Ask the Advocate: Misconceptions
In this edition of our Ask the Advocate series, our advocates open up about some of the frustrating misconceptions they’ve heard about prostate cancer and what they wish people would better understand.
That prostate cancer is “cancer light.” As in, every man will get it if he lives long enough, it’s slow growing, you’re unlikely to die from it, etc. There is no such thing a “cancer light.” Ask anyone who’s had it, regardless of what kind it is or was. It changes your life.
“It’s the good kind of cancer”, “it’s slow growing”, “you can’t die from prostate cancer”. No cancer is a “good” kind. Yes, you can live without a prostate, but it is devastating living with the side effects: incontinence, impotence, feeling like less than a man. People can’t always see on the outside what’s going on with your inside and they probably wouldn’t understand unless they have been there too. “It’s slow growing” – not always, especially for younger men, and caught later in growth. “You can’t die from prostate cancer” – it’s cancer, of course you can die from prostate cancer just like any cancer, especially if left untreated. I suggest every man find out about his family history of prostate cancer and any cancer. Get checked at least by the age of 50, insist upon it to your doctor even if he tells you that you’re too healthy to have cancer. Lastly, swallow your pride, get treatment or surgery, whatever you need, because if left untreated it can kill you. I lost a work friend who decided to just let it go. You need to find short term and long term goals to live for. There is life after prostate cancer, it takes a side turn, but it’s still life. I’ve come to realize my life is not my own. It is my duty to stay strong for my child, friends, etc, and if you believe in God, prayer helps.
The most common misconception I’ve heard about prostate cancer is that it’s “an old man’s disease”. I was fifty at diagnosis and while I had a few grey hairs I didn’t feel old. Eight years on and I’m still not old but I worry that some men are likely to age very quickly after a diagnosis just because their masculinity has been affected by their treatment. While it is very understandable, we need to find ways of reassuring men that diagnosis and treatment does not define them. Cancer is only one word and should never be a sentence.
Tough Question! In truth, I don’t know. Sometimes, I think they forget that I have this condition. I suppose I have a few pet peeves. They need to know that although survival rates are pretty good in most prostate cancer cases, it is not the “Good Cancer”! There is no such thing as good cancer. 30,000 American men will die of this disease this year. That is 30,000 husbands, fathers, and grandfathers who will lose the fight. Often it is a painful, ugly death. We men who share this brotherhood do not want pity. Often, we feel emasculated by the treatment. Pity only makes it worse. Treatment side effects are often worse than disease symptoms. Fatigue, depression, hot flashes, and other side effects are real. One last thing… This disease does not define us.
I wish the old wives tale of “if you get prostate cancer, you’ll die of something else” would be totally forgotten. I grew up with that falsehood; it’s been totally disproven, but it persists. As Dr. Gleason himself argued, Gleason scores of 1-4, which some people do get, shouldn’t be called cancer. And as the Gleason scores get into the 7-10 range, they become much more deadly as the score goes up, with 9’s and 10 ’s being extremely aggressive fast growers.