“…I shook his hand and thanked him for saving my life. He looked at me without emotion. ”I’ll discharge you in a couple of weeks.” The surgeon said as I walked out from his office and into the hospital car park where my friend was waiting to take me back to the reality of what was once my life.”
…I had healed well and the graft from my leg had taken on its new role as my new penis gland, changed from the original one that had become infested with a malignant cancer tumour. Soon I could pee like a man, stood up that is. I would not utilise public male urinals, just in case I revealed my oddity. I needed months of coming to terms with my self consciousness.
“Can you still have sex?” Many men asked me, I usually laughed. They may have realised that it was an indelicate question, embarrassed, they never pushed for an answer. Generally I replied voluntarily ”no problem at all, do you want to see what it looks like stood up?” Said whilst I smiled. A brave face that showed no ‘real man’ need fear penal cancer and it’s treatment, if they wanted to survive and given the choice of life or death.
The truth of survival was very different of course. People must be mad to think that nothing changes a man after you have had you have had penal cancer. I often thought in the privacy of my mind. How can any man get used to that – the very thought is gut wrenching?
When I returned to see my specialist for the final examination. I was still getting-over the shock of the operation and trying to become accustomed to a new way of life. After my official discharge I visited the hospital ward to thank the nurses for their care. As I walked into the ward one of the nurses looked at me with an urgency written in her eyes.
”Thank God you’re here” She said to me. I looked at her curiously.
”There’s a man who has just been told what is going to happen to him and he’s not going through with the operation, he’s running away” She said.
”Can you help to persuade him, he will die if he does not have the operation” I looked at her and walked into the ward and up to the man.
I introduced myself and shook his hand. I pulled the curtain around his hospital bed and showed him the result of my own operation. ”It’s much better than dying” I said to him and he agreed. I only wish someone would have helped me and gave me hope me before my operation. Maybe my depressions would have been more muted.
However some months after the discharge from the hospital, I started to crack up. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I couldn’t sleep at night or I slept for an unnatural amount of time. I viewed my own penis as an Alien. My financial situation worsened as the news got out of my ’disability’ and probable death. And my bank started pushing me for the quick repayment of the company overdraft and personal loans. The situation became critical as the confidence of myself deteriorated rapidly. My customers turned away in fear of me not being able to fulfil my contracts. I had become a shadow of my former self. Even life long business friends shunned me, or I shunned them. It was easy to understand why, no one likes being around a person who is a manic depressive. And all creatives can suffer from that – at times it it comes with the territory of being a serious artist.
I decided the best way to overcome this dreadful situation was a sort of enforced isolation. I had to turn and face the reality, one that tormented me and I had to regain, rebuild or find a totally new Me. I decided that I should do this through Art. I removed myself from my wife and my family. I sat alone in a one roomed apartment well it was a sort of self contained hut to be honest. And thought of suicide frequently, but then remembered discussing this subject years previously with a person who was suffering from Major Depressive Disorder, one whom I had convinced that suicide represented the ’easy way out’. So for me, suicide was a choice, but one that meant going against my own belief.
”Why didn’t they (the hospital) warn me about the consequences of the operation?” I remember saying to myself. Nobody had, perhaps because nobody knew. After all there were only six men in England that had had this sort of experimental operation at the time (2004 to 2005).
Once you’re in a deep depressive state, you really can’t think straight and looking for someone to help you seems pointless. All the network websites and Cancer charities are just full of people who cannot understand a position brought on by post operative consequences. How could they? Besides, I couldn’t face talking to anyone about either my new penis or my constant depression attacks.
I lumbered on like a cart with one wheel for about four years. I took on various meaningless jobs which enabled me to make the crucifying payment schedules enforced on me by the growing heartlessness of Lloyds Bank. I lost weight and took refuge in alcohol and painted pictures of my negative feelings to exorcise them. I become unable to view myself in a mirror as I became unkempt, lacking the self respect to groom myself. Life long friends fell away as I meandered into an abyss of self doubt and self pity and insufferable social behaviour.
