Lincoln’s Prostate

Is there a chance that we could induct the Great One — Abraham Lincoln himself  — into the “Brotherhood of the Beast”, posthumously? 

I guess it’s obvious that I have been trying to come up with something original to write about for Presidents Day.  But I found it pretty darn hard to answer my own question, considering that nothing has ever been written about Lincoln’s prostate, if a Google search is any indication.  Actually, the whole idea of Lincoln even having a prostate sounds funny to me.  It’s like dear husband said a few years ago, “Didn’t PC start showing up like in the last 20 years or so? Never heard of it before.”

Some historians speculate that President Lincoln did indeed have an undiagnosed illness toward the end of his life that was sapping his overall health.   One theory is that it was cancer.

Can we make a case that it might have been prostate cancer? I almost don’t know where to begin to speculate.   So let’s start with Lincoln’s diet.  The president was known to eat lots of fruits and nuts.  Nuts, especially walnuts, are supposed to be protective against PC.  But then, Mr. Lincoln, being a man of his time, also drank lots of milk, and some people think too much calcium is a risk factor.

Pres. Lincoln was a teetotaller, and you would think abstention would have had an overall protective effect on his health, cancer included.  But no,  just the other day I read that (moderate) alcohol consumption was shown not to be associated with an increased risk of PC.  But you can also make the case that the lack of alcohol in Mr. Lincoln’s diet (especially red wine) deprived him of  reservatrol, a neutriprotectant that is associated with lots of goodies, including a reduced incidence of prostate cancer.

Then there are the apostles of Vitamin D (self included), whose credo is that high levels of it in the bloodstream protect against prostate cancer.  Ideally that would involve a man working in the open air where he could get lots of sunlight.  You have to be outdoors to split rails (and Kentucky’s pretty sunny), so I would give the former president a check for that.  Also, Lincoln spent many hours on the road as a country lawyer exposed to the elements, including sunlight.  But what about Lincoln as president?  Mrs. Lincoln complained that her husband had no time to “take the fresh air”, and so she arranged for the two of them to go on a daily carriage ride.  (Whatever Mrs. Lincoln said, Mr. Lincoln did.)  The question is, I suppose, did they get out of the carriage or just look out the window?

Then there’s the touchy subject of sex, and the even touchier subject of masturbation.  Onea school of thought says that a high frequency of ejaculation by a man in his 20’s (and 30’s) might prevent prostate cancer later in life.  On the other hand, there are those that say celibacy is superior.  I am not going to speculate about the president’s sex life, except to say that he was married in his early 30’s.  Lincoln did have some tempestuous relationships with lady friends before that, but I doubt those turned physical.

I would say the strongest nugget in the “Lincoln Might Have Had Prostate Cancer” stew is President Lincoln’s extraordinary height.  At 6’4”, Lincoln stood eight inches taller than the average man of his time.  And researchers recently found a connection between height and prostate cancer. Only a few months ago, the British tabloids were blaring:

“Tall Men At Increased Risk Of Prostate Cancer Development And Progression.”

According to (Sep. 3, 2008), researchers who reviewed 58 studies and conducted their own found that “a man’s height is a modest marker for risk of prostate cancer development, but is more strongly linked to progression of the cancer”.

The specifics were reported in the September issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.  Twelve researchers at four universities in England studied more than 9,000 men with and without prostate cancer, and estimated that the risk of developing the disease “rises by about six percent for every 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) in height a man is over the shortest group of men in the study.  That means a man who is one foot taller than the shortest person in the study would have a 19 percent increased risk of developing the disease.”

Given President Lincoln’s significant altitude, we’d have to estimate his overall height-based vulnerability at around 40%.

Of course, all this is nonsense.  The only thing we know for sure that correlates with prostate cancer is testosterone, and we’re not even sure how that works. President Lincoln’s height is of no importance to us today.  But fortunately — his stature is.

A Prayer for the Holidays

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


st. francis of assisi – 13th century

Crazy, Funny Cancer

I think everybody who is living in close quarters with cancer develops a kind of personal relationship with it and this can influence how they cope. Some treat the barbarian invader with reverence and imagine themselves as warriors doing battle with it. They are knights in shining armor, getting ready to slay the mighty dragon. But my attitude is, to paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield,

“The ‘Big C’ ain’t gonna get no respect from me”.

It’s not as if I don’t know that the cancer is clever and conniving and hell-bent on destruction. And that it has mastered every evolutionary trick in the book in order to outwit us, its human hosts.

But I also see the enemy for what it is — a mindless collection of damaged cells that are clinging to life at all cost. Just as we would. Too bad the only food they have to eat is us.

You know what the docs call cancer? “Disorganized”. Well, that’s an understatement. Because in normal tissue the cytoplasm that makes up the cells is neatly clustered around the nucleus. And the cells are uniform and “well-differentiated”. But cancer cells twist themselves into all sorts of shapes and straggle about in all directions as if demented. If your prostate cancer includes the more aggressive Gleason grades 4 or 5 and you have seen a picture of your biopsy slides, you will know what I’m talking about (see photo at end).

