Michael Izen has always had a sense of humour growing up.
So it’s no surprise that when Izen was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer, he began using jokes as a way of lightening the mood and breaking the tension around his friends and family.
The former Victoria resident was diagnosed four years ago after several years of mild symptoms such as soreness below the belt and what he called “softwood lumber issues.”
“My wife came with me and we were stunned,” said the now 49-year-old of the diagnosis. “(The doctor) said you’ve got aggressive cancer. People in your condition have a 60 per cent chance of surviving five years. That’s not zero, but that’s not as high as I thought it was going to be. It was okay, you’re in the big leagues.”
Izen underwent all sorts of treatment and his wife started a Facebook group to keep family and friends updated about his condition. But he quickly found people treated him differently.
They wouldn’t know how to talk to him and would give him “sad cow eyes.” Even his younger brother Jon would break into tears every time Izen said “hello.” But Izen wanted to show people that despite his diagnosis, he could continue to live a normal life for as long as possible and decided to take a more humorous approach to prostate cancer.
Jon, who is an animator, would draw cartoons that made fun of his brother’s diagnosis to make him laugh. One cartoon features Izen setting up a meeting with someone he’s never met before saying “I’ll be the one with prostate cancer.” Another cartoon includes the different stages of a prostate exam.
That’s when Izen decided to take his experience with prostate cancer and turn it into a book.
The book, Finger Up the Bum, is not a how-to manual, but has stories of what it’s like to be diagnosed with cancer. He also answers questions that he gets asked on a regular basis from other men like what does a swollen prostate feel like? What are the tests like? Can you have sex after you get your prostate out? — complete with illustrations by Jon and their father.
“It’s very crude, silly stuff meant to get a quick reaction. Guys don’t like talking about this stuff. But one of the ways they can handle it is if you make enough jokes about it then they feel comfortable with it,” Izen said. “If you start out by talking about digital exams and erectile dysfunction, guys are just tuning out. By making it more lighter, they’re more open to hearing about it.”
Recently Izen started a kickstarter campaign to raise the $25,000 needed to hire a company called Page Two Strategies to publish the book. So far, the campaign has raised more than $23,000.
Izen hopes the book will serve as a reminder to listen to your body.
“My message to anybody is if you feel uncomfortable, if you feel squeamish, get over it. Look after yourself because you don’t want to go to a doctor when it’s too late,” he said, adding the cancer has spread to his liver and was recently given a limited prognosis.
“You want things looked after immediately. If it’s embarrassing, if it’s awkward, like getting a finger up your bum, then so what?”
For more information about the campaign visit kickstarter.com/projects/fingerupthebum.