February 23, 2001

Surviving cancer focus of doctor’s first book

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Dr. Ken Brigham turned his journal he kept after his battle with prostate cancer into his first book, “Hard Bargain – life lessons from prostate cancer…a love story.” (photo by Dana Johnson)

Surviving cancer focus of doctor’s first book

When you ask Dr. Kenneth Brigham, Ralph and Lulu Owen Professor of Pulmonary Diseases, about his most recent publication, he may pause a brief moment.

He speaks easily of papers and studies released in prestigious medical journals, excited about the promise of future benefit in the health care arena.

But his most recent text is not full of abstracts, figures, introductions and results. Rather it is the story of a journey – a very personal, in-depth look at an ordinary man’s experience with a potentially terminal diagnosis.

“Hard Bargain – life lessons from prostate cancer … a love story” is the result of a journal that Brigham kept soon after his diagnosis in 1996.

Although never intended for pubic viewing, the book is a look into a man’s most inner sanctum. Brigham admits the tell-all book includes an almost daily account of his thoughts, both humorous and philosophical, his fears, anxieties and the reality of mortality.

“I will say, I don’t think there is another book like it,” Brigham said.

“I kept the journal for myself to help me deal with issues the disease raises. It wasn’t until I re-read my journal and had some distance from it, that I felt that it might really help others.

“This is a very revealing and personal account. It’s not a how-to survive prostate cancer or a ‘doctor does prostate cancer’ book,” he said. “This is what a middle-aged man experiencing a life-threatening disease – a disease that killed his father – is going through.”

“Hard Bargain” became a reality after Brigham read about a local publishing company, Harpeth House in the local paper. Two veteran journalists seeking non-fiction work started the company. He sent in his manuscript. That was in August.

Now he is celebrating his book release during a signing from 3 to 5 p.m. March 18 at the Zeitgeist Gallery.

The book is dedicated to his wife, Dr. Arlene Audray Stecenko, associate professor of Medicine, and will be in local bookstores and available through the publishing company’s web site at harpethhouse.com.

After his surgery, Brigham took time off from work. He also had a lot of free time. He said he recalls wanting to write down exactly how he was feeling. He did it for about six months. He ended the journal after his angst had disappeared. And now five years after treatment, he is cured.

“I have seen enough people resort to denial when faced with their mortality to know that denial doesn’t work,” reads the forward of his book. “Words written down, real words about real times, places, people and events, are difficult to deny; there is something enduringly credible about words written down. So, when I was told I had cancer, I resolved to write down everything I could about the experience, trying to make the words fit the feelings.”

Throughout the experience, Brigham said he never had a desire to be the doctor. He felt no need to become an expert on prostate cancer.

“All I wanted was a good doctor. I did not call around the country asking who was the leading specialist. I knew I had a good doctor. I was very willing to let him drive and was not in the least bit interested in second guessing him.”

It is that attitude that Brigham feels separates his book from others.

“This book is all about the experience. It’s written by a sane, successful, smart person, who happens to be a doctor. But none of that matters because when something like this (mortality) is staring you in the face, who you are is not the issue.”