Yeah, so I’m learning French with Duolingo. For years, actually. And when not doing that, I occasionally have half an eye on the death throes of theoretical physics. As I am presently ill with a nasty cold (covid ruled out), and feel grumpy as hell, I submitted a comment to one of my favorite blogs. It was unfair, curmudgeonly, and …
“Another comment not to publish:
“The almost magical nature of the mathematics of lattices in 1,2,8,24 dimensions, and the parallelizable spheres in 1,2 4,8 dimensions – this is the future. Not endless circular discussions on how best to think about QFT, or whether ABC is proven or not. You are complicit in keeping physics stuck in an earlier century.”
As has been my habit since retiring, my wife and I have traveled to EU annually (2020 perforce an exception), and then I would write up our experiences and self publish the results with Kindle Direct Publishing. Naturally no one but friends ever bothers to purchase these marvelous travelogues, so I’ve decided to publish the next one here, in installments. And herewith, part 1:
After I retired, my wife (pseudonym, Francesca) and I got in the habit of popping over to the EU for a few weeks each Spring. In the months before – as early as November or December of the prior year – I’d start looking for airline deals that would enable me to travel prone instead of sitting upright. I’m retired = not young. And I am tall, and lanky. Six or more hours in a conventional airplane seat causes every joint in my body to rebel. They burn tires in my arteries in protest, and demonstrate their displeasure in many other unpleasant ways. If you can fix your travel dates early enough, thousands can be saved.
We took these trips in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. We time things so we’re overseas in May/June. Anyway, along comes December 2019, and I start thinking I should check BA or AirFrance for deals for our 2020 trip. But I do not. I cannot tell you why not, but I hesitated. In January I do not again, nor in February. In March it becomes apparent why I hesitated: my spidey senses knew it would be pointless. Well, maybe not spidey senses, but I do wonder why I felt zero urgency. By the end of March, 2020, covid had become an international cause for concern, and people in the EU began dying at alarming rates, and the whole continent began locking doors and closing shops. Foreign visitors were no longer welcome. Quarantined Italians would be singing to each other from windows, and far too many would not survive.
Well, we had no interest in exceptions being made for Francesca and myself, and besides, we had Canada as a fallback alternative. And then we didn’t. Canada closed its borders to nonessential travelers. Frivolous travelers were also excluded, so we would be spending the spring at home; then the summer, and the fall, winter, and yet another spring.
In early March, 2020, just as all this stuff was hitting the fan, Francesca and I spent a couple days in Boston, had lunch at our favorite restaurant with my sister and her husband. And I possibly contracted covid. I’m not sure – I will never be sure. All I know is that by May I had some sort of unpleasant gastrointestinal distress, periodic fever, and this lasted about 3 weeks. Not all covid infections attack the lungs. Some are GI, and as I never felt the need to consult a doctor, no tests were run. Still, I mention this because …
By July I was having more distressing things happening in my nether regions – disturbing things that required action – competent action. I decided to bypass all local GPs and I contacted MGH in Boston directly and made an appointment with a urologist there. Ok, well, yeah, heavy fucking sigh … so two weeks later:
1. I knew I had stage 4 incurable prostate cancer.
2. Hormone therapy was suggested, using a drug to chemically castrate me, as the cancer requires testosterone, and the testes produce the majority of that.
3. However, I was 71 at the time, I was tired of leading my life partly under control of sex hormones, making me a slave of my DNA – a robot. And I had a golf ball sized spermatocele cyst down there that was aggravating as hell. So I told them to skip the drugs and just take the offending organs, and the cyst, and turn me from a puppet to a real boy. I was unaware when making this decision that it was very much cheaper than the chemical route, with none of the chemical side effects.
4. My urologist, when I told him and the oncologist my decision, said, “How about tomorrow?”
5. Well, I had to spend a day having tests run, and the day after that it was done. In short order my PSA (a measure of prostate health; it should be under 4 … I forget the units) dropped from 1550 to 4.87, then shortly after that to a little over 1. Now, that didn’t mean my prostate was healthy – it wasn’t; it still was cancerous, and that cancer had still spread to my bones. At this point the PSA was just a measure of how much under control the cancer was. If you’re interested, look it up. It is related to testosterone, and the cancer can’t grow without that hormone.
6. To further diminish my body’s ability to generate testosterone I will spend my remaining days popping pills daily to suppress the adrenal gland’s testosterone factory. With the help of these my PSA dropped to “undetectable”. And 3 months after that it was still undetectable. I’d really like for it to stay that way. It’s now September, 2021. Next month I’ll find out when I go back to MGH for my periodic blood draw and oncologist meeting. I’m part of a study now, so I’m hoping that there are more people than just myself with a vested interest in the efficacy of my therapy. Yay science.
7. And so we get to early 2021, the year 2020 having proven disappointing in so many ways. No Italy; No France; And a Death Sentence. Fuck fuck fuchsia.
I am a different person now, in some ways – an MCU Watcher. This is a comic character that I first encountered when the Silver Surfer was first introduced. Yeah, and anyway, the big baddie Galactus was about to render the earth uninhabitable, and although The Watcher could have done something about it, I recall he either didn’t interfere … well, I think he didn’t, and his excuse was that he just watches. He is separate from the milieu of organic life’s struggles throughout the universe.
See where I’m going with this? I’m no longer a being whose primary purpose is the production of the materials of procreation. And while I’m still aware that the vast bulk of humanity do have this purpose, and its effects can be seen in nearly everything they do, I am now separate – a Watcher. This experience is weird, fascinating, occasionally very disturbing, and liberating. On forms that require me to specify what gender or sexual orientation I identify with, if there’s no option for “None of the above”, well, I’m at a loss.
I have not lost empathy; most of who I was is still there, and, like feeling a vestigial limb, I have the occasional dream of sexual encounters. I mean, during an actual sex act, specific parts of our brains are activated. Those parts were not excised along with the ignition keys, and it is not surprising that the stray electron or two might run through that portion of my brain from time to time. These dreams are all heterosexual male, so until that changes I guess I’ll keep on selecting “Male” on those forms, with pronouns to suit.
By the way, for anyone similarly afflicted, and considering taking the direct root (removal of testes), I would ask yourselves some questions first. It has a psychological effect, and let’s face it, the average heterosexual male spends their lives being motivated by a never ceasing need for sexual release. Our whole civilization is built around this need, and the concomitant female response needs. I am to some extent autistic, and I have an active internal life that is distinct from those around me. It does not involve other people. I was counting on this to help me adapt. Still, at times, I feel at a loss. Replacing hormonal motivations with something internal, it can be tough. The things that used to give me joy – like Francesca, and dogs – they still do, and I use Francesca and dogs and other stuff to provide some solid ground upon which to stand, and, more importantly, move – to overcome inertia. I haven’t a clue how different things would be had I taken the chemical root. Well, it would have been much more expensive, and involved many more side effects … for years. But, I mean, in other respects the end result is the same, isn’t it? I don’t really know. What’s the difference between hiding the ignition keys, and destroying them outright. Still, male egos being what they are, … yeah, so. Enough.
Ok, that is all just context. It’s the Dark Enemy hovering above me for the rest of my life, although at present the hormone therapy is sheltering me fairly well.
(Speaking of empathy, my emotions have always churned whenever I encountered a story about childhood cancer. Now that churning is vastly more personal. I want to reach out and help, and although largely impotent to do so, something prayer-like occurs in my mind each time.
And then there are things like something I encountered on Reddit recently. Some time ago someone posted a picture … of something … with the message: “The cancer won.” Someone else reposted that with the message: “His last post was 9 years ago.” That sort of thing is very unsettling.)