I was diagnosed with aggressive but localized prostate cancer at a major Dutch academic hospital. My parameters were PSA 29 or 31, Gleason sum 4 + 4, and stage T2c. Fortunately, there were no detectable distant metastases. The specialist drew a simple image of my urinary tract and told me I was excluded from brachytherapy, which I had never heard of before, because of the size of my prostate. I had to choose between external beam radiotherapy (EBRT) and radical prostatectomy (RP). How on Earth could I choose rationally while knowing so little about prostate cancer? However, I had studied maths and physics and could learn necessary medical science about my condition.
The Dutch healthcare system was privatized in 2006 by a special arrangement between the Health Ministry and the private insurers. This was the first healthcare privatisation in the European Union (EU). The effect of privatisation was, in my opinion, mixed. By the time I was diagnosed I already had much to distrust about the privatisation.
I sought a second opinion in Uppsala Sweden, where I had spent a lot of time as an academic visitor. Its Akademiska Sjukhuset (The Academic Hospital) has an excellent oncology division. I consulted two specialists.
The corpse, laid out on a gurney and covered with a white sheet, was wheeled onto the stage by two women in long, white lab coats. A middle aged man with a bow tie welcomed us, the incoming class of the spring semester, to Uppsala University and the Biomedicine Center, where we would spend the next two years in “pre-clinicals”, until we knew enough to start our three and a half clinical years at the Academy Hospital.
The Biomedicine Center was almost brand new, a glass and concrete labyrinth with a large sculpture depicting Watson and Crick’s DNA molecule by the front entrance. The vast complex lay near S-1, the Uppsala military regiment. The brick buildings diagonally across the street were very familiar to me as the place where I had met the biggest failure in all my twenty years only months before.
As I sat in the large lecture hall with the corpse on the stage, I glanced over at L., my buddy from the Swedish military’s elite division, the Interpreter School, where we had also sat next to each other on the first day, when the Captain in charge told us:
“Soldiers, you may all have been the smartest kids in your school, but it’s different here. Most of you won’t make it, and will be culled over the next two months. The Interpreter School accepts eighty recruits and graduates twenty to twenty-five. If you don’t have what it takes, don’t waste our time or yours!”
L. and I had both thought that learning Russian would be a neat way to spend our compulsory year and a half in the military, but just barely more than a month after that harsh introduction, we were both on our way back to our respective home towns to figure out what to do until we would be able to start medical school. Our military service was put on hold until we could return as medics.
The man with the bow tie went on to introduce our guest professor, on loan from the University of Bavaria. As we all knew, the Germans have been the greatest anatomists since the last century, and all of us had already been to the University book store to purchase Haeffel’s “Topografishe Anatomie”, which would be our constant companion for the next five months.