Double Winner: Coronary Artery Disease and Prostate Cancer
The average age for prostate cancer diagnosis is seventy-three. That means that most men who have been diagnosed in the last few years were in their twenties in the late sixties and early seventies, a time when, with the exception of those participating in or thinking about the Vietnam War, very few young people had mortality on their minds. Quite the opposite, in fact. There was a lot of living going on in those days.
It'll never happen to me
But there were signs of what lay ahead. Jim Morrison, the front man for The Doors, titled his autobiography, “No One Here Gets Out Alive,” an ironic prophecy in his case. He, like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, died at twenty-seven, and countless other musicians left the scene prematurely. Drugs and war scourged the generation, but the prevailing thought, typical of youth, was, “It’ll never happen to me.” I was no different.
For decades I enjoyed outstanding health. I played a variety of sports, I ran marathons, I remained within a few pounds of my college track team weight. I had my last cigarette when I was in my early thirties and my last drink of alcohol in my mid-forties. I live in a health conscious community on the central coast of California. Sports and outdoor life were the center of our family life as our children grew up.
The start of my health complications
By the early 2000’s I was into my fifties, the principal of the local high school. Life was challenging, the way I like it, but good. Thanks to my oldest son, I had added backpacking in the Sierra Nevada to my list of physical activities. A kidney stone attack, the most painful experience in my life, in 2007, was a harbinger of things to come. There were complications and for six weeks my life was quite miserable, although I missed only one day of work throughout the whole experience. That’s how we roll, right?
Then, in the spring of 2010, after a particularly difficult year at school, I began experiencing periodic shortness of breath and dizziness, fatigue on runs that I routinely completed with ease. I chalked it up to stress and age: I was sixty-one. It happens.
A few weeks later, school was out and I was in San Antonio for a conference. Walking to the Alamo Dome with friends, I had a particularly strong episode while climbing a short flight of steps. One friend’s wife happened to be the head emergency room nurse at a hospital in my town that specializes in heart health. We called her and she said, “See your primary care doctor as soon as you get home.” I followed her advice, had an EKG, and my doctor said to me, “We have a problem.”
Another angiogram, another blocked artery, another stent
An angiogram revealed that I had two blocked arteries, including the left anterior descending, also known as the ‘widow maker.’ I had, as they say, dodged a bullet. One stent was installed and Lipitor became my first full time prescription drug.
Two years later, one year after I retired, I was on a backpacking trip with a friend, climbing Royce Peak, over 13000’. Again I felt more winded and fatigued than usual, but it didn’t cross my mind that it was related to heart problems. Those, I thought, had been fixed. Nine days later, while having coffee with friends on a Saturday morning, I had a heart attack. Another angiogram, another blocked artery, another stent.
Then enters prostate cancer
In March of 2017 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, in April of 2018 I had a radical laparoscopic prostatectomy, and I’ve been in recovery ever since, a journey I’ve chronicled in many articles for ProstateCancer.net. Since the surgery, my PSA has remained below 0.01.
Appreciating the gift of life
Writing poetry is one of my interests. Thoughts of, and references to, mortality have been showing up in my poems since 2010. A transition has occurred. It isn’t fear, just curiosity about mortality and acceptance of its inevitability. In some ways it has made the life I have more precious, given it an extra glow. Whether it’s hiking and traveling with my wife, playing with my grandchildren or hitting a good shot on the golf course, I have a greater appreciation for the gift of life.
Soon I will turn seventy-one. I have had what I refer to as two shoulder slumping experiences: “Mr. Jones, you’ve had a heart attack.” “Mr. Jones, you have prostate cancer.” But my life is filled with love and happiness, and I’ve survived conditions that threatened to take that away from me. Someday the inevitable will occur, but for now I’m a double winner. Bring on the next adventure.
Do you have ways of managing your mindset for big decisions?