I could have obtained anti-depression pills from my local Doctor but I knew that would only represent a false and momentary relief from the real problem. ’A quick fix for a superficial society’. I remembered thinking and resisted the temptation to cash in a prescription for legal drugs.
Eventually I turned to writing and reinforced that with painting. I created over twenty large paintings starting with ’Portrait of a Tumour’ This was the first painting – it was a huge undertaking of over three metres long and one and half metres high. It was used as the banner for Male Health awareness campaign in London in 2012. The whole series of work not only visualised my Cancer, but helped me come to terms and control the depression attacks. I also wrote a book of 150,000 words about life, art and another dimension. After gaining understanding of my depressive self, I went to the library to access the world wide web where I wrote blogs and joined forums on a host of artists web sites. But that didn’t really go too well. Nobody seemed that interested at all in male depression (at that time).
I then began to consider if anyone had thought about the consequences of Cancer survival? Maybe Art could bring that to the public attention? Or perhaps I could simply try and create the topic for a public debate. But I couldn’t find anyone who was prepared to help me do that either. It was all very depressing, and I above anyone knows about how that lack of interest incapacitates the will to carry on.
The lack of published ‘other male’ experiences began to give me a direction. I started thinking of others and began talking to people more openly about my new penis. My new direction and the new life, one I was creating for myself. And how others could use art, in particular painting, as a way of not only surviving but recovering.
I started thinking better, clearer much more creative and certainly more thankful that I had survived possibly the worse cancer that a man can have and one that Art had rescued me from self destruction. If only someone had told me that painting a portrait of my new penis would help and that I should be aware that I would experience post clinical depression. Perhaps the years of hell could have been, if not avoided, then made less agonising.
Nobody did of course and nor has done since. Why is that? Why does breast cancer have such a well organised support system, yet after care for male penal or many other cancers do not? I then wrote an exacting academic paper on depression with reference specifically for Male Health concerns. I was invited to write this for the Arts Professional Magazine, (financed by the British Arts Council). I worked on it for weeks, breaking down the ways in which a person can identify, handle and eventually control the length of a major depressive attack. And editing it so the word count matched what I was told. As did the accompanying paintings.
Other professionals working in the field of Art and Healing (in Manchester) applauded the writing and congratulated me on the way I had ‘professionalised’ something from a personal experience into an article that would go some way to enlightening those working in research area of all cancer related psychological depressions and male health organisations employing Art as a means of healing.
I patted myself on the back and posted my article to the magazine together with the visuals that helped to explain my theory of controlling a depression attack. It took a week for the Arts Professional representative to send me an email that said quite coldly. “Sorry, but the article will not be published, as the Editor feels it is too personal.”
My first reaction to that email was to feel that familiar gut wrenching pain in my stomach, one that slowly travelled up my chest, passed through my heart and ended in my eyes flooding up in tears. Then I felt anger. After that came sadness with the realisation that those in control of the all important Arts and Health Arts Council controlled Media, must not give a flying fuck about the millions of men who suffer with depression, those who I was trying to help with some practical help. Of course my article was personal, how can you relate anything as serious as penal gland amputation unless you have experienced it personally. I thought to myself – “dick-head” I said aloud to the email, which kind of made me smile at the ironic comedy of the statement.
Second Chance Exhibition
Perhaps I should mount an Art Exhibition about the whole subject of Male Cancer and its consequences. I wonder if anyone would come to see it, or indeed if they would react as the frightened man in my old hospital ward did and have an overwhelming desire to simply run away?
Or worse still, be like the Arts Professional magazine and refuse to publish it, because “it is too personal. “ Shit….it’s enough to make any man scream out… For God’s sake…someone pass me the anti-depressant pills.”
So, in 2013 I began to think ‘outside of the box’ away from official bodies and institutions and started my own Art Magazine. Which some of you know as painters TUBES and TAG. Here I found my mission – That was to help living artists (including myself), at least the ones that needed help of some kind, physically, spiritually and even psychologically – And that is exactly what I try to do. So far, so good.
