A phone, notebook and journal are important tools in being an active participant in one's treatment journey.

With Prostate Cancer, You Need To Think Like A Reporter

Being in and around the news business for most of my career it comes naturally for me to think like a reporter. Even when you’re not one, the urge to ask questions persists.

If you are being tested for possible prostate cancer or have been diagnosed with it, then questions are your friend.

Learning as much as possible

I take a degree of comfort in knowing as much about the nature of my cancer, the treatment involved, and the possibility of a cure (always nervous of using that word) or getting to a place where there is no evidence of disease. I’m a firm believer that knowledge is power and while knowledge won’t cure your cancer it at least puts you in the driving seat.

Not everyone feels comfortable asking questions of doctors about a subject they probably have little knowledge and there are others who just want to leave decisions and actions in the hands of the medics and not probe too deeply. That’s not how I operate.

The language of prostate cancer

In the early stages, you should ask what type of screening is recommended given your medical profile. This will likely involve a rectal exam, a Prostate-Specific Antigen test to determine your PSA level, a biopsy to discover your Gleason score, the stage your cancer has reached, and whether it has metastasized.

I’ve used that word salad of medical terms in the previous paragraph deliberately. Old hands at the prostate rodeo will immediately recognize them and know what they mean, to those new to this unlovely circus they may appear bewildering. So, like a good reporter, do a little research and when the doc starts using these terms, you’ll know what they mean.

Think critically about what your doc is telling you

You’re unlikely to forget the moment you’re told you have prostate cancer. When it happened to me my brain went into a kind of spasm, I broke into a muck sweat, felt faint and dizzy and had to lie down. It’s tough to think straight in those circumstances, but there are things you need to know. Again, like a reporter, write down your questions ahead of time and when presented with your stats, challenge the doc on what they mean for you.

The doctor may not have all the answers to your questions and may order further tests such as CAT, PET, and MRI scans to seek further information that will then likely lead to a course of treatment.

There's no such thing as a dumb question

Treatment may not be required right away but if it is then you need to ask what treatments are available and what the oncologist recommends and why. Thereafter ask about the side-effects different treatments may cause, how serious they might be, and what can be done to mitigate them. You might also ask whether there are any clinical trials you can join.

I’m not setting out an exhaustive list of questions here and there will be many more you will need to consider. My wish is to persuade you to be of an enquiring mind and as is often said in brainstorming meetings at work, there’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Other than an enquiring mind the one piece of kit you’re going to need is a notebook. No competent reporter leaves home without one, which on one occasion is exactly what I did.

Always bring a pen and notebook

My cancer treatment had been progressing well for about 18 months when suddenly my PSA level took a turn for the worse. This was something I wasn’t expecting. I was sitting with my wife when the doc gave us the bad news, but when we returned home, we couldn’t agree on the figure the oncologist had given us. I thought she said my PSA stood at 1.0 while my wife had it at 0.1.

As is usual my wife was right. Now if I have a meeting with my oncologist, I take a pen and note down the all-important facts and figures.

Cancer can become a full-time job

‘Rocket man’ is one of my favorite Elton John songs, particularly when the astronaut sings: ‘All this science I don’t understand, it’s just my job five days a week’. That’s rather how I think about my cancer, I don’t understand all the medical science, I don’t know how a radiotherapy machine works, but I have some idea what it is aiming to achieve.

Like Elton’s astronaut, cancer becomes something of a full-time job in the early stages. I remember thinking at the time why does something so tediously awful have to occupy my mind virtually all the time. The good news is that if your treatment progresses well, it eventually becomes possible to stop thinking about cancer 24/7.

Be an advocate for yourself

Become a reporter and let prostate cancer be your subject. Question everything and in doing so hopefully, with the doctor’s help, you can put a stop to your cancer being 24-hour breaking news.

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