Most of my friends are concerned about jock itch and STDs, but not me. At 16, I know that sooner or later I’m getting prostate disease, probably cancer but at least BHP (swelling of the gland that isn’t cancer) with the accompanying loss of bladder control and erectile dysfunction. Often, as I sit in study hall pretending to read my book of road laws for driver’s-ed class, I think about the odds. As you may have heard, they’re not good. By age 50, one out of two men has prostate problems. From there it’s a steep slope to age 80, when every man’s prostate is mush, or if not, it’s because he had that mess cut out. I admit, not too many kids my age, who won’t even take their state’s driving test until next month, have some form of the disease already, but I do know it’s coming my way. It’s right around the curve.
If you’re like my girlfriend, Lydia, you’re probably all, “Whoa, babe, you’re in 10th grade. Isn’t it a bit soon in life to worry about such a grandfatherly disease?” Sure, I’m in high school now, but I started worrying about my prostate in elementary school. And with good reason. My catching some form of the disease isn’t just inevitable; it runs in my family, too. That makes it even more likely I’ll get something, and pretty darn soon. My father has BPH and eats pills with every meal. Two uncles of mine have some form of prostate trouble they won’t talk about, it’s so disgusting, and one told me he got it from just sitting. I could get the disease way before I turn 50, maybe this summer at the beach. That’ll be worse than getting sand in my trunks or even being stung by a jellyfish, for real.
Still, my health concerns are really complicating my life, like in class. Miss Glatfelter, Lydia’s and my teacher for French, called me in after class the other day, saying I seemed distracted during the irregular-verbs drill. It was true. Instead of paying attention to the conjugations, I was tallying my trips to the men’s room and comparing my bladder pressure with what it used to be in the sixth grade. I was pretty sure my plumbing was already in decline and that my PSA level was soaring. Miss Glatfelter also said I seemed to be “inappropriately touching” myself in class. When I explained my health concerns, and that I might be unconsciously probing myself for swelling and lumps, she flushed red and sent me to the school nurse. At the same time, Lydia was text-messaging me from out in the hall that I should agree with whatever Miss Glatfelter told me, no matter how ridiculous, since I was already getting a C in the course and had college applications to think about.
But I didn’t go to Mrs. Strauss, our school nurse. Word is, old Strauss used to perform student abortions back in the days of women’s lib and was banned from the nursing profession. Instead, I went to the teacher I trust the most, Mr. Peters, my lacrosse coach. But he just laughed, called me “old man” and “geezer,” and sneeringly inquired if I could still get it up. I guess I should just go to my family doctor and get my stuff checked out. But as concerned as I am, and I’m very concerned, I’m avoiding the lubed latex glove for now. Plenty of time for that later, when I’m at death’s door.
I play trumpet in band, and the other morning at school the band performed at a pep rally out on the front steps. It was the day of the big football game with Alberto Gonzales Technical, and I was wondering how many trips, in middle age, I’d make to the bathroom each day. As the football team came out in uniform to rousing applause and I kicked into a brass fanfare, I watched Lydia, who’s the prettiest girl on the cheerleading squad, make her short skirt flounce around her big, round thighs. I fast-forwarded to our married life together. There Lydia and I were, 10 or 20 years from now: she was helping me shove a catheter past my swollen prostate so I could relieve myself. It was a pretty bleak picture, but I still thought I’d ask her to the junior prom.
As Lydia was boosted onto the shoulders of Maryanne Barker and Beth Swanson, I considered my treatment options. Basically, there’s pills, chemo, surgery, and live-with-it. I think that covers everything. I suppose my choice will depend on the exact circumstances of my future condition and on the advice from my health care professional. I do know that there’s a good survival rate for those men whose prostate problems are detected early. And I plan to be one of the earliest diagnosed, even if it means breaking down and going to the doctor. Man, I am definitely going to be first in the diagnosis line, like I always am in the lunch line when they’re serving pizza in the cafeteria.