Category Archives: Cancer

Sexual Abuse

A hot topic these days, sexual abuse and harassment can cut both ways.  Men can be sexual abuse survivors as well.  I am.  As a child, my mother gave me enemas I did not need.  I remember my helplessness as she draped me over her lap and stuck the tip up my butt.

The act itself was bad enough, but what has stuck with me the most about the experience was the seductive tone of her voice.  I never heard that voice in any other context.  My physical sensation was somewhat erotic but was overshadowed by my feelings as I felt the water entering me.

I felt fear, revulsion, humiliation, helplessness, and an inability to move.  I was paralyzed by my feelings.  The fear was most powerful.  I couldn’t stop her, but I wanted to have anything happen to me other than what she was doing.   My fear was constantly rekindled by seeing that red rubber enema bag hanging from the towel rack in the bathroom.  We had only one bathroom, so I could not avoid encountering the thing every time I went there.

The most revolting object in the universe for me is a red rubber enema bag.  I just looked, they still sell the things.  The enema bag was a constant reminder of my helplessness.  Mother was the most powerful person in my world and what she was doing to me was something I could not avoid.  I didn’t feel I had the right to hate what she was doing.  I just had to endure.

As I grew bigger, the enemas stopped.  I felt no sense of relief, I was doing my best to block the experience out.  I actually never thought about the enemas, but my body remembered.  From that time on I have had difficulty with anal fissures, probably from holding myself closed all the time.  I eventually had surgery to deal with the abscess that developed in my rectal canal.

I grew, there were no more enemas.  At puberty, my sexuality awakened, and like almost every young male I turned to masturbation.  I was afraid of girls and their potential power.  Masturbation was my outlet.  Safe.  Then, one day I was in my bed masturbating and my mother walked into the room.  As the door opened I stopped, yanked up the covers, and just laid there.  She came over and her hand went under the covers and then retreated.

She turned and walked out of the room.  As she walked out she said something in that seductive tone I had not heard since the enemas stopped.  Not long after she got ovarian cancer and died after wasting away for more than a year.  She died around the time of my sixteenth birthday.

The entire experience has dramatically affected my sexuality.  I am mostly incapable of sustaining a truly relational sexual relationship.  My recurring fantasies of being in total control almost always surface.  Sexual partners can sense my disconnect with them.  As I mentioned, I remain afraid of women where there is a potential for sexual attraction.  I am most comfortable with lesbians. As I have aged, the problem has diminished, but never left me despite years of therapy.

I was in a men’s therapy group for a while.  We were all sexual abuse survivors.  One evening a new member of the group mentioned he had the same enema experience as a child.  He wasn’t sure whether he needed the enemas or not.  Several of us simultaneously said “Have you ever had enemas since?”  Well, no.

Skin Cancer

Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

When I noticed a little place on my cheek not healing, I made the appointment, but I thought, no big deal.  When I got home from the dermatologist’s and took the band-aid off, it suddenly became a big deal.  She gave me the choice of having a some stitches or just letting it heal with a scar.  The stitches meant another trip to have them out, so I said leave it alone.  I have lots of zit scars, so another scar was, again, no big deal. 

I have a hole in my face.  It is almost the size of a dime and is a deep sucker.  Seeing the crater was a shock.  I saw all the scars on my coworker’s face and didn’t make much of them, but they were on him, not me.  This is a big deal. 

My reaction to having cancer, even though it is relatively less dangerous, is colored by my experience with cancer in my circle of people.  My mother died of mis-diagnosed cancer and took a long time to die.  Other family members have had cancer.  My sister-in-law has just recovered from stage four abdominal cancer with the help of chemo and medical marijuana.  It’s pretty well documented that marijuana kills cancer cells. 

I have lost some high school classmates to cancer.  I was best man for one of them, and another died just a few weeks ago.  The scar on my psyche is from my mother’s death.  I was young, she was just in her late forties, and was an ordeal filled with denial.   

