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Two men give each other a high-five.

The Value of Friends

Hearing about Chadwick Boseman’s very sad cancer death and hearing that he kept his diagnosis very private got me thinking about the pros and cons of being open about your cancer diagnosis or keeping it private.

I absolutely totally respect the right of every person who has a cancer diagnosis to keep it private and really get that they might want to avoid any fuss, pity or sympathy. I also respect that they might wish to avoid causing pain to those close to them, including friends and family, by being open about their illness.

Being open from day one

However, I was very much the opposite. When I was diagnosed, I was scheduled to have chemo within 3 months and, in all likelihood, would lose my hair. That would have been pretty difficult to explain away, so I was open about my illness from day one.

I was dreading having to explain to my 3-year-old grandson why Grumps had lost his hair, but it never actually came to that because I dodged the bullet of chemo when my health insurers agreed to fund Abiraterone.

I hear horror stories of cancer patients who have fallen out with family and friends, because those family and friends struggled to cope with the diagnosis more than the patient.

This is particularly difficult, as far as prostate cancer is concerned, when the patient ends up suffering with impotence due to prostatectomy that couldn’t spare the nerves that produce erections, or as a result of long-term hormone therapy that has the same effect.

The effect on relationships

I remember my oncologist telling me that I wouldn’t be able to get an erection once I went on hormone therapies, but that it probably wouldn’t be an issue as I wouldn’t have any libido in any event!

I can imagine how devastating that could be for relationships. I know it has led to breakdowns of relationships, because the partner of the cancer patient couldn’t cope with the loss of the sexual side of the relationship, and intimacy wasn’t enough for them. I was blessed with an incredible wife who has been so understanding and supportive and, whilst sexual function is a challenge, she wants me here with her, and we can cope with just intimacy when performance is no longer happening!

Supportive from the outset

The thought that I would lose friends because of my diagnosis never even crossed my mind, and I can honestly say that they have been nothing but incredibly supportive from the outset.

A lifelong friend who I have known for 57 years telephones me religiously every three or four weeks to make sure I’m okay, and other friends have always been there for me when I, or my wife, needed to turn to someone to help us.

I’m blessed that one of our friends is a specialist breast cancer nurse consultant, and she has been so re-assuring since my diagnosis. Whenever I was struggling to cope, I could pick up the telephone to her and chat things through, and she was always there for me.

My children have also been brilliant from day one.

Not being treated differently

However, I attached strings to my openness. I insisted that no one treat me differently. I wasn’t going to put up with tea and sympathy unless it was on my terms.

At my running club, if someone had a cough you’d often get told to “shut up and die more quietly” in jest of course. I had a cough a few months after diagnosis and out came that expression, but delivery stopped part-way through and a difficult silence ensued until I said “for goodness sake get on and say it,” and those were my ground rules for being open.

Spreading prostate cancer awareness

Of course the great thing to come from being open is the ability to tell my story and spread awareness that I know has contributed to several men being diagnosed early and having curative treatment. That couldn’t have happened if I’d kept my diagnosis private, and it’s something I’m incredibly proud of.

In closing, I believe that I am truly blessed with an amazing family and friends, and I am very grateful for that and that they treat me no differently now than before my diagnosis.

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