It was a boneheaded play. I had just popped out to end the inning and took that impatient AB out into right center field cursing myself for leaving men on base. So when the first batter hit a Texas leaguer behind second base, I bolted knowing that my left centerfielder had a bad wheel. I needed to make up for my miserable AB. 

The ball was dropping fast. It was arrogant to even think I had a shot, but now I was fully committed with legs and arms pumping – and the only way I was gonna even make it close was to dive … but then I went into some kind of pseudo slide and ended up bouncing on my right knee, doing a flip and bouncing again. It hadn’t rained in a while, and the ground was like concrete. It hurt. But not bad enough to leave the game. (I totally missed the ball, by the way. Literally adding insult to injury.)

The next morning my right knee looked like a grapefruit was growing under the skin. Ice and meloxicam got it to calm down a bit, but something was wrong. In all my years of playing softball, I’d never been injured. But here I was at 55 acting like I’m 25 – I always figured it was gonna happen sooner or later. 

That was the last game I played, September 2020. Months passed as doctors said, “It’s just a cyst, it will go away in time.” Finally, in February 2021, I had an MRI. I was reluctant to have that done because we had never reached our personal or family insurance deductibles before and I didn’t want to dish out $1500 for a picture of my knee. But that was the only way we were going to find out what was really wrong. I could barely walk, much less play softball again. 

The MRI revealed a meniscus tear which required surgery. Turned out we were reaching that deducible. Surgery was in June, and it was successful. Recovery was quick and I was ready to play again. But because we reached our deductible, I decided to have another surgery to remove a pesky bone in my left thumb. That surgery was in September, and it too was successful. So now I was looking at softball in the spring of this year. 

Shortly after the thumb surgery, I had my annual physical. The blood test revealed that I had elevated PSA levels. For those of you who don’t know, PSA levels are related to a man’s prostate. Higher levels can sometimes indicate cancer of the prostate. The “danger” level is 4.0. Mine, which had been 3.4 the year before, was at 4.2. My doctor insisted that I get a biopsy. I was reluctant because – ouch. But because we hit our annual insurance deductible it would be stupid not to do it.

The biopsy was in December. I met with the urologist a week before and they took blood to check my PSA levels again. It had jumped to 6.4. 

A few days after the biopsy, I received a call from the urologist. He told me that I had cancer in 60% of my prostate and that immediate action was necessary. Then he said something I’ll never forget, “This would have killed you in 2022.” 

My wife and I put all the options on the table. Which were basically two – radiation and surgery. Because I’m 57, I was considered young for this type of cancer. And being young meant that I could handle surgery. Besides, radiation was a one-time shot. If they failed to get it all with radiation, oh well. Plus, radiation was a 6-week process and I’d literally be radioactive during that time. No, my wife insisted that because I recovered so well from the other two surgeries that I was strong enough to handle this one. Except to me those other surgeries were easy. Outpatient. This was major surgery where my guts would be splayed open and the recovery treacherous. 

We opted for a radical prostatectomy. No robots. They were going straight in and right at it. 

The surgery was on March 17, and I was hospitalized four days. From the hospital bed I transitioned to two weeks in my recliner watching Marvel movies with a catheter to drain my bladder, and 16 staples in my abdomen that looked like a railroad track. 

The week after surgery, I was laying in bed trying to find gratitude when an email arrived. It was my pathology report. It turned out that I had stage 3 prostate cancer which was 2 millimeters away from the lymph nodes. “This would have killed you in 2022.”

Gratitude indeed. 

Last week was the critical first blood test to determine whether removing the prostate had any effect on the PSA levels. It did. My levels were less than .01.

More gratitude. 

It’s now been seven weeks since the surgery, and I feel great. The recovery couldn’t have gone any smoother. Heck, I even forget that I’m in recovery until someone asks how the recovery is going.

So much gratitude. 

At no point during this entire event did fear creep into my mind. I attribute this to 30 years of sobriety where I’ve practiced turning my will and life over to the care of God. Every day. The way I figured it, if I was going to die then I had been blessed with 30 years of living better than I could have ever dreamed when I was drinking.

Because it was stage 3 cancer, I have to have my blood tested multiple times a year for five years. Which is fine. I’m not worried or concerned. Fear has no place here. 

Yes, cancer could have killed me – but it was never going to touch me. My faith is armor. 

So that’s the story of how playing softball saved my life. If not for that stupid play in September 2020, I would have probably never had the biopsy. Cancer doesn’t run in my family. I had no symptoms prior to being diagnosed. I thought for sure that my elevated PSA levels were just an anomaly. 

Lol. 

I hope to get back to patrolling right center field this fall, but will definitely be back in 2023. That is, God willing and the creek don’t rise.

Men over 50, or with a family history of cancer, insist on having your PSA levels checked at your annual physical. The test is not universally covered by insurance because – of course it’s not. 

Finally, if you’re dealing with cancer and would like to talk – don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m a good listener and am happy to share my experience. 

Me and the boys at Carolina Senior Sports.

Jim

2022 Oscar Predictions

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.

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