Ken's Friends, by Ken Burger

  • Tuesday, February 19, 2013


                For the past five years I’ve been involved in a one-man mission to connect the invisible lines that exist between men with prostate cancer.
                Cancer of the prostate has gotten a lot of press in recent years. The Baby Boomer generation is aging and the disease is showing up in big numbers as men progress into their retirement years and screening becomes more prevalent.
                I am one of those statistics. I was diagnosed in 2007, underwent surgery, then radiation and am now on hormone therapy to keep the disease at bay. So far, so good.
                In light of my status as a “minor celebrity” in the community, I wrote about my experience when I was a columnist for The Post and Courier, I also began making regular visits to the hospitals to check on my fellow man.
Here’s what I’ve learned:

                1) Men are hard-headed when it comes to healthcare. If something needs to be done, they want it done quickly and then move on. 
                2) Men put on a brave face when faced with their own mortality and fear embarrassing side effects more than death.
                3) Spouses are more interested in the medical details than their husbands.
                4) Men don’t always want to know what they don’t know.
                5) Even the manliest man appreciates a visit from someone who has been there, done that.
                A couple of times a week I take a few minutes to park in the hospital garage, then stroll through the radiation waiting room where I spent six worrisome weeks of my life. 
                “Hi, my name is Ken,” I usually explain as I approach. “I’m not a doctor or a preacher. I’m a cancer patient.”
                People in treatment for cancer have been tested and poked and prayed over enough. Sometimes they just need a handshake from a fellow traveler, a smile from someone who has been there, a word of encouragement that comes without prognosis.
                From there I go to the nurses’ station where prostate cancer patients are recovering from surgery. I know what it’s like to be in that bed, feel the insecurity of the unknown and the anxiety of wanting to make it all normal again.
                A visit to a patient in the hospital doesn’t have to be long. I’m there maybe five minutes. I ask how they’re doing. Explain my experience. Offer a few helpful healthcare tips. Try to leave ‘em  laughing.
                The immediate payoff is knowing that you momentarily made somebody feel better. The long-term payoff is when you see that person a year later and they say your visit made a difference.

                Because of these visits, I’ve come to know a generation of prostate cancer patients, their hopes and their fears. Occasionally they will call, ask a quiet question, maybe over a cup of coffee, things they don’t talk about to anybody else. This is an extraordinary feeling that I would like to share with others.
                Therefore, I’m recruiting a group of men I think I’ll call “Ken’s Friends.” Guys who have been through this, know the drill, and are willing to share their time and insight with others.
                There will be no monthly meetings or dues or secret handshakes. Just tell me if you’re willing to spend a few minutes a month making a difference and I’ll make you an unofficial ambassador of good will toward mankind.
                It starts with an email.

Contact Ken at ken.burger@rsfh.com

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