(Storyteller Jon Spelman relaxing in Spain Courtesy photo.)
Everyone loves a lighthearted story, and even cautionary tales can have their moments of unexpected humor. For Baltimore resident Jon Spelman, this truth was crystallized when he began writing about his battle with prostate cancer.
“I was first diagnosed in the spring of 2009,” Spelman told The Baltimore Post-Examiner. “We’d moved to Baltimore and I wasn’t feeling right, so I went to Johns Hopkins. That’s where I learned I had prostate cancer. I wasn’t as shocked as I thought I would be, but I was behaving better than I felt.”
Spelman’s reaction to his diagnosis – and the events which ensued – are the basis of his one-man show, The Prostate Monologue: Tales of the Tellywacker. Tales of the Tellywacker (tellywacker is the name his family applies to the male appendage) takes a mirthful look at Spelman’s sobering medical saga and how it drove him to dialogue with dozens of other people.
Spelman, an internationally renowned and widely sought after storyteller, said the piece originated because, “I had a lot to learn while dealing with the reality of having prostate cancer.”
To date, Spelman says he has done somewhere between 15-20 performances. Spelman said he was surprised by the warm reaction to his play and edified by the feedback. One of the joys, he acknowledged, is seeing how people of different ages enjoy the work. Spelman was even invited by a group of sex therapists to do a presentation.
“The therapists are helping men and women deal with crucial matters people just don’t talk about. It’s sort of a Vagina monologues for men. Interestingly, homosexuals tend to be a bit better informed on the issue. Prostate cancer affects men in the same way breast cancer affects women; in how we see ourselves as being sexually desirable.”
“The play is conversational – old monologue style,” Spelman said. “A lot of the play deals with issues surrounding how I dealt with a disease I knew nothing about. Along the way, I discovered how many funny things have happened to me.”
Two of the funny stories Spelman shares in the show highlight his “baseball disaster at a playground”and his “tail-dragging through the corridors of Johns Hopkins Hospital.”
Spelman lives with his wife, dance visionary Liz Lerman, in Baltimore’s Upper Fells Point neighborhood. He sees the absurdities in his cancer scare but readily admits there were many anxious moments too.
“I had to tell my daughter Anna about the diagnosis in a conversation on Skype,” Spelman recalls. “In June, we went hiking in Spain. Part of that trip was a spiritual journey, but the whole time I was thinking, this could be the last chance I would ever get to spend alone time with my daughter.”
It is clear that sharing his personal story has been cathartic for Spelman. It is also clear that he has grown through this ordeal.
“Having cancer took me to a bigger place – a deeper place. I discovered what kind of person I am; what my relationship really is with both my wife and with my daughter.”
Jon Spelman will perform, The Prostate Monologue: Tales of the Tellywacker, at The Creative Alliance this Friday March 22 at 8:00 p.m. A question and answer session with Spelman and special guests will follow. Tickets and other information may be found here.
Editors note: Prostate cancer kills more men than any other cancer except lung cancer. Recently, Johns Hopkins Medicine, along with the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, launched the National Proactive Surveillance Network, an online resource for men diagnosed with low-grade prostate cancer.