The Fear of Losing My Male Identity After Prostate Cancer Surgery
Did you hear that? OK, let’s try it again. Take a deep breath, stay quiet for a minute, and really listen. In the silence you may hear a small voice asking, "where is this article going?" That silent voice in our head is more potent than you may know, and lately I have been working with it.
Nagging questions about the future
Upon being diagnosed with an aggressive prostate cancer some 11 years ago, several not-so-silent voices began shouting in my head. At every turn my inner critic was trying to push me down with negative thoughts about the future. The most difficult was the one voice that questioned the future of my male identity.
The night before surgery I recall looking at my reflection in the mirror and wondering what I would look like after 5 incisions were made because of the robotic prostatectomy. Worst still were the nagging thoughts about what my life as a male would be like following surgery. Would I or could I ever be able to enjoy intimacy with my wife? At every turn, my sense of self and my ability to maintain a sense of self-esteem was not doing well.
Surgery day arrives
When surgery day arrived, I needed to be at the hospital at 5 a.m. for surgical prep. But as it turned out, I was not taken in for surgery until 4:30 p.m. Apparently unexpected issues had occurred in the surgical suite. Naturally the whole assembly line of patients was backed up. As you might guess, the long delays created a lot of tension.
To this day I am not quite sure if it was due to the calming meds given prior to surgery or if it was the long wait, but at some point I began a conversation with a patient on the other side of the curtain who was also waiting in the same surgical queue. As we shared stories and frustrations, I began to think about the impact of kindness.
We were two total strangers facing an unknown outcome, and yet we were supporting each other and being gracious in a stressful situation. That conversation allowed me to tune out the silent negative voices in my head and rediscover that life became a lot lighter once I started to relax vs agonizing over my current state of affairs.
Fear vs reality
Einstein hit the nail on the head when he said you cannot solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it. The key to problem resolution apparently is found when you challenge your beliefs, attitudes, and opinions. He suggests we all ask two questions. First, what am I not seeing here? And second, could something else be true? That advice began to make more sense whenever that small negative voice whispered in my ear.
Over time I realized it was too easy to fall back on what I knew or, worse, what I thought I knew and then believed the false truth. Paul Simon in his song “The Boxer” said it best: “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
While that small voice in the back of my head temporarily caused me to doubt my sense of self and manhood, deep down it never diminished the many roles I played and continue to play in life: father, grandfather, son, partner, companion, protector, provider, and more.
What is my silent voice telling me?
Here is a closing thought. Is now a good time for each of us facing prostate cancer to ask, what is my silent voice telling me? And second, could something else be true?
Do you have ways of managing your mindset for big decisions?