Of Allah, Born Again and Prostate Cancer
We were rolling around the neighborhood on this summer day 12 years ago. I and my then 10-year-old daughter and my heart, Yolanda Gabrielle Lynn, were out for a walk. It was a difficult time as I was engulfed in the disease of drug addiction. Just being able to go for a walk was a brief reprieve from chaos.
We were coming by Boston Medical Center (BMC), on the outskirts of Boston‘s African America, and there was some kind of celebration going on. As we got closer it was revealed, through posters and flyers, that the hospital was hosting a barbecue, free for Black men. “Hmmm, I like barbecues… and I’m a Black man.” Yolanda and I reversed course and went into the BBQ area. As it turns out, the free barbecue was for the purpose of luring the most vulnerable population, African American men, to get tested for prostate cancer. Indeed, my four closest forbearers, my father and my three uncles, all African American men, each in their turn died of prostate cancer. BMC was doing the right thing. This is what I call the Allah contribution. The Western common sense definition of “coincidence” is accident. No, coincidence in the spiritual sense of the term is two things co-inside-ing. It is two things sharing a destiny. It is two things whose identities interpenetrate. It is two things sharing an internal relationship with each other. My rolling by with my daughter, while BMC was deliberately trying to lure in African American men — this clearly was the opposite of accident; it was the spiritual phenomenon known as coincidence.
We ate ribs and potato salad, I got tested, and the test came back positive. “Sir, you have prostate cancer…” This is bad news.
The bad news got around to my blood sister who lives in Hawaii, Gabrielle Yolanda Lynn. I love my sister dearly. She is a conservative Christian. Our belief systems are sufficiently far apart to resolve that our conversation flows mainly on family matters.
That said, she called me to talk about my situation. Whatever she knew about the general state of ill-health I was in, she was very clear that this particular issue needed to be addressed head on. “Alexander,” she said in her most stern voice — a voice I must admit in hindsight reminded me of the tenor my father used when he wanted to get across a very important point — “It’s time for you to get serious. This is no time for playing around.” She was just short of yelling at me. “Now is the time for you to get busy. This is life and death. Alexander, handle your business!”
Let me insert here that the reason I mention our divergent belief systems is that in this instance my sister, Gabrielle, saved my life. This connection far transcended ideology; she got across to me the importance of taking care of this life-threatening situation. She literally …put the fear of God in me…
I did get busy. I began a two-month long research study of prostate cancer. I became proficient, nay expert, on the subject. They had caught it early, and therefore I had the luxury of this time to study. I followed this intensive examination of all the available literature with a tour of the medical establishment as it applies to this disorder. I am a believer in science. Boston is home to what many believe is the most concentrated expression of medical science anywhere in the world. I read the literature, and I now began to meet with the authors, the practitioners of prostate cancer relief.
I met with Dr. Bagradian at Boston Medical Center. He didn’t initially impress, but he touted a new robot which he claimed had a success rate of 78 of the first 79 patients who were subjected to its laser surgery technique of removing the offending prostate.
I went to Massachusetts General Hospital and learned about the choice of radiation treatment, also called stereotactic radiation. I learned about the pluses and minuses of chemotherapy. The specter of the pain, discomfort and loss of all my hair for months was not thrilling me.
I studied two tomes, textbooks on prostate cancer surgery, written by the surgeon who was touted to be the number one prostate cancer surgeon in the world, Dr. So ‘n So of Beth Israel Hospital. As genuine medical science clashes with the system of social classes, each of these doctor/world renown experts I met with thought they were interviewing me for the privilege of having them take care of me. I, in my own turn, and eschewing the purview of class ideology, understood myself to be interviewing them.
Dr. So ‘n So, again the number one expert, was far from engaging. In fact, he was emotionally removed to the point of being scary. He was dictating to me without looking at me. I took notes, and as this interview of me went on, I became increasingly uncomfortable. At one point, I put an end to the madness, and, while trying to make eye-to-eye contact, asked him, in a low, directed tone, “Dr., can I ask you a personal question?” At this, Dr. So ‘n So rolled his leather office chair away from me and to his computer, and began typing. “Hmmm,” I said to myself, “this doesn’t look good…” After another one-or-two seconds of reviewing my situation, I said, “No, you can’t cut me…” I levitated out of my chair, and floated out of his office. He did not look up, and to this day I don’t believe he noticed me leaving. For all I know, he could still be sitting there!
I summed up my choices. I decided to go with the robot at Boston Medical Center. After all, the robot’s bedside manner was considerably more reassuring than that of Dr. So ‘n So. I signed up, and the date for surgery was scheduled.
As the date got closer, I removed myself from the rigorous regimen of study and interviews, and returned to a depressed state. As the disease of addiction unfolds, the sufferer is generally unaware of its progression: The night before the surgery was to be performed I went on a “crack run” which lasted all night. In hindsight it is clear that I was terrified of the operation, and this was my reaction. I went into the office after this all-niter, and approached the office manager/receptionist — a gay White man who had a very warm and sympathetic manner. As the disease (of addiction, not prostate cancer) goes I felt at once powerless, and, at the same time I’m going to confide in the next sentient body in front of me. This gay White man seemed like the likely suspect. I told him I’d just engaged in a terror-induced all-niter. I experienced him as very understanding, and he told me not to worry. It did not occur to me (sic!) that he was going to tell Dr. Bagradian? Dr. Bagradian …scolded me for my bad behavior… and then said, “We’re going to do this anyway.” As I’ve mentioned that the robot was warmer than Dr. So ‘n So at Beth Israel, Dr. Bagradian’s bedside technique was not top shelf either — this BMC doctor was concerned with the numbers, it seemed. I’m glad we went ahead, but I do not think he bypassed protocol because he cared about me; I think it was in order to notch number 79 out of 80 successful prostate laser surgeries.
The result is medical history — the robot laser took out my prostate — without leaving a scar. I have been 100% cancer-free for twelve years since. As my social science-based disbelief in monopoly capitalism stands, I am at the same time informed that Boston Medical Center, a decidedly monopoly capitalist corporation, saved my life. This contradiction cannot be ignored: My caveat is that in a healthy social order, the benefits of this BMC robot would be available to all in the society, not just to those of us who live in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, what with our most socialist health care system in the U.S. That said, it cannot be ignored that MA Health is still “universal health care” for profit. In this lies the contradiction. From the point of view of recovery, I was self-determining. Self-determination in the field of health care is the basic principle of the Recovery Movement. Acting on her own spiritual principles, my sister put the fear of God in me. From there, I applied the principles of the Recovery Movement to secure my victory over prostate cancer. The laser robot is the congealed expression of the labor of millions of people resulting in the scientifically-propelled cure for this disorder. I availed myself of this cure by practicing the socialist principle of self-determination.