Of Beginnings, Odds & Ends




Autumn, 1942. Mother is in the hospital for a hysterectomy after years of (what were then called) “female problems.” She awakens after her planned surgery, tactilely examines her abdomen but finds no bandages, no stitches — nothing binding her back together. At the last moment, there had been no surgery, no hysterectomy. She inquires, and they tell her: “You’re pregnant.”

With me.

Odds & Ends

In the popular lexicon of cancer, a doctor declares: “You have cancer.” It is, however, a threadbare cliché, as though every doctor follows this same script, says these same words, and that every cancerian’s life is immediately upended.

I’ve come to understand that, in reality, I was diagnosed twice with prostate cancer — and the first time was the easy one.

It came on March 26, 2007, when the urologist reported the findings from my biopsy: “There’s a little bit of cancer,” he said over the phone. And given everything we could know from that biopsy, surgery would bear an almost-90 percent chance of a cure (no recurrence). It all sounded rather cheery — optimistic odds worthy of my hope. I would have surgery and move forward, and my cancer would be nothing more than a receding episode in the rear-view mirror of my life.

Except for the ‘second’ diagnosis.

Sep 19, 2007. My first follow-up after surgery: the pulling of the catheter, the test for bladder control, a consult with the surgeon and the delivery of the findings from pathology.

“I never expected this,” my surgeon said, with a shake of his head, as he delivered pathology’s findings: cancer in two of my lymph nodes. Not a trace of cancer anywhere else, just in my prostate gland and in two neighboring lymph nodes. I was now Stage 4, advanced prostate cancer, given the lymph node involvement.

What were the odds, I asked, that the tissue samples analyzed by pathology contained all of the cancer that had metastasized from my prostate? “Less than 10 per cent that we got it all,” he said, “a 90 per cent chance there’s still some cancer somewhere.”

Funny how you can go in with a 90 percent chance of a cure and come out with a 90 per cent chance of none.

In a reassuring voice, though, he told me that one of his patients — just like me – was still alive after eight years. I was only 64 at the time, and that hardly seemed like a stretch goal.

Eight years?

“Seven years,” my oncologist said a month later. Seven and a half years, to be exact, was the median survival time in a 1990s study of men with lymph node involvement who, after surgery, underwent hormone therapy, as I was about to. (Qualifiers: It was quite a small study, and there are far more and far better treatments available today.)

But still… The clock seemed to be ticking backwards on me.

Seven and a half years?

That was seven and a half years ago this week.

Neither eight nor seven nor any other number of years has ever been a prognosis for me. They were neither forecasts nor predictions, just numbers, and certainly nothing that’s ever prompted me to get my affairs in order. I’ve never chosen to indulge these time spans – or even discuss them — because I’ve never really found them actionable: There’s nothing I’d do differently. You just do everything you can and take it a day at a time. And live your life.

And my life today – at least the cancer part of it – inches along. At my six-month check-up in January, my PSA – a marker of how well I’m doing – was minuscule (0.06 ng/mL) and rising slowly (up 0.02 since July 2014’s reading). Heck, the first time I had recurrence of cancer, my PSA was rising 0.03 every three months!

No, I’ve not beaten any odds in this, the eighth year of my being a Stage 4 cancerian. But I do remind myself that whatever my actual number of years might prove to be, my life’s all been “free” — every moment of it lived on free, not even borrowed, time since that day in the fall of 1942.

About Bill Curry

Stage 4 prostate cancer

19 Responses to “Of Beginnings, Odds & Ends”

  1. God bless…

  2. Dear Bill, we have not met yet but i follow your writing and want to thank you for your lyrical writing and honesty.I work with AMIGOS and had the privilege of connecting you via email back in the spring. Since then I have followed your blog and appreciate every word you write.Thank you from my place in the outer ether that
    you touch without realizing it.
    Krista Boscoe

  3. This is an amazing post and so profound on the real fear that is prostate cancer and I’m at a loss for words. Amazing.

  4. I have come to this party a little late, but a wonderful essay, Bill. It is so true that when you have the time, that is not the time to start counting time. Each day at a time is all anyone has, really.

    By the way, whenever you or Craig use the word “cancerian” I feel doubly rewarded–it identifies my birth sign and my condition!

  5. Bill: Still kicking cancer’s butt, I see. Good job.

  6. I almost got tears in my eyes reading this article. This is not only a warm and encouraging story but also a vivid example that it is not over until you believe so.
    I would be glad to share it on my site. All cancer patients need to read this article

  7. Joanne Jaeger Webb Reply May 28, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Bill, another great write up! You ARE free and a man who thinks and guides his life with a positive attitude!
    Bob & Jo

  8. Debbie (Queenie) DiMatteo Reply May 19, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Ah Bill, I love your style. Are we admitting to a certain age if we admit to hearing about our grown-ups and their “female problems”?

  9. A beautifully written essay, Bill. You describe perfectly the ambivalence we cancerians feel with the passage of time. “Maybe it’s actually gone for good,” is the eternal question we pose as time passes and the disease recedes into the background. But unlike the monsters in the closets of our childhood it is not imaginary; it’s always there. And we are always aware of it lurking just behind the door.

  10. Thanks again for sharing.

    Carol Pearce


    • Bill, nice story, I have been waiting for the next one since my Brother connected me with you. I finished my 8 month Chemo plan and await results of yesterday’s PET scan. I surely agree with your approach to the future, regardless of the “number.”

  11. Vicki Shepard Powers Reply May 10, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Bill: we continue to include you in our prayers. You’re writings both inspire and entertain us. We look forward to a long time reading your odds and ends! Vicki

  12. Bill, I have been following your continuing “adventure” for years now. It warms my heart to hear you tell your story, the way you share, and to realize how many people benefit from your writing.

  13. bill, i always enjoy your writing. well done!

  14. A nice tribute to your mom on this special day.

    My prediction is you will break all cancer survivor longevity records and will grow very old right along with the rest of us old guys!



  15. Good to hear from you again. It’s been a long time. I’m curious about the other treatments you mention. I’m still on hormone therapy alone.

  16. Mary Gordon Dubill Reply May 10, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    The absolute best of luck to you, Bill. We know your good news will continue.

    Best, Mary Gordon Dubill (and Bob)

    From: My First Cancer Reply-To: My First Cancer Date: Sunday, May 10, 2015 at 3:57 PM To: Mary Gordon Dubill Subject: [New post] Of Beginnings, Odds & Ends

    WordPress.com Bill Curry posted: “Beginnings Autumn, 1942. Mother is in the hospital for a hysterectomy after years of (what were then called) ³female problems.² She awakens after her planned surgery, tactilely examines her abdomen but finds no bandages, no stitches — nothing bi”

  17. Your courage and willingness to live in the moment and treat the time you have as a gift is truly inspirational. I only wish that I had the same emotional resiliency and fortitude not for my sake but for those that love me and “share” the illness with me.
    God bless.

  18. Bill, I’m struggling to come up with a comment as profound and wise as your post. And, of course, as well written. I give up. You are the man! Thanks for sharing. tina

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