Denis Taylor Artist and Writer
Below – Research report. Orginally written for the UK Art Council Magazine (professional artists) Healing and Art.
The accepted wisdom is that Art can help psychological healing. Apart from the theoretical reasoning given by advocators of Art as a source of alternative treatment. Documented case studies from the patients perspective are few, especially them with a deliberate analysis intention. It was from this perspective that the following report may prove interesting, from both a medical researchers point of view and with an historical reference for the writer of it. The report was originally written and submitted to UK arts council ‘Art Professional’ (online magazine’) in 2014.
Art, a tool for healing?
Serious psychological issues connected with severe physical trauma is the main thread, but with concentration on depression, a growing affliction that most people have some knowledge or experience of.
Key-questions are asked to identify someone suffering with a depressive state and to what degree. This ‘key’ system ranges from mild depression to major depressive disorder conclusions (MDD). In this case study ‘clinical-depression’ was brought on by penile cancer and the tumour surgical removal.
The subject was male, middle aged, married with two adult children and an experienced artist (painter). The subject underwent amputation and reconstructive surgery.
First reactions – (Reality Shock -painting) The psychological shock from possible death cannot be underestimated, as is the shock of survival. These shock-waves resonate through the mind, as yet for unknown or extended time periods. These waves can result in maintaining MDD by involuntary repetition of the real physical and imaginary psychological memory, recalling the dramatic experience.
Four Actions Advised
Step 1- Control – (Portrait of a Tumour-painting) As the malignant tumour was the source from which all psychological issues emitted, the first exercise was to face up to the appearance of its imagined contorted ugliness and reform it into a vision of beauty. This proved to be effective in controlling the negative images recalled.
Step 2. – Identification. (Man is Blue-painting). Identification of the beginnings of a clinical depression is not obvious to the sufferer. The paralysis of despair, which can be triggered by any remote incident or comment and at any time, tends towards capture by stealth. By tapping into the artistic methodology based on the work of Mark Rothko and creating images reflecting the paralysis felt, identification of the onset of a MDD attack becomes speedier. Consequently dealing with its effects (i.e. suicidal thoughts) are dealt with in a ‘knowing way’ – this can soften the attack simply by limiting the duration of it. In this study painting using the chosen method helped ‘identification’ increase recognition time to within 30 minutes by the 24th month.
Note (i)- Transfer of feelings to canvas, although perhaps seen as advanced art practice, can be attained with the correct guidance.
Step 3 – Management- (Thinking outside the Box-painting). MDD sufferers experience a need or desire to keep themselves away from the world. Leading to isolation of the ‘self’ note (ii): with periods which the sufferer can think that is quite normal. The untreated condition will lead to an extreme isolation scenario as the ‘need’ increases. Invariably what follows is loss of job, disaffection of family, rejection of friends and at worst, self destruction. In this report, creating art outside of ‘self-interest’ actually reduced the feelings of need or desire to hide from the world. Recognising the reality that every human has a vital contribution to offer. And by embracing the part that one has to play in life on the planet, were the two main suppositions for the basis of renewal of self esteem. The winning strategy was to ‘distill-out’ the identified depression attack [despair] with the ‘heat’ from the action of absolute positive creation.
Step 4 – Structured goals
Objectivity in a daily routine was found to be productive. By maintaining a flexible approach, the routine of a planned creative act gave an achievable target, not only to work towards but to welcome. By using painting to produce an independent object, one for others to see, touch and enjoy, gives pleasure to the creator of that object. And it is the feeling of pleasure that is the goal.
MDD- prevents enjoyment of life – often cynicism is the only philosophy MDD patients recognize. Therefore it is important to regain a positive view of life, with an ability see points in space and time where missing out on special moments is unacceptable. Moments that could hold happy memories and thus be used, not only to subdue future depression attacks, but to recreate them and subsequently maintain control of MDD on a long term basis.
Written and formulated by Denis Taylor – Artist and Writer. Research is based on experiences of the artist from 2004-2014.