Make no mistake, I will do everything in my power to evict the “unwanted guest” that has taken up residence in my husband’s body. But I don’t see the struggle as personal. I know the cancer doesn’t hate anyone, nor does it get any satisfaction out of the torture it inflicts.

And if you think about it, a cancer’s life is pathetic. It can’t enjoy a Bach cantata or swoon before a beautiful sunset. All cancer cells do is reproduce endlessly, and there’s no fun in that because it’s an asexual, strictly solitary affair. No steamy nights in bed with a lover.

But by far the ultimate irony is the stupidity of cancer. Think about it: if it kills you, it kills itself. And leaves behind no fond memories or adorable grandchildren.

For me, laughing at the cancer detoxifies it. Others may use a sword, but I will vanquish the enemy with humor.

I know this attitude doesn’t work for everybody. Of course I get angry at times, but I direct that anger toward doctors and insurance companies — at least you can try to reason with them.

Coming Soon: Master comedy writer Jerry Perisho’s healing humor.


Only In “Cancer World”. . .

Unfortunately, when you’re joking about cancer (warning: it’s not for everybody), the flavor is often “noir”.  On the front page of today’s NY Times is a story about the cancer drug Avastin.  It tells of a 58-year-old woman who went to the doctor for a routine check-up.  Unfortunately, he found a lump under her arm which ended up being advanced breast cancer. 

I hope you are sitting down.  The doctor said to the woman:

‘This is not a conversation I like to have.  But I can’t do anything for you. You can’t be cured.  You can’t be treated.  All we can do is manage your cancer. On scans to detect tumors, you light up like a Christmas tree.”

OUCH.  Have to say DH and I were ROFL (rolling on floor, laughing) when we heard this.  The doctor must have been a geezer, because nowadays sensitivity training is part of the curriculum in medical school.

Giving and receiving “dire” diagnoses is a serious matter.  A friend who went to the doctor for a back problem and was told he had advanced PC managed to tell me *in a funny way* how he had staggered out of the examining room completely blotto, walked out of the office and …. had some continency problems.  Didn’t know what to do because he needed a change of clothing.  This is not all that unusual.   Another guy who was in his 40’s when he got a PC diagnosis said he left the doctor’s office, got into his car, but didn’t get very far.  He crashed the car in the parking lot. 

On one of the forums the other day we were talking about one of my favorite topics, language and cancer.  One woman wrote that she hates the term “cancer advocate” — it sounds as if you’re on the side of the cancer.  Funny because instead of “one woman” I had started to write, “Kathy Meade, PC advocate, wrote….”

Kathy Meade also provided this:  Her college-age son had some friends over.  They were looking at a book about PC that was on the table, giggling.  Kathy, always trying to educate, asked:  “Do you guys know what a ‘digital rectal exam” is?

Kathy’s son replied, “I do, Mom.  That’s a computerized test they do for prostate cancer”.

Funny, I had just told DH a few days earlier, “Can’t say we aren’t making progress.  At least the rectal exam has gone from analog to digital”.  I think joking about the DRE helps to “detoxify” it.  I’ve heard so many jokes about the “finger wave”, I could write a book.  My friend Curtis sent me the one-liners I posted in  “The Butt of Jokes“.  My favorite one goes something like this:

“Doc, when you get down there, can you tell my wife you don’t see my brain?” 

Husb riffed on that:  

“Doc, when you get down there, can you do a brain scan?”

One man got really bent out of shape about phraseology the other day.  In one of the PC forums he related how he had gone to the supermarket, and as he was checking out, the cashier had asked him:

 “Do you want to donate money for prostate cancer?”

The man gave gave the clerk a tongue-lashing and stomped out. 

I couldn’t even figure this one out.  Then I realized the problem:  the clerk had left out the word “research”.  I have to say I think this man overreacted.  Nobody is in favor of prostate cancer.  The poor cashier probably had to say this 500 times a day and if he dropped a word, so what?  We all know the intended meaning.  The customer was probably just cheap.

I give the “wordplay” award of the week to…  myself.  The other day I opined:

“A man in a PC group recently complained about the use of ‘erectile dysfunction’ as a euphemism for impotence.  I myself find ‘ED’ a more useful term because it covers a broad spectrum of disorders — and most of the time sexual function is not black or white. Some people are, shall we lay, more impotent than others.”

“Some people are, shall we lay, more impotent than others?”  one man wrote.  “You win the Freudian slip of the day award.” 🙂

I was truly embarrassed.  Don’t like my slip showing.

I never had problems with reading comprehension BC (before the cancer), but AD (after diagnosis) I can’t seem to understand anything on the written page.  Yesterday I was confounded by this sentence:

“My doctor told me to take a quarter-tab of Viagra every day”.

“A quarter-tub of Viagra?”   And I thought I’d heard everything.