“Any sign of the trapped miners yet, Captain?”


June 9, 1999 was my 49-th birthday. It was also the day I was diagnosed with Stage II – probably Stage III – Colon Cancer. There are only four stages of the disease and by the time you hit Stage IV, it might be a waste of money to buy green bananas.

I knew whatever I had was bad – I just didn’t know how bad. I’m very perceptive about these things. It only took me two, maybe three months of bright red blood in the bowl to figure it out. For over 20 -years of “complete” physical exams, I signed a form releasing my doctors from responsibility because I refused a common procedure of the most invasive kind.

So there I was, dressed again, sitting alone in the post- colonoscopy room successfully resisting the temptation to pick up a copy of GUT Health magazine from May, 1996. Previously I had read a few books on cancer so I knew the diagnosis was not going to be pleasant.

Dr. Joseph Hsu walked in with a folder and a grim, sad look on his face. I LOVE Doctors like Dr. Hsu – they don’t even pretend to be medically objective. I’m sure he’s different with other patients – but he knew from a pre-procedure interview I didn’t want to hear any medical happy horseshit. I’d prefer to deal with straight facts and expected the worse.

Dr. Hsu sat NEXT to me – instead of in the ‘Doctor’ chair facing me. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “no more green bananas.”

He seemed to find it hard to begin. He looked at the closed folder on his lap and took an audible, deep breath. I quickly interrupted.

“Pretty bad, Dr. Hsu?” He looked at me and sadly nodded his head. I half smiled and nodded my head to let him know I understood and was prepared for it.

“Large tumor – distal margin too small for surgery?” I smiled again to reassure him and let him know I understood what he was “telling” me. He looked down and nodded again. God was he taking this hard! How tough it must be to be a Doctor who actually cares about his patients.

I touched his shoulder and smiled. “It’s OK, Dr. Hsu.”

We both stood up and I extended my hand. He shook it formally. “Thank you, Dr. Hsu,” I said as I looked into his eyes. I was completely, absolutely sincere. His head nodded once, almost like a bow, and then he turned and walked away.



4 Responses to ““Any sign of the trapped miners yet, Captain?””

  1. Bill says:

    Of course you did find someone in NYC to perform the surgery you wanted. I’m happy it worked out for you, but both you and that surgeon took a very large gamble. Like you, I refused to have a colonoscopy, and, like you, I paid the price. The procedure is a breeze, and I strongly recommend it.

    If anyone age 50+ is reading, GET IT DONE.

  2. Rich Gardner says:

    If 50-year-old readers still aren’t interested in getting a colonoscopy, this classic column of Dave Barry’s is a must read. When I first read it, I laughed throughout it. Having now read yours, Frank, it didn’t seem quite as funny when I re-read it.

  3. Rich Gardner says:

    Oh, I almost forgot, Happy Birthday!

  4. amy says:

    June 9. Our birthday. So glad you could make it.

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