One-man play about prostate cancer
Jeff Metcalf was the type of guy who never missed an annual physical.
But then all of a sudden life got busy.
He and his wife Alana bought a house in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah and began remodelling it into their dream home.
“I postponed my annual physical for a year, then another, and finally three years later had a physical,” Mr Metcalf said.
“Everything was good. Great heart, low cholesterol, etc and my prostate felt fine. But it wasn’t.
“I found out I had a high PSA [prostate-specific antigen]. I didn’t even know what that was at the time. I thought PSA stood for public service announcement, but I had a biopsy done and it was cancerous.”
Mr Metcalf has been on a ten-and-a-half year journey with prostate cancer ever since.
His frank, yet funny, experience serves as the basis for his one-man play A Slight Discomfort. He’ll perform it at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute on Friday at 7.30pm.
It’s already shown in 14 US States and five countries.
The 65-year-old described it as the “most profound work [he’s] ever written”.
Mr Metcalf is a professor of English at The University of Utah. His works of fiction, essays and plays have been published in a variety of US-based publications during his 40-year career.
He wrote A Slight Discomfort after he discovered how few men were prepared to talk about cancer.
“Even I didn’t tell my wife immediately,” Mr Metcalf said. “Our daughter was leaving to study in Florence, Italy and I didn’t want my wife to mention the word cancer and for my daughter to refuse to study abroad.
“It turned out to be a bad move on my part. I actually went on a month-long trip to Europe before I told my wife the news.
“She was upset and told me, ‘We don’t do this to each other’. It just broke my heart that I had hurt her like that, so I decided at that point if I were to ever be a spokesperson for this disease I would really encourage men to talk about illness and their health.
“Women are so much better at that. They get to things quicker and go deeper than men. Men tend to be afraid to expose ourselves and as a result, we hold things inside. It’s simply not healthy.”
When he came out about his diagnosis to a group of long-time friends, he was shocked to learn he wasn’t the only one affected.
“I have been with the same group of male friends for 25 years and we have coffee every week. When I made my announcement two said they also had prostate cancer and were too embarrassed to say anything.
“That became another impetus for me to write the play,” he said.
Mr Metcalf decided to turn three days of journal entries about his experience into an essay. He showed it to a director, who commissioned him to write it on the spot.
“I think it took me 36 completely different drafts before I felt comfortable with the play I have now,” he said.
“One thing I was concerned about was that this would just be a play for men. I was worried it wouldn’t have any connection with the women in the audience because it’s about prostate cancer.
“But after the first performance I put out some questions to the audience. All these hands went up and some of the women started bawling. One woman said, ‘I have a prostate problem. I’m sitting next to him, my husband’.
“Within ten minutes of the play we realised it had nothing to do with prostate cancer and everything to do with the human condition and the fears we all face when you go to the hospital and have to face illness.”
Mr Metcalf said he never imagined how many lives the play would impact.
He’s received countless e-mails from men who didn’t want to attend, but after being dragged by their wives were able to laugh about their shared experiences. Others have written to tell him they never would have got their PSA checked if it weren’t for his play.
“I wrote the play because it’s something I could do and I thought it might create a conversation between men,” he said.
“It turned out to be much bigger and more profound than I could have ever imagined.
“There are only two degrees of separation, you either have cancer or you know somebody close to you that has cancer.
“Interestingly enough I’m much more comfortable performing the play than watching somebody else perform it. It’s emotionally challenging because it’s a play about me and my family. But it’s funny as well. I’ve never been able to read a letter from my daughter, which is used in the play, without getting choked up.”
Mr Metcalf isn’t completely out of the woods when it comes to his health, but so far he’s defied the odds.
“I was given a 30 per cent chance of making it two years and it has been 10.5 years,” he said. “Doctors have actually begun to study me because my case is such a novelty in terms of how long I’ve survived with a very aggressive form of prostate cancer.
“I know I’m not done yet and I’ll continue to claw every single day I possibly can. I’m selfish that way.”
• Tickets, $20, can be purchased at the door or by calling 294-0204. Part proceeds go towards the Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre.
• Wayne Caines will moderate a panel discussion featuring urologist Charles Dyer, physician Henry Dowling and prostate cancer survivor John Dickinson after the play.
• For more information visit www.aslightdiscomfort.com