Gene Scholz, 74, is emphatic, waving a finger to make his point: "I don"t
think it is possible to find a more caring, passionate group than they have here." He goes on in that vein for a while.
Doris Lewis, the office manager, smiles. "Everybody here, we all realize we have a purpose for being
A PLACE TO TALK
The camaraderie " easy
small talk among people who know what you"re going through " is crucial, says Mitchell Terk, a physician who"s
director of the center. Men often want to tough things out by themselves, even prostate cancer. But some guys, he says, now
come an hour early, just for the company.
The small waiting room is designed to encourage that camaraderie.
It"s nothing fancy, just some chairs arranged in a semi-circle. But what isn"t there is as important as what is.
There aren"t TVs with noisy commercials, news disasters, medical advice. And there aren"t stacks of old magazines
about flat abs and sexy bedroom moves.
Instead, it"s a place to talk. And joke.
men in the waiting room joke about the balloon, of course, and also about all the water they have to drink before the treatments,
and about all the bathroom breaks they must take. Then there are the hormone injections some receive, which can give them
hot flashes and mood swings. Oh yeah, they joke about that.
Even Cindy Scholz, there in the waiting
room with her husband, Gene, gets in on it. He"s been having hot flashes, just as she did: "I feel like I"ve
been double-dipped." She sits next to him at every appointment, often with her arm interlaced with his, as if to keep
him there. He admits he had a tough time handling the diagnosis, and thought about not going through with treatment.
But he"s committed now, and, like every other man there, he knows how many days he has to go through,
and how many he can cross off his list (on this day, he"s at 31 of 45).
Scholz says he"s
not good with names, but he knows the character of the men who wait with him. He points to the door to the office. "That
guy that"s back there now, we talk to him every day. Super dude. Really friendly. I know about his kids, his wife."
And on this afternoon, making small talk, Scholz finds out that he and William Staub (11 of 25) share
something other than prostate cancer in common: They were both boiler technicians in the Navy.
some Navy talk, Staub tells how, years ago, he built and flew an ultralight airplane. Flying over the beach, waving at people,
practically able to dip his toes in the Atlantic. Flying over the hills of Pennsylvania, and seeing the house he grew up in,
the fields where he picked ripe berries. As a kid, that was a long bike ride between the two spots, a grand adventure. From
the air, it all looks so close.
He misses flying. He rubs his belly. "If I hadn"t gotten
so darn fat"
Staub put off his treatment for a year after he was diagnosed. He didn"t want
to deal with it. But he says that, like just about every man in the waiting room, he read everything he could on the Internet,
even though you can"t believe everything you see there.
It straightened him up. "As you
read about it, all it takes is one cell breaking off, setting up house elsewhere, and that"s it," he says.
So he set up his appointments. And he knows what he"s going to do once his 25 days are done: He"s
driving up to Hahira, Ga., where there"s a place that makes the best sausages in the world. "I already got it lined
up," he says. "I"m gone."
"A MALE THING. DENIAL"
Riverside Cancer Center is a busy spot, starting treatments around 5:30 a.m., going until about 9:30 p.m.
It sees 60 to 65 men a day, almost all there for prostate cancer radiation. It"s the most common
cancer for men but has a high chance of being cured if you catch it early; a 10-year study shows the medical group"s
success rate is at 98 percent, Terk says. Still, many men don"t get checked, and there are usually no warning signs.
So it"s the second most fatal cancer for men, behind only lung cancer.
Justo Aviles, 66, a retired
sheet metal worker, was diagnosed with the disease three years ago. His wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Marisol Guadalupe,
had to talk him into treatment.
"I think it"s a male thing," says Guadalupe. "Denial."
They"d been with him at the beginning, and they"re with him in the waiting room on a significant
morning " day 45 of 45.
Before Aviles is called to go in, though, it"s time for Vernie Abando
and his father, Ben, to go home. "We will miss you," Abando says. "But we don"t want you coming back again."
He stands up to hug him. "Have a long life."
Now it"s Aviles" time for treatment
number 45. Minutes later, he comes out from behind the door, holding up a diploma in triumph. It"s something the office
staff gives each man on his last day.
Big cheers. Applause. Hugs. Finally, Aviles and his family head
for the parking lot. But not before Lewis, the office manager, pops out, arms outspread. "Where you going""
she says to him.
So he gives her a hug, too.
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