What's Up Doc
I've been dealing with an aggressive prostate cancer since 2013. Following the removal of my prostate on April 15th, the cancer returned some 5 years later and required a combination of treatments.
Several years later and thanks to a bout of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, I also received 6 months of chemotherapy, which my oncologist suggested that as a bonus might knock down any remaining prostate cancer cell that had been floating around. Only time will tell. Surgery, radiation, hormone therapy and chemo all administered and so far … this body is still here.
The different impacts of prostate cancer
On one level prostate cancer is viewed as a physical disease that is unique to men. In realty it is a disease that impacts men physically, socially, emotionally, economically, and psychologically.
I was one who went in for routine physicals, not every year but certainly every two years, or three at the most, and presumed most men did the same. As I became more involved with support groups, I was amazed at the number of men who routinely chose not to go through routine physicals (some for many many years), especially if it involved a digital examination in addition to a PSA blood test. I was also taken back by the number of men who said in my many support groups that their GPs had told them that PSA tests and digital exams were no longer necessary.
Early on I thought most men simply wanted to avoid the embarrassment of the digital exam, but over time I have come to believe that most men do not want to know if they may be facing prostate cancer. A prostate cancer diagnosis is unnerving, and for many men it is also humiliating. Deep down behind the bravado, men understand the reason for the digital exam is to determine if you are dealing with an enlarged prostate, or if there are any irregularities or lumps detected on the gland.
Losing our sense of masculinity
As males we can experience multiple erections daily. Depending upon which sources you rely on, it is reported that men can experience anywhere from 10 to 20 a day plus multiple erections at night. If you do the math 20 x 360, you come up with over 7,200 erections a year. Now multiply that by 40 or more years, and the number easily passes 300,000 events. It is easy to see why so many men identify erections with masculinity.
The thought of losing that sense of identity I believe is one of the main reasons men avoid physical examinations. While most men are not well-informed about the early warning signs of prostate cancer, they do understand that treatments for prostate cancer or any prostate issue can often hamper their ability to "rise to the occasion."
Treatment side effects
Unless you are on active surveillance, prostate cancer treatments often involve the use of surgery or some form of radiation, but they can also include hormone therapy and chemotherapy. The physical and emotional side effects of these treatments are many. Men can experience leaking, weakened muscles, night sweats, loss of bone mass, or significant weight gain that is often combined with a redistribution of the fat on your body, depending on the treatment.
Personally, I discovered pants that fit me just weeks prior to the start of my hormone treatment suddenly no longer fit as I developed a more robust butt and a thickening of my thighs. My body shape simply changed.
While men don't like to admit to needing help, a psychologist can offer some insights on how to overcome some of the anxiety caused by this disease and its many treatments. One of the hardest things for men to deal with I believe are the mental roadblocks they believe identify them as male.
When all is said and done, prostate cancer is a serious disease that can be treated. The key is to be treated early and to understand that you are male, and are not defined by what does or does not happen below the beltline.
Have you made personal connections through your journey with prostate cancer?