Valuable Lessons from Unexpected Adventures

By Mark Hirsch, on his recent “That Tree” presentation as part of Southwest Health’s My Healthy Life seminar series.

The path of life is filled with many roads. The challenge is knowing which ones to take. In my life, I have always been comfortable following the roads I found most intriguing or inspiring. Some roads have led to successes, others have led to unexpected adventures, and others have led to learning experiences. But whatever the road I followed, I have always been comfortable with my choices.

In the last twelve years or so, I have learned some valuable life lessons from roads I was forced to follow not by choice, but by life circumstance. As a man, some of these lessons were especially difficult to embrace. Today, I want to share some of these lessons with you in the hope you can benefit from my personal experiences.

In 2011 while on a commercial photography assignment, I was involved in an automobile accident with a concrete truck. This resulted in a head injury and what I described at the time as the most difficult health experience of my life.

After my accident, I was inspired to make an important healthcare decision. I chose a primary care physician. Through this experience, I discovered the benefits of working with a doctor who knows me and knows about my health history. This is probably the most valuable lesson I can share with you.

In addition to choosing a primary care physician, my accident inspired me to make some lifestyle changes that I still embrace. I learned that given my survival of an accident that could certainly have killed me, some of the things I always thought were so important were rather trivial and insignificant.

I also learned to slow down and have a greater appreciation for simple beauty. As a photographer, my slower more contemplative approach to life and work resulted in discovery of an oak tree in a Platteville cornfield. This experience led to my evolution and the discovery of my visual aptitude as a landscape photographer, an experience that has reshaped my life and career.

My landscape photography skills inspired an experience I never imagined when in October of 2013, Press Syndication Group published my photography and writings in the coffee table photo book That Tree.

Shortly after my book came out, I received a life changing phone call from my identical twin brother Jon. You see, my brother Jon is an unusual man because he already had a primary care physician and he went in yearly for an annual physical.

Other than establishing a relationship with a primary care physician, I had not historically been as proactive about my healthcare. Like most men, I only saw a doctor when I was ill and I was rarely ill. Therefore, I never had an annual physical.

Jon informed me that during his annual physical examination, his PSA (prostate specific antigens) test had come back indicating elevated numbers. Because our father John is a prostate and bone cancer survivor and based Jon’s elevated PSA numbers, Jon asked his urologist to do a biopsy. Jon’s biopsy came back positive with a 3+3 Gleason score.

A Gleason score is based on a pathology exam of prostate cancer tissue. Jon’s urologist shared that based on these results, there was a high likelihood that his identical twin could have a similar outcome, thus inspiring Jon’s phone call to me.

I had no symptoms or health issues that would have inspired me to visit an urologist but due to Jon’s experience, I scheduled an appointment. My urologist examined me. Based on my lack of any symptoms and what he described as a small prostate, I left feeling optimistic. After receiving the results of my PSA test, he called me indicating that my numbers were elevated. Based on my family history and my PSA results, he scheduled a follow up appointment for a biopsy. My biopsy numbers came back with a Gleason score of 4+3, meaning my primary tissue samples were grade 4 cancer cells and my secondary tissue samples were grade 3.

Following our diagnosis, both Jon and I underwent robotic prostatectomy surgeries. Today, we are both cancer free.

As a result of this experience, I go in every year for a proactive health checkup and an annual physical. As an otherwise physically healthy man, I tell people that my twin brother saved my life. The only reason I discovered my situation was because Jon was proactive and went in for an annual physical.

To all the men reading this article, my message to you is don’t wait for a health emergency to inspire you to visit your doctor. I encourage you to be proactive about your health and wellness. Establish a relationship with a primary care physician, and schedule an annual physical.

As a result of my experiences, I now live my life in a more intentional way. I slow down. I appreciate simple beauty. And I don’t waste positive energy worrying about life’s trivialities. Instead I focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, visiting my physician for an annual physical, and appreciating the things that truly matter in life. You should too!

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