What I Have Learned Since My Prostate Cancer Diagnosis
We Brits are very fond of talking about the weather. It changes frequently and our summers are as likely to be cold and wet as they are to be warm and dry. I can remember a few days of the summer of 2010. They were warm, but the oppression I experienced wasn’t heat-induced - it was brought on by my diagnosis of prostate cancer.
Getting a second opinion
I remember coming out of a small room that had too many people in it, all of whom seemed to be pushing me down the route of radical surgery. I knew exactly what might follow from that, and I hated the idea. That day marked the peak of my oppression. In time I did have surgery, though not as a patient of the surgeon who’d first suggested it. That remains one of the best things I learned - always get a second opinion. In finding that second surgeon, I fell entirely accidentally into a world-class treatment centre. Don’t assume that the first person you meet after diagnosis is the best person to treat you.
Talking to other men about prostate cancer
Prostate cancer then was far from being a new condition, but finding men prepared to talk about it was hard. They didn’t talk about it in private or in public. The UK national prostate cancer charity hosted an online bulletin board where a small number did talk about it. I’d guess there were between 50 and 100 men who were fairly active there then. They helped me take stock of my situation, and while I don’t recall any specific advice, I have a sense of the oppression clearing that allowed me to gain a sense of perspective. So here’s my next point - do find a way to discuss your condition with other men.
Making a recovery plan and sticking to it
I’ve always been a fairly keen runner. My race preparation wasn’t always very consistent, but when I worked at it I could make some progress. As my diagnosis was coming together, I was already training to run a half-marathon to raise funds for the UK’s multiple sclerosis charity. My wife has had the condition since just before our wedding. (Side point - don’t wallow in self-pity - there’s always someone worse off than you. I ran that race just four weeks before my surgery date, and it inspired me to enter another race at a short but suitable time period after my surgery).
My surgery was straightforward, and soon I was home. By this time it was November. It wasn’t cold but it was damp, but we had two dogs and they needed walking. On day eleven I walked for two hours. We didn’t go fast and it tired me significantly, but I repeated it daily thereafter. I started running again at four weeks, as instructed by my nurse specialist. At sixteen weeks after my operation, I ran a 1:48 half-marathon around the beautiful city of Bath.
Some of you will have come across SMART goal planning. My plan to run that race was specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound, and so it worked. It was years later that I realized the significance, but here’s my next point - make a recovery plan and stick to it. In making it work, I’d unintentionally set a time limit on my recovery period. I couldn’t really call myself still in recovery if I’d just been 3,229th out of 10,848 runners over 13.1 miles, could I?
I’m not odd, but I am slightly different to many people. Unlike quite a few men, I’m happy to talk about my experience of prostate cancer, and some early forays into this were well received. I’ve talked on radio and television about it, and thanks particularly to ProstateCancer.net, I’ve written about it fairly frequently.
My aim always has been to help other men. My own route through my treatment has been pretty uneventful, helped hugely by the support I’ve had from my family and my own natural desire to rise above situations, and so I’ve found a drive to help others. The response I’ve had over the years carries me forwards.
Do you feel heard and understood by your doctor?