One year later, all is well

Biking by Bruce Stambaugh
A year after prostate cancer surgery, I am enjoying regular activities like biking with my family.

By Bruce Stambaugh

A year following my prostate cancer surgery, all is well. It’s hasn’t been a totally uneventful recovery. It certainly could have been worse.

I am extremely glad to be able to say “cancer free.” And yet, I do so with humility, appreciation and the realization that too many people never get to utter those precious words.

Men tend to be pretty squeamish even just thinking about prostate issues, much less talking or writing about them. That’s mainly due to the two unspeakable potential side effects, incontinency and impotency. Because of those two potential consequences, some men unfortunately never return to their doctor once they have been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Father and sons by Bruce Stambaugh
My older brother, Craig, my late father, Richard, and I all had prostate cancer.
I wasn’t surprised at all when I received the word that I likely had prostate cancer. My older brother had had robotic prostate cancer surgery 18 months before my own diagnosis. Our father had died of the consequences of prostate cancer after a 17-year battle.

It was this family history and the marked vigilance of my good doctors via annual, then semi-annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing that kept the possibility of having prostate cancer at the forefront of my medical exams. I am forever grateful for that watchfulness.

In the months before and after the surgery to remove my cancerous prostate, I received invaluable advice from friends and strangers alike regarding their personal experiences. I also read and researched as much as I could.

Veggie pizza by Bruce Stambaugh
A healthy diet is essential to good health, especially if you have or had cancer. This homemade veggie pizza is both colorful and healthy to eat.
Months after my surgery, a government sponsored panel recommended that regular PSA tests be discontinued as a way to monitor for prostate cancer. That conclusion was based on what was determined to be an overuse of the test and subsequently a high rate of prostate biopsies.

Without either the PSA tests or the conclusive biopsy, I could only guess today whether I had prostate cancer or not. I exhibited no symptoms. When my PSA steadily rose over the course of nearly two years to beyond the danger threshold, I was given a relatively new medical test, called PCA3, that was 90 percent accurate whether it returned negative or positive.

I remember exactly when and where I was when I received the call that my test was positive. It’s the kind of news that one never forgets, like where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001 or December 7, 1941. This was my personal 9/11.

Yet here I am today, alive and well and steadily overcoming the after effects of the surgery. Last November, I had a non-prostate related second surgery that dramatically impeded my recovery. True, left untreated the prostate cancer would not have killed me by now, perhaps never.

Grandchildren by Bruce Stambaugh
This picture was taken just three months after my da Vinci surgery. My wife and I were already traveling with and enjoying the grandchildren.
The biopsy determined that my cancer was the same moderately aggressive type that my brother and father both had. I leaned heavily on my older brother for advice, especially once I decided to move ahead with the robotic surgery, called da Vinci. It’s a surgery that is less invasive, less painful, causes less blood loss, has a quicker recovery than regular radical surgery, and focuses on nerve sparing to lessen the manly issues of being impotent and incontinent. Implanted radioactive seeding or direct radiation were my other options, both with similar long-term side effects that I deemed undesirable.

Through marvelous treatment and care by my doctors, and proper diet and exercise, I have survived. At this point in time, I am ahead of the curve on the two “big” side effects. They are only occasional and manageable inconveniencies. With the cancer out of my body, I don’t ever have to worry about prostate cancer again. No medical test can measure that satisfaction.

I cherish the words “cancer free.” I only wish every cancer victim could say them. Until then, I’ll keep telling my story to whoever will listen. If doing so helps save just one life, it all will have been well worth it no matter what the experts say.

Dewy web by Bruce Stambaugh
Being cancer free, I try to cherish whatever each day brings, even the dew on a spider’s web.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Birding Ohio’s Amish Country

By Bruce Stambaugh

Horses and buggies. Pastoral, broad valleys amid rolling hills frescoed with quilt-like patterns of crops. Fine, handcrafted furniture. Delicious, bountiful meals at reasonable prices.

All of the above are reasons scores of people from far and wide annually travel to Ohio’s Amish country. There is yet one more unassuming category to add to the list: birding.

With its diverse topography, greenery and abundant waterways, Ohio’s Amish country is a birder’s paradise. The area offers both a wonderful spectrum of bird species and excellent birding locales.

Ohio’s Amish country offers something for the novice, casual or serious birder. Birders can find migrating birds, native residents and the occasional rare visitor. The area affords numerous birding spots easily accessible for persons of all ages. A good pair of binoculars will help enhance any aviary quest in Amish country.

A good place to start the birding expedition and get a little exercise as well is the Holmes County Rails to Trails that cuts an easy diagonal through the county. The main starting point and parking lot is at the old railroad depot just north of West Jackson St. in Millersburg, the county seat. This 15-mile paved trail runs from Fredericksburg in Wayne County to Killbuck in southwestern Holmes County.

Following this trail provides a sampling of the birding habitats found throughout the area. However, its dominant geographic feature is the Killbuck Creek valley, a major north-south flyway for migrating birds and a wonderfully dense habitat for year-round bird residents. Woodlots, marshland, open water and cropland are in close proximity all along the trail’s length.

Birders should be aware that horse and buggies, horseback riders, bicyclists, runners and walkers use the trail, too. Birding etiquette and safety dictate setting up spotting scopes or viewing with binoculars on the side of the trail. All types of waterfowl can be found among the reeds and rushes in the marsh areas. Even a rookery of Great Blue Herons can be seen.

Not far from the north end of the Holmes County Trail is another outstanding birding area, the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area. An excellent observation spot is at the east end of Force Road, which is accessed from Valley Road east of Shreve.

From this vantage point, if one is patient, birders can view an array of species. American Bitterns, a wide variety of ducks, rails and even Bald Eagles may be seen. The Killbuck Marsh is a state run wildlife management area.

Two other state-owned areas in Ohio’s Amish country also offer excellent birding opportunities. The Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area is located in Wayne and Ashland counties, and Mohican State Park in southern Ashland County.

With its moist soil and shallow water habitat, the Funk Bottoms is a natural wetland area consisting of about 1,500 acres, mostly along State Route 95 near Blachleyville. The Ohio Division of Wildlife said birds that frequent the area include 23 species of migrating waterfowl, including Tundra Swans and Sandhill Cranes, and 28 species of shorebirds. A variety of raptors also winter over and are seen during migration.

Mohican State Park is a spectacular location for many activities, especially hiking and birding. With its dense forests and large open body of water, Bald Eagles and Ospreys have been spotted. The park is located just west of Loudonville between State Routes 95 and 97.

In the eastern end of Amish country sits another ideal birding spot, The Wilderness Center. It provides excitement for even the most novice birder. The Wilderness Center is located on Alabama Ave. off of U.S. 62 near Wilmot in Stark County.

With marked trails, an informative and hands-on interpretive building, it is the perfect place for families. From restored Ohio prairies to old growth forest, The Wilderness Center is host to a wide range of birds, especially songbirds.

With its checkered, rolling farm fields, spring-fed streams and treasured woodlands, many species of birds can be observed merely by driving around the back roads of Amish country. If you happen to see a farmer spreading manure in the winter, look for Horned Larks and Snow Buntings. If hay is being mowed in the summer, watch for Barn, Tree, Bank and Cliff Swallows circling for insects.

The area also boasts high numbers of Bobolinks, Eastern Bluebirds and Barn Owls. Since many avid birders live in the area, visitors can find good advice on where to bird and what might be found simply by asking.

A pair of juvenile green herons perched on a TV antenna.

This article appeared in the March 2010 edition of Ohio’s Amish Country.