The Three Wise Men, or Kings, bow down before the child Jesus in gratitude. For me, 2011 was a year for growth in gratitude — because I spent this past year fighting prostate cancer. I didn’t see it as a Job-like tragedy but what often befalls men of my age regardless of their “goodness,” or lack of it, in the eyes of God.
I was grateful, first, that my illness wasn’t going to kill me quickly, if ever. But, the news that my prostate had to be removed and that hormones and radiation were to follow was a thunder-clapping reminder that every day is a gift.
Later I was grateful when a kind of good humor unexpectedly arrived and buoyed my spirits for a while after the surgery. I found lots to laugh about and people to laugh with, given the travails of my body and spirit. Yet, I was not to remain the same man, no matter how good the jest or manly the bravado. If anything proves definitively that the human person represents the full union of the material and immaterial, the body and the intellect, it’s experienced in the impact of drastic, sudden changes in body chemistry.
My body had absorbed three consecutive shocks to its natural chemistry. I found myself actually feeling things differently, sometimes at a darker level than I had known before. There were times when none of my usual coping mechanisms worked — there was no music, no film, no round of golf, or time with family and friends that would release me from the darkness.
For a time I was overwhelmed, then something within urged me to get acquainted with this new me. I’ve accepted (almost) what those changes entail. Though the surgery, hormones, and radiation are over, the new me is still hanging around. There are even times I like the new me more than the one I left behind — I’m more creative, more compassionate, and more grateful to God for the gift of life.