“It’s that time of year, when you are wondering what to get your husband, father, uncle, friend, or any other smooth dude in your life … so why not get them that greatest of all gifts: laughter. And what’s funnier than prostate cancer? After all, it’s basically pee, poo and (no) boners, what’s not to like?”
So reads the Nov. 30 post on the Facebook page of Finger Up the Bum: A Guide to My Prostate Cancer by Michael Hart Izen (Leola Productions, 2016), which features illustrations by Izen’s brother, Jon Izen, as well as some by his father, J. Roy “Sneeze” Izen. These cartoons are on the edgy side, and might offend some people, but the humor is vital, not just for the book, but for Izen, his family, his friends – for survival. The ability to see humor in even the grimmest of situations is something to be valued.
This is one of the many takeaways from the book. Another, which appears most succinctly at the end of a short promotional video on Facebook, is “Finger up the bum … get ’er done!” In other words, men should buck up, go to the doctor and get a prostate exam.
Izen had none of the risk factors for prostate cancer. He had symptoms about which he was worried – he had to pee more often, he had some “softwood lumber issues.” After much poking, prodding and testing, trying various treatments for what might be wrong, he finally found out he had prostate cancer. He was 45. He was told, “With the removal of the prostate and hormone therapy to follow, people in your condition have a 60% survival rate in the next five years.”
After surgery, hormone therapy, radiation and all the side effects – about which Izen is candid – just when his body seemed to start functioning again, at age 49, he found out the cancer had spread. “Sure, there is always hope for some new medication or another, but the cancer is in my liver, so the best they can do is delay the inevitable,” he writes. “There is no cure. At least I am not yet at the stage where they are offering to make me comfortable.
“So now I’ve signed up for a few clinical trials and, luckily, the first of the new meds seems to be working. Hopefully, this buys me some more time, because I’m not ready to go.”
The book is dedicated to the Vancouver Prostate Centre and B.C. Cancer Agency who are trying to keep him alive, but the main dedication is to his wife, Gina Leola Woolsey. And, of course, Izen is not only thankful for her helping him shape his “ragtag ramblings … into the almost Shakespearean tale” that is Finger Up the Bum, or that “she did the research to recommend Page Two Strategies, Kickstarter and other key people on this project.” (The Kickstarter campaign raised more than its $25,000 goal to cover publishing and related costs.)
“When I was having my initial troubles,” he writes, “it was Gina who kept sending me back to the doctors to get answers. When I was not always completely forthright with my doctors, it was Gina who made me tell them everything. When my doctors were content to just pass things off as one of those things, it was Gina who made us all reconsider our next course of action. When I came home from the hospital after surgery, it was Gina who nursed me back to health with good food and great care.”
Izen thanks his brother, parents and daughter (who also helped on the book project) and many others. This might be the less obvious takeaway from this book: the importance of the people in your life, and being grateful for them. In contemplating what lies ahead, Izen says he doesn’t need “a greatest regrets tour” – “I’m not looking for more time to rewrite my life; I only want more of what I already have.”