I don’t read much highbrow lit, but DH does. Sunday, he showed me a review of a new novel by Philip Roth that was in the NYT, because he said it had to do with PC.
So I had a look, because rarely do I see prostate cancer take center stage in art.
I was at a disadvantage, because the only thing I ever read of Roth’s was the (in)famous scene in “Portnoy’s Complaint” where the main character “makes love” to the family dinner, a piece of liver. And the new book, “Exit Ghost,” is supposed to be the last in a series about a guy called “Zuckerman,” (who some think is Roth’s alter ego). So I’m coming in at the coda.
I was hoping there would be something redeeming in the book about having PC that I could pass on, but I was disappointed. It was quite the opposite.
“Exit Ghost” starts with Zuckerman, who is 71, coming to NYC from his hideout in the Berkshires, to have an operation to help with his incontinence, which resulted from his having had RP 10 years ago. I have to say I cringed when I read graphic passages a like this one:
“His prostate cancer, first alluded to in American Pastoral, has left him impotent and incontinent, conditions he describes in vivid detail. Diapers are frequently changed while his once rigid instrument of procreation was now like the end of a pipe you see sticking out of a field somewhere . . .”
If this is “awareness,” educating the public, I’d rather do without it.
The author uses PC as a symbol of aging, decrepitude and death. This is supposed to be the last book in a series about this character, hence the “cheery” name, “Exit Ghost”. Also, because Zuckerman was a womanizer, so “phallocentric,” and now he can do nothing but yearn, they give him prostate cancer. Because it represents the complete loss of virility:
“The exquisite torture of having a functional, unruly penis is nothing compared with the baffling, non-exquisite torture of not having one. Zuckerman is haunted all over New York by the ‘ghost of his virility.'”
I am no fan of prostate surgery. I think it should be a treatment of last resort. But here they make it worse than it is. Not everybody who’s had RP is in Zuckerman’s dire situation. Or, for that matter, sitting around contemplating death.
The only interesting thing the reviewer (an Aussie) said is that Americans are so bright-eyed and optimistic, that they can’t accept the idea of death, the way other people do. Probably right.
The truth is, PC is mainly an older person’s disease, and so it carries all the stigmas of aging. Some of the “junior” members here don’t realize it, but they are a *rarity,* an exclusive club within a club.
I say this with all due respect to our “elders” here. They have given me the wisest counsel. And I believe every man who wants aggressive treatment for PC should be treated regardless of age. Also, I don’t want to send the message that younger men need to be vigilant about PC. All men need to be screened at the appropriate age.
PS: Am including a chart about distribution of PC by age (at diagnosis) FYI.
Who gets PC?
Here are the SEER Incidence statistics from the NCI:
From 2000-2004, the median age at diagnosis for cancer of the prostate was 68 years of age. Here is the distribution:
0.0% were diagnosed under age 20;
0.0% between 20 and 34;
0.5% between 35 and 44;
8.4% between 45 and 54;
27.3% between 55 and 64;
36.7% between 65 and 74;
22.4% between 75 and 84;
4.7% 85+ years of age.