Winning the Lottery

I am fascinated how often people battered by life, acknowledge that, despite the harshness of the journey, it bore gifts they hope never to relinquish.

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago, but it’s severity, and need to deal with it, only became clear in early 2019. In the months since the cancer’s gravity was confirmed, I too, will admit to many gifts born from the ensuing journey. I feel as though I won the lottery, not by beating cancer, but by having been given it.

In traditional lottery terms, I have a sense I beat the odds. My cancer was first discovered through a biopsy several years ago, but it was not considered life-threatening. Anyone familiar with prostate cancer knows many types progress slowly, so “watch and wait” is an appropriate path forward. However, a second biopsy in early 2019 confirmed the cancer had become more acute requiring some more-proactive protocol. How did I beat the odds? After surgery, the pathology report exposed cancer in only 0.1% of my prostate. The odds of finding it in one biopsy is 1 in 125. The odds of finding it in two, is 1 in 15,625. Had my urologist missed it, I would still be “watching and waiting” as the disease increasingly threatened my life.

But my deepest joys erupt, not from mathematical odds, but from the human voyage on which I embarked.

There are several protocols to deal with the cancer I confronted. My urologist in Geneva, when the cancer was first discovered, recommended I get a second opinion from Dr. Edward Schaeffer, Head of Urology at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. Putting ego aside, he said “Schaeffer is the guy in this field. As far as I am concerned, whatever he says goes.” The first time I met Dr. Schaeffer, he extended his hand and said, “Hello, I’m Ted.” This world-class physician put formality aside, identified himself with his nickname rather than title, and provided his cell phone number! He made it clear I was to call him directly should any questions arise. Ted Schaeffer put me at ease from the first moment we met. Throughout the journey, he called personally to discuss each development and its implications.

One option, which, in the end I rejected, was radiation. Nonetheless, Dr. Schaeffer, a surgeon, encouraged me to fully explore those alternatives. I met with a radiologist at the Northwestern Proton Center in Warrenville who spent an hour going over every aspect of radiation, exactly what would happen, how they would protect the other vital organs, and even the ramifications, including potential long-term collateral damage. I was astounded by the depth and breadth of his explanations, as well as his authenticity and genuine concern.

I feel blessed by the humanity and humility of each of these physicians. Each, a lottery ticket pulled in my favor.

A week before my surgery, one final “procedure” came to mind that made the journey even more joyful. As I walked one morning along the Fox River, I was leveled by the realization no one’s future is guaranteed the moment major surgery commences. I was suddenly terrified that, should something untoward happen, those closest to me might never know the depth of my love. Over the next few days I wrote twelve letters—one to my wife, to each of my children, my mother, my four siblings and their spouses. It was during this excursion I realized how I had won life’s lottery in an astonishing way. Every letter wrote itself. I was able to tell each person of my love and respect, and of the joy, laughter, and deep meaning they each bring to my life.

In the lottery of life, I have been reminded yet again, I am one of the luckiest, and wealthiest, people I know.

Roger Breisch

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6 thoughts on “Winning the Lottery”

  1. I too am a Prostate Cancer survivor who, in 2016, chose a different treatment alternative from surgery (Radiation & Brachytherapy also known as seed implantation). The outcome has been outstanding and I am looking forward to the day when I am told that the Cancer is truly in full remission and that I can consider myself Cancer-free. But this isn’t what I have been celebrating. Cancer gave me a second chance to reflect on my life and how I was spending my free time. I realized that I had not been as focused on my relationship with my wife and how much of my time that I was spending with her. Cancer was a rude awakening, and for me it was my winning Lottery Ticket as well. I count my blessings every day for getting Cancer, getting rid of Cancer, and for bringing me closer to the ones that I love.

  2. Roger,
    I was not aware of the cancer diagnosis. All the more we need to meet and catch up! I am off every Fri-Mon but have some Friday conferences scheduled. How does your calendar look?

  3. I have always been inspired by your words and actions. These latest words and actions only serve to inspire me even more, even though we have not seen each other in years.
    Wishing you and your family all the best and continued great health for many years to come!

  4. When we are committed to a spirit of gratitude toward the universe, we must be grateful for everything that comes our way. We don’t get to pick and choose. I, too, was diagnosed with prostrate cancer. After much study, I chose cryosurgery (freezing of the tissue). I wanted to be alive for every moment of the journey. I persuaded my doc to operate with a spinal so I could be conscious. I’m glad I did. The side effects have been minimal. It’s not clear to me I made the right decision to intervene as minimally as I did. My father struggled with the treatments for prostrate cancer the last 30 years of his life. He died at 99 of a stroke. It wasn’t prostrate cancer that killed him Every man must make this decision for himself. Thinking of you, Roger.

  5. Roger I love your story and your attitude about this journey. Affliction can indeed promote many positive virtues, if we let it. God bless.

  6. Roger, a well told, and universally human story. Where would any of us be without a quotient of “luck?” I think that the Romans were onto something important, when they built altars to offer thanksgiving to the goddess of good fortune. Our knowledge, skills, medical resources take us only so far. After that…. Jerry

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