As a high school principal for nine years, I had the pleasure of handing diplomas to, and sharing handshakes and hugs with, around three thousand students, including two of my three sons. I don’t know if there’s any celebration more joyous than high school graduation. It so clearly marks the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another, a day that teenagers dream of for at least four years.
Celebrating life at all stages
I’ve been retired for eight years, but I still live in the community where I worked, and I’m still attending graduation parties, for both high school and college students. One friend left the financial world at forty-eight, went to nursing school, and just graduated as a registered nurse, the day after his fifty-first birthday. Another young friend is graduating from college at thirty-one, having survived alcoholism and after ten years of sobriety. I feel blessed to be able to participate in so many joyous celebrations.
There is another kind of celebration that has become a regular part of life these days, celebrations of life following the loss of friends and loved ones. In recent months I’ve attended three of them, three men who were long-time friends: one in his 80s, one in his 70s, and one in his 50s. They died from COPD, a brain tumor, and heart disease, respectively. All three were loved and respected in our community, and while each celebration of life was different, all three beautifully combined joy, sadness, and gratitude, for friendship and for meaningful lives well lived.
In the last nine years, my life has been challenged and somewhat compromised by coronary artery disease, degenerative cervical disc disease, and prostate cancer. During that same time period, I’ve been blessed with three beautiful grandchildren and, now, a rich retired life with my wife. We are always planning our next hike, our next trip to the mountains, our next visit with our sons and our grandchildren. We both know that being active and maintaining good health is the key to enjoying this stage of our lives.
Sharing stories at my prostate cancer support group
I recently attended a meeting of my prostate cancer support group at a local hospital. I’ve been attending regularly since December of 2017, a few months after my diagnosis. It’s been a wonderful resource for emotional support, information, and the opportunity to share my personal experience with men who are new to the group. One thing all of us acknowledge is that no two journeys with prostate cancer are the same, but that early detection can minimize the risk of one story being more life threatening than another.
At this particular meeting, there were three new men who shared their personal stories. All of them were in the midst of complicated and ongoing therapy, and they all had one thing in common: they had ignored symptoms commonly associated with the possibility of prostate cancer. By the time they saw a doctor, their cancer had metastasized and their lives were in danger. One of them was particularly emotional: he had just lost an older brother to prostate cancer who had ignored symptoms and only sought help when it was too late. It was the most somber of all the meetings I’ve attended.
Looking ahead to the next 20 years
I feel very fortunate that I was diagnosed following a routine physical that included a PSA test and a score of 7.1. I don’t know what the outcome would have been had I not had the physical and followed up on the advice of my primary care doctor to see a urologist. I encourage all men to have periodic physicals and PSA tests, especially if prostate cancer is part of the family history, and to take action if the results indicate a potential problem.
At seventy, it’s my plan to be around for at least another twenty years of celebrations, to support friends and loved ones in times of triumph and loss. I recently read that the greatest gift of the 20th century was another twenty years of life. The big question is, how are we going to live those twenty years? I hope to bump into you on a trail in the Sierra Nevada sometime between now and 2039. We can celebrate life together.
Have you taken the Prostate Cancer Recurrence Quiz yet?