Several years ago I read a story that changed my view of history as I know it; two German biographers were writing about my favorite artist of all time, the legendary Vincent van Gogh, and claimed the French painter and his dear friend Paul Gauguin cut off Vinnie’s ear in a fight. It turns out Paul was into fencing and things went awry around Christmas of 1888.
Van Gogh always said he cut his left ear lobe off due to depression and that had always worked fine for me until earlier this week when I went in for “Van Gogh” surgery and also got my left lobe diced by a master with a sharp knife. Mine was also the result of fighting which warms me to my true tale – fighting cancer.
Earlier this year I noticed a tiny hole getting more pronounced on my face and one morning I was exchanging pleasantries with plastic surgeon Mark Brzezienski when suddenly he stopped in mid-sentence and asked “What is that on your face?” I promptly told him it was a “n-o-s-e.”
He didn’t think it was as funny as I did and actually had his secretary call me within an hour to set up a time when he would remove what turned out to be a basal cell skin cancer. “It was deeper than I thought but we got it all out,” he told me after stitching the incision and today you can’t even see where it was.
But his point was well-made and, as a guy who has lived in the sun all his life with a marked disdain for sun screen, he pressed the importance of people my age taking an extra step to avoid big trouble. With his warning still fresh, I noticed not long ago my left ear lobe was getting a little larger and it even bled once or twice.
One of my life’s biggest blessings it that every doctor who works at the Hayes Hand Center has carved out a piece of me. Over 40 years ago the legendary Cauley Hayes started taking care of me and, if it weren’t for dear friends like Marshall Jemison, Woody Kennedy, Jason Rhem and Dr. Brzezienski, I can guarantee I’d be dead.
So with my left lobe causing my head to tilt a little its way, Gladys (who schedules surgery) found when Jason could work me in. This is what actually happened -- I was told to be at the office at 8:30 a.m. and got there about five minutes early. The doctor deadened my lower ear and we talked about how much fun his son is going to have at Texas Christian when his unbelievable “career” of helping others at Baylor ends after his senior year.
The kid comes by it honest; Jason is on the Children’s Hospital Foundation board and does all sorts of other stuff. We’ve been friends quite a while. Oh, he had my ear alright and I never felt a thing until a resident, who married an All-American gymnast at the University of Oklahoma, joined to help and, if she hadn’t talked about her immeasurable love for the Sooners. Suddenly they told me to get my stitches out in a week or so, that the “specimen” was going to the lab, but, honestly, everything looked fine and not to worry.
As I walked to the door, my watch confirmed I was in and out in less than 30 minutes. I have friends who get so knotted up that they wait until something really gets bad before they seek help and that’s dumb – if you catch simple cancers early they are a snap, but if you wait too long it can mean trouble.
So as a Saturday exercise, let’s play a game called “Eyes In The Back Of Your Head.” Find somebody who loves you and, taking off your shirt, ask them if they see any spots or mole-like blemishes on your back or your neck. Obviously a doctor is the best and, if your friend sees anything that looks fishy, get the 30-minute fix as compared to two or three hours on the big table.
I’m told skin cancer is one of the most treatable types there is and, after two at-bats this year, I am determined to start using sun screen, too. And, not to leave you hanging, van Gogh’s biographers learned he really did give his severed ear to a prostitute, and she really fainted, but that the two artists never said what really happened in 1888 when Gauguin swung his sabre like a horse-hair paint brush.