In recent years trips to the dermatologist are regular, every six months or year, depending on those scaly patches on my face.  My own denial is never taking enough precautions in the sun.    I grew up when we didn’t really know better, and sunburn was an annual event.  I drove an open sports car in the mountains, making my face red.  I always had sunscreen around, but hardly ever put it on.  Most of my hats cover my bald head and shade my eyes, but the rest of my face is out there.  No longer. 

Sunscreen and hats with a wide brim are the new cool.  Well, not really, I have never viewed myself as cool.  One of my rationales for not wearing good hats is because I am always losing the damn things.  I take it off and walk away.  Also, what am I supposed to do in winter?  The sun shines here and reflects off snow, but a wide brim hat?  Do I have to start wearing Stetsons? 

Here I am rambling on about hats.  The reality is, I’m scared.  I know squamous cell cancer properly treated is seldom dangerous, but I am still dealing with my mother’s cancer fifty years later, and this little event has triggered it once more.  One of my maxims is to not worry about things I have no control over.  The question is, can I have control over this?  I have a lot of letting go to do.


The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars

Carol and I went to the movies!  We don’t do that a lot; we usually watch them at home.  This one, however, drew me to the theater and I drug Carol along.  “The Fault in our Stars”‘ is a romance and story about cancer and dying young.  I rate movies by how much I find myself thinking about them.  I am still thinking about this one days later.


It has a fine story, good directing and photography, and a great cast.  Shailene Woodley has the main role.  A reviewer said she is as lovely as a June day, and the woman can act.  The other cast members are good, but they are playing backup.


Two teens with cancer meet at a support group, and they fall in love.  The power of the movie is in exploring how a terminal illness forces one to explore meaning, pain, death, and love in an intensely personal way.  Gus and Hazel are bright and funny as they confront the tragedy in their young lives.


The movie is a tearjerker, a sick flick, sentimental, and somewhat too right.  With that, it is honest, fun, sad, and lovely.  If you can’t get to the theater, put it in your queue.  I doubt if I will read the book.


The movie has more significance for me because I lost my mother to cancer when I was a junior in high school.  She was stricken with ovarian cancer at menopause.  Initially diagnosed as an ulcer because of her abdominal pain, our family doctor missed the cancer because he was dealing with a paranoid psychosis.


By the time my parents realized what was wrong and sought out the best cancer doctor in Grand Junction, it was too late.  Given the state of cancer treatment in the 1950’s, it was probably too late anyway.  The standard routine ensued, surgery, radiation, some primitive chemotherapy, and over a year of debility, pain, and wasting.


My family did not deal with cancer as well as Gus, Hazel, and their families.  Our strategy was denial.  Just act like nothing is wrong.  The elephant is rotting in the corner of the room, but ignore it.  I would come home from school, go into the bedroom where she lay wasting away, give a upbeat account of my day, and stay away.


It took well over a year for her to die.  The day she died, my father called me out of an assembly at school.  I had to walk from the front of the auditorium to the exit with everyone’s eyes on me.  I went numb.  I stayed numb.  No conversations about anything.  The only genuine expression of sympathetic came from the football coach.  I am so grateful for what he said, more than fifty years later.


I floundered.  I listened to jazz, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth, and read existentialists.  I flunked trigonometry my senior year, explored religion (didn’t work), flunked out of the University of Colorado, tried Mesa College, drank a lot, and joined the Army.  Time does heal, and the Army gave me some sense of purpose while I grew up.


I didn’t deal with the loss of my mother until I saw “Brian’s Song” in 1971.  Watching that movie, about Brian Piccolo and his great friend Gayle Sayers, the floodgates opened up.  I did not cry when my mother died, I was shut down emotionally.  Years later, I cried.  What a release.  I mourned her loss for the first time.  The lesson: deal with the feelings when it is happening.  The more painful the feelings are the more important it is.  Talk about it.  That is what happened in “The Fault in our Stars”.  It did not happen in my life and I paid for it for years.