Since my diagnosis with advanced stage, incurable, prostate cancer in May 2017, I’ve had the benefit of great support from family, friends and cancer support charities, such as the amazing Maggie’s Centres here in the UK.
The importance of mantras
I’ve also found that certain sayings – you could even call them mantras – have given me great encouragement and determination to try to live the fullest and best life possible, no matter how long that may be.
Certain other sayings have come to mean a lot to me, so I thought it worth thinking about those sayings/mantras and focusing on how they may help us both in life in general and a life living with cancer.
Making cancer more manageable
Let’s start with the Maggie’s Centres, co-founded by Maggie Keswick Jencks when the first center opened in Edinburgh in 1996. Maggie was a cancer patient herself and found that support was lacking, so she created a new type of support center to make the experience of cancer more manageable for the patient, family, and friends.
She believed that, with the right type of center and support offering, people could change the way they live with cancer. She also wanted to bring those people into a calm and friendly space that would help them find comfort in the experience of others. Maggie's mantra was that nobody should "lose the joy of living in the fear of dying" when diagnosed with cancer.
Living with cancer, not dying of it
I first visited my local Maggie’s center, with my wife, immediately after my initial consultation with my oncologist, and we were absolutely in bits. We met with the center head who drummed into us the mantra that “I am living with cancer, not dying of it,” effectively mirroring the thoughts of Maggie Keswick Jencks. That mantra has stuck with me ever since, giving me great solace and desire to live.
Another mantra that I can totally relate to is, “I have cancer but cancer doesn’t have me.” This completely mirrors my approach to living with cancer. I took the view, when I finally stopped moping around feeling sorry for myself, that I wanted to be in control of my cancer, rather than it be in control of me.
So I embarked on a change of focus based predominantly around exercise, but also pushing myself to limits, as far as exercise is concerned, that I thought were very much beyond the new me. Pushing those limits very much helps me feel in control, particularly of side effects, but I also believe that by staying fit I’ll extend my prognosis by many years!
Getting through challenges
Prior to my diagnosis I had completed one of the world’s toughest ultra-marathons, and it was 56 miles, 6500 feet of ascent, 4000 feet of descent, and in 28c temperatures. Throughout the training and the race, I used a mantra to drive me forward (“Relentless forward motion”), and I would often chant it to myself when the going got tough.
In June 2021, 4 years post-diagnosis, I took on another ultra-marathon, this time 100km on trails, although this would be largely power-walked, given my massively reduced strength thanks to 4 years of hormone therapy. This led me to discover another saying, by a person named Tim Noakes: “Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only resource is to call on your spirit which, fortunately, functions independently of logic.”
I totally get this one, both as an athlete but also in relation to living with cancer. How do we find the strength to go on? Well, we do because our spirit and desire to live are strong, and our spirit defies logic.
A friend of mine coined the saying, “Being a man gets in the way of being a man with prostate cancer.” Do you relate to that? I’m convinced that being a man gets in the way of us getting an early diagnosis of prostate cancer.
In many respects, men don’t want to talk about prostate cancer, don’t want the world to know, and that’s just fine, but is that what my friend means? Is that being a man cancer getting in the way of them being a man with prostate cancer?
Are there any mantras or sayings that have helped you living with prostate cancer, or just living in general?
What was the most difficult part of your diagnosis?