of us knows how long we will live.

Therefore, live now; your life depends on it.