5 Things I Have Learned About People with Prostate Cancer

I am a pelvic health physical therapist, and I’ve worked with multitudes of men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I consider this an honor, because I am given a unique vantage point in observing these men from the beginning of their prostate cancer journeys to beyond.

I have heard it all from these guys. Imagine being in a tiny backroom of a building where men come to say whatever is on their minds. There is no judgment, and no topic is off limits. Here are some qualities I have found of the men with prostate cancer who have entered that backroom to reveal themselves.

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I find many men with prostate cancer are...

Determined

I think men diagnosed with prostate cancer are determined. They are faced with life-altering news and need to make decisions regarding how they are going to carry out the rest of their lives. I have found that men who wouldn’t be described as determined become so as they live with prostate cancer. The resolve required of men to act on how to treat their cancer forces them to look at the rest of their lives with determination.

Even-keeled

I think men who have been living with prostate cancer for some time are often even-keeled. This is to say that after the shock of diagnosis and treatment has passed, I think that those who have accepted their cancer diagnosis are usually not given to temper-fueled rage. Let’s contrast this population of guys to those with BPH (benign prostatic hypertrophy) or CPPS (chronic pelvic pain syndrome). When men have enlarged prostates, they can feel as though they have to pee constantly or that they are sitting on a golf ball.

In my experience, the men with pelvic pain and dysfunction without a cancer diagnosis are angry with the world. Some of those with prostate cancer have already sorted through these emotions and have reached a level of acceptance that balances them and allows some calm to enter their lives.

Stalwart

The men I've encountered who have survived prostate cancer are often stalwart. This is an underutilized word which means “loyal and reliable.” I have heard the fear in men’s voices when they are first diagnosed, and they question if will lose their partners due to the possibility of changes in their sex lives.

Yet after healing and the passage of time, I find many of those diagnosed with prostate cancer become closer to their partners and experience a deepening of their relationships. Yes, I think men with prostate cancer are some of the most loyal in relationships, because they are forced to be.

Vulnerable

Vulnerability of men is still often discouraged in today’s world. (And not just today, either. Since the dawn of time, cavemen were expected to be grunting protectors who showed no signs of weakness, either to the animals they were hunting or the fellow humans around them).

Something interesting happens when a man has prostate cancer, though. He may leak urine or lose optimal penile rigidity of erections. He might have to discuss alternate ways to have intimacy with his partner, and this opens healthy and meaningful dialogue and allows for the elusive vulnerability of men. As someone who sees this quality of men, I can tell you that it is lovely to behold.

Able to forge ahead

Men with prostate cancer know “successful failure.” This is a quote from the movie Apollo 13. When the astronauts headed for the moon in 1970, there was a series of major disruptions which prevented them from landing on the moon. But something else also happened: due to the collective mind and teamwork of the geniuses back on Earth, those astronauts returned home to their families. We never lost them.

Men with prostate cancer remind me of this “successful failure.” Just as the goal of Apollo 13 was to get to the moon, most humans would prefer to live a life without ever hearing that they have cancer. Yet as we live longer and longer, our odds of getting cancer increase as a species. It is likely that if we live long enough, most of us will have a cancer diagnosis at some point.

What we can do with the news that we have cancer is to emulate what those with prostate cancer have accomplished. We can continue to forge ahead with our perceived failure of cancer and find success in how we manage it. We can come back home safely in the spaceship, even though we never got to walk on the moon.

Moving ahead

Now you know what it is like to be in the backroom with some of my favorite guys around. I think those with prostate cancer are determined, even-keeled, stalwart, and vulnerable. Most importantly, they know the value of “successful failure” – the ability to alter the trajectory of life when it doesn’t proceed as planned, while seeking the alternate paths that lead back home anyway.

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