from Globe and Mail’s Andre Picard
After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Richard Bercuson visited the Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre’s library and left with stacks of reading material.
“The readings were lacklustre,” he noted dryly. “Even as non-fiction, they didn’t have the dramatic moments a good war story might produce.”
The reading list shouldn’t be as bereft for the next guy who comes along looking for guidance because Mr. Bercuson has made a delightful contribution to the literature with his own little war story about the walnut-sized gland called the prostate.
Assume the Position: One Guy’s Journey through Prostate Cancer is anything but lacklustre.
It is witty, chock full of practical information and, at times, even fun. And fun isn’t an emotion usually associated with cancers below the belt; rather, shame tends to be the prevailing sentiment.
Mr. Bercuson, a teacher at St. Nicholas Adult High School in Ottawa, is largely shameless, in the best sense of the term.
Diagnosed at age 53 – rather young for prostate cancer – he had no family history of cancer, no illness and no symptoms. He was in tip-top physical condition, having just completed a marathon.
The book reads very much like a marathon training guide, except that the goal is to survive cancer rather than complete a race.
But the real charm of Assume the Position is that it is written by a man, for men. It gets right to the point and addresses fears head-on.
Mr. Bercuson describes the common screening test for prostate cancer, the digital rectal exam, as the “dreaded finger test.”
The jargon with which cancer patients are bombarded comes in for some well-deserved mockery. The author initially thought the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test was the “Auntie Jeanne” test but soon became adept enough with the lingo to decipher pathology reports that read simply “stage T2a, PSA 6.06, Gleason 6/10” and to graduate magna cum laude from “Walnut University.”
Mr. Bercuson’s description of his first biopsy – a procedure in which a needle is inserted in the rectum and the prostate gland punctured 10 times – leaves nothing to the imagination but is still delivered with jock-like jocularity.
“Pretend you lie on your side on a hockey rink in the fetal position … You are not wearing underwear, nor an athletic supporter or cup. Not far away, and facing your posterior, a doctor with a better-than-average slapshot lines up 10 pucks … then he fires away.
“Each shot strikes you with stomach-thundering discomfort … You sense your testicles will disintegrate and your stomach contents will explode through your throat.”
By comparison, surgery itself turns out to be a pleasant skate on the Rideau Canal.
While Assume the Position is lighthearted, it is loaded with practical information, the kind that is hard to find elsewhere.
Mr. Bercuson notes that for men – the gender that won’t stop to ask for directions – seeking out peer support does not come naturally. At first, he says, it feels like a cult but ultimately his participation proves invaluable. (Fittingly, proceeds from sales are going to Prostate Cancer Association Ottawa, an organization of prostate-cancer survivors that offers peer support.)
Similarly, the chapters on searching for the right surgeon and the pros and cons of disclosing one’s cancer diagnosis to colleagues and friends are invaluable to anyone facing the c-word scare – and let’s not forget that prostate cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian men; an estimated 24,700 will be diagnosed this year.
Ultimately, Mr. Bercuson informs and educates readers by entertaining them, and he manages to do so even when tackling some of the most unamusing aspects of prostate cancer.
After surgery to remove his cancerous prostate, he required a catheter and had to deal with the dreaded twin terrors of the penis/prostate world – incontinence and impotence.
The academic tomes tend to gloss over this stuff as minor inconveniences, but Mr. Bercuson talks frankly about the practical realities of dealing with drips and leakage and the constant urge to pee.
Some of the drollest parts of the book revolve around his search for the proper level of leak protection. Unhappy with the bulk of adult diapers and the heft of male incontinence pads – described as “like wearing a loincloth in Spartacus” – he opts instead for female sanitary napkins and frets over size and thickness, not to mention wings or no wings.
While Mr. Bercuson has an oversized funny bone, he also has a soft heart. Sprinkled throughout the book are genuinely touching asides about the kindness of nurses and orderlies and thoughts of his own mortality that leave him falling asleep with tears running down his cheeks and soaking the pillow.
Laughs and tears. Joy and pain. Fear and survival. In the end – pardon the pun – the reader is left with a unique perspective on prostate cancer.
from Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa writer and teacher Richard Bercuson, who regularly contributes columns to the Citizen, has penned a book about his diagnosis and surgical treatment for prostate cancer, a disease that is striking increasing numbers of Canadian men. Bercuson doesn’t sugar-coat his story, but neither does he let his experiences overwhelm him or his sense of humour. As Dr. Chris Morash, director of the Prostate Cancer Assessment Centre at the Ottawa Hospital, says on the book jacket, Bercuson’s account of his thoughts and feelings as he moved through testing, eventual diagnosis of cancer, surgery, recovery and more testing “will help many men better understand the disease … This is a very enjoyable, funny and honest account of the roller coaster that is one man’s battle with prostate cancer.” Former federal minister Allan Rock, a prostate cancer survivor, says Bercuson “manages to humanize the experience … while at the same time reducing the mystery and fear that too often surround this increasingly common disease.”
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