Let's Talk About Cancer: Part 3

Jim was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017 at the age of sixty-three. In his series, Let's Talk About Cancer, he shares the challenges of talking about the disease, how it can mess with the mind, and ways it can affect family and friends. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

An upbeat chat about a difficult topic

Walking in the park with my dog Rusty, we met a neighbor taking his dog Monty for a walk. Monty is a fine Border Terrier and Rusty, and he gets on very well. I knew the neighbor’s wife had contracted breast cancer early last year, but they had gone to live in their country house during lockdown, so I’d heard nothing about her condition.

We are not close friends, but he knows I have prostate cancer, as he reads my blogs. His wife has been through the mill. On four occasions she was scheduled to have surgery, all four were cancelled at the last minute. Now she has been told her cancer has grown so large that an operation is out of the question.

She is now on chemotherapy and steroids. He is a very upbeat, resilient man, or at least he appears so, and we were able to have a remarkably upbeat conversation about this frankly terrible story. Apparently, the chemo is going well, with hardly a side effect. I was delighted to meet and talk with him, and as soon as lockdown is over, I will hopefully see them both.

Finding support during the lockdown

This also got me reflecting on what it must be like to be diagnosed with cancer during lockdown. In some ways, if you are not minded to reveal your diagnosis, that is now made easier.

If you want friends to share the load, that currently isn’t on offer and must be a great burden on many people who would naturally look to them for support.

Talking to my cancer

One more cancer conversation that I have, which may come as some surprise, is that I talk to my cancer. Actually, to be more accurate, I don’t talk directly, but I send my unwelcome guest messages in an attempt to put the little bastard in its place.

When I was undergoing radiotherapy, I always bicycled to the hospital for my treatment. When asked about this, I merely said it was just me trying to keep fit, but in reality it was me saying to the cancer: "You’re not winning here, and I’m not changing my life to suit you. If I want to bike, I bike."

Keeping items on the bucket list

Similarly, before covid came along and changed everything, I was planning a hiking trip to Nepal, including a trot to Everest basecamp. This would be my second trip to the Himalayas, and I don’t know whether it will happen. But I’ve not given up on it, and it’s definitely still on the bucket list.

Now, of course you may say that since my cancer treatment, thus far, has been successful, it’s easy to take this approach. And I accept that. One day - and it could be relatively soon - my condition may take a turn for the worse. The cancer may spread, and I could find myself in a parlous state. How easy are the conversations going to be then?

Right now, I don’t know how I’ll react and behave if cancer is really tugging the carpet from beneath my feet. All I can say is read my blogs to find out, and if the blogs stop, then the time for talking may be done.

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