Being Diagnosed With Prostate Cancer At A Younger Age
You sit in the waiting area and the men around you are as old as your dad, or older. Their wives are looking worried, one or both members of the couple are using a walking stick. You mentally look at yourself and remember that you ran eight miles last night, mostly to clear your head for the appointment today, partly because you've entered a half-marathon in a month but really just because you can still run, despite being told by the doctor that you have a cancer they need to remove.
Giving order to the unknown
I'm often badly organized for daily tasks and lose my keys, my watch or my diary but when things get serious I gather information, I review it, I analyze it and I work up a plan. Part of my analysis is to look at my strengths and weaknesses, my opportunities and my threats (often called a SWOT analysis).
My prostate cancer SWOT analysis
- Better fitness and easier to improve this
- More adaptable to change and disruption
- Wider and more active social network
- Better at using technology for information gathering
- Younger family with more responsibilities for education, financial support
- Really not ready (are we ever?) for a life-threatening/shortening disease
- Use the experience as a change catalyst
- Be positive about its impact with a wide audience
- Meet a new set of people
- Negative impact on masculinity
- Long-term side effects such as erectile dysfunction and urinary continence
- Possible return of cancer later in life
- Impact on career and employment prospects
- Financial instability
So how did this all work out?
My SWOT findings & takeaways
On the strengths, I found these gave me considerable leverage. I quickly gathered a good range of information about my disease, my treatment options and the best centers and surgeons. I needed to do no 'pre-hab' such as losing weight before being suitable for surgery and I was confident traveling two hours each way for my hospital appointments in order to be at the best center for me. During recovery, I was motivated to return to and improve on my previous levels of activity and I was probably fitter four months after surgery than I had been for ten years.
My weaknesses were real. My younger two daughters were seventeen and nineteen. Luckily we had some savings but the pressure was on for me to keep the money coming in. This was complicated by the fact that I decided to change career, but I was able to make this fairly smoothly. Fairly early on I decided based on the information I had that while this was a serious challenge my prostate cancer had been found early enough not to be life-shortening.
I'm pretty proud of the way I used the opportunities. I've actually started to make another career change as I'm now qualified as a personal trainer. I wake up and think “I've overcome cancer – if I can do that then I can do whatever I want”. I've met lots of new people around the 'cancer industry' from other patients to nurses and doctors as well as those in the charities that surround the disease.
The threats haven't been completely eradicated yet. I've had bouts of worrying that something could return, but not for a while now. I have erectile dysfunction, but my wife and I still have a sex life. I have been lucky not to experience any urinary incontinence at all but for many this is a short-term issue, not a long-term side-effect. The one thing that's not been an issue is my self-image in terms of my masculinity. I was a Special Forces soldier in my twenties and I've never really felt the need for my masculinity to be too overt. I've been tested and found to be capable of the big challenge in the past, and prostate cancer has not and will not change me now.
Have you made personal connections through your journey with prostate cancer?