A man looks at a computer screen with windows of information floating around him.

What's a Mature Cancer Patient?

Since I recently turned seventy, I was thinking about what "mature" means. We all have heard the expression "they are mature for their age," or, "he’s not very mature for a grown man." The Britannica Dictionary definition of mature is: Having or showing the mental and emotional qualities of an adult.1

So what does it mean to be a "mature" cancer patient?

Getting diagnosed

Do you remember when you were a new cancer patient? It’s something I will never forget. A lot like a toddler grasping for an adult’s hand to lead the way. The doctor said "have a seat," took a breath, and said "you have cancer." That’s all I heard that day. I went directly to thinking it was a death sentence and planning for a wake and family notifications.

Then the doctors took charge and told me what was going to happen next, all the details of the way they treat my disease, and where I need to be and when.

What's a person new to cancer to do?

Being former military, I was good at following orders with no questions asked. So two months into being a prostate cancer patient, I was up on an operating table, head pointing down, toes up, and getting seven holes cut in my belly while the doctor was cutting my prostate gland out with a robotic machine.

Prior to the surgery, I did have a momentary glimpse of patient maturity when I researched robotic surgery and when it should and should not be done. I saw something that said if my PSA was over a certain amount, it might not be as effective. I did broach the subject with the surgeon. He kind of brushed me off, saying that he thought he could still get it all and we should go forward.

So this newbie flinched, paused, and said “OK.” Hence my head down on the board. The doctor it would be nerve-sparing, and a normal sex life should continue, too. Well, he did not get it all, and chemo was required. The cancer was farther out than the doctor thought, too, and he had to cut more. That meant no more man stuff for me.

Newbie gone and mature patient shows up

Years later I was told that surgery could have been avoided, and I could have gone straight to chemo and possibly avoided some complications. At that point, this “newbie” patient became mature.

A new me is born. I have learned to research my disease and treatment well. I have also learned to stand my ground when I think something is amiss, or I think my treatment should go another way.

Second opinions are a staple of a mature patient. No need to worry about a doctor's hurt feelings. You’re the one being cut, not the doctor. Check things out before you jump. Take a breath; it doesn't have to be done in an instant. It took 55 years for me to get diagnosed. I have realized a few days or even weeks of delay is not the end of the world while getting more information to make a solid treatment plan.

Carefully considering options

These days my doctor and I discuss options. I know enough to contribute ideas and options for my next treatment options, and I will not just go blindly into an operation without doing my homework. My advice: be a mature patient. No place for sheep here.

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