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‘Belt’ a strapping story of prostate cancer

By Sari Friedman Daily Planet correspondent
Friday June 01, 2001




‘Hit Below the Belt: Facing  

Up to Prostate Cancer’ 

By F. Ralph Berberich, M.D. 

Ten Speed Press 


(2454 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley) Tues., July 17, 2001 at 7:30 p.m. 


Barnes & Noble  

(2352 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) Thurs., July 19, 2001 at 7:30 p.m. 



What happens when a socially and financially secure 55-year-old, white male Berkeley resident, who is a pediatrician and a former oncologist is stricken with that most common and (considered) humiliating of conditions? Prostate cancer.  

According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the second-most prevalent cancer afflicting American men. Skin cancer is the first. Men over the age of 50 are at most risk, and black men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than whites. 

All the rates of prostate cancer in America are currently on the rise. 

“Hit Below the Belt: Facing Up to Prostate Cancer” by F. Ralph Berberich, M.D., tells the story of one medically-savvy patient’s progress – from the awful shock of the initial diagnosis to the doctor’s weary and battered arrival on the wary plateau of remission.  

Unlike most first person accounts of having had prostate cancer, “Hit Below the Belt” is written in the most physically and emotionally graphic style imaginable.  

Seemingly everything Berberich experienced is described such as sexual responses of a man newly deprived of the male hormone, testosterone: “It’s one thing to read that you may lose sexual interest, and it is another to walk down the street, see a gorgeous woman, and have your mind register familiar sexual attraction but only in theory (while another more powerful imposed hormone force repulses any sexual response).” 

Berberich describes the exacting torment of waiting for medical results. He vividly enumerates the experience of radiation treatment. Riveting descriptions of the way a surgeon’s knife cuts through the tissue planes are also supplied. 

Dr. Berberich provides detailed accounts of virtually every prostate cancer treatment option available to western medicine in the United States and Canada, ranging from radical prostatectomy to hormone deprivation. Since this is a patient well-ensconced in the medical profession, he is able to phone, e-mail and visit numerous specialists; he is able to spend about a year exploring and understanding an array of medical journals; and, with the help of contacts, he gains relatively easy emergency access to a helpful and expensive drug not covered under his medical insurer’s formulary.  

In a horrible twist of fate the author’s partner is told she has been diagnosed with endometrial cancer on the very day that Berberich is given the diagnosis of prostate cancer.  

Berberich praises his partner for the way she takes care of him. And he discusses the importance of his family, religion, and other support networks in assisting a patient on the road toward health. 

One of the author’s mentors once told him, “With cancer, ya never know.” 

Will having cancer lead to the renewed hope of long life or to a quickly approaching physical death? Will the patient experience psychological or spiritual renewal or will he become increasingly self absorbed?  

For a physician, accustomed to being an authority on other people’s health, being afflicted with a serious illness – and trying to meet the enormous challenges therein – can be especially